Of all the Gospel episodes, the Annunciation has long been one of the favorites of poets. The scene is unique and literally earth-shaking: Gabriel’s sudden appearance to the girl Mary, his announcement that she will bear a son who will be “the Son of the Most High,” her puzzlement (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”), and her final yes—“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” [Read more…]
What are the classics but the noblest recorded thoughts of man? They are the only oracles which are not decayed, and there are such answers to the most modern inquiry in them as Delphi and Dodona never gave.… To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise…. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object.
Yes, it’s Thoreau. I’m re-reading Walden. Why? Because it’s on my bookshelf, and I’m in the process of interrogating each book there. The choice: either read it or get rid of it. I hadn’t read Walden in decades, so I pulled it from the shelf.
Though I admire Thoreau’s radical simplicity—if something isn’t a necessity, get rid of it! and my shelf-purging seems to be in Thoreau’s spirit—the book’s opening hundred pages lay it on too thickly for my taste; too much finger-wagging at people who are attached to even minimal property.
But this short chapter called “Reading”: this one is a treasure. [Read more…]
In his collection of delightfully reflective and paradoxical mini-stories, Espejos (Mirrors), Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano includes a sequence on jokes and laughter in various ancient cultures. In one of these reflections he refers to Jesus, “of whom the evangelists record not a single laugh.” Then soon Galeano takes the entire Bible to task, as “a book in which no one ever laughs at all.”
This isn’t quite true. Sarah laughed when the angel told Abraham that in her old age Sarah would bear a son (Gen. 18:12). But this laugh of Sarah’s doesn’t express joy; rather, it’s a laugh of almost scornful disbelief. Sarah’s second laugh a year later is joyful though. Having indeed borne a son, she says “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6).
There’s other laughter in the Bible, too. Jesus isn’t explicitly shown to laugh, but he enjoys many communal meals at which there must have been good fellowship. The explicit laughs in the rest of the Bible are a mixed bag. In many, the laughter is looked down upon. [Read more…]
What do I do with the daily news of disasters? Do I mumble a quick prayer for the victims, then turn to my day’s to-do list? Do I ever pause and ponder: this disaster might have struck those I love, or even me? These are the questions that Shara McCallum turns over in “The News.” Her imagination doesn’t flinch from detailing the horrors. Yet she is also self-protective, and she knows this. I admire how she keeps her eyes both shut and open to the dreadful events that life can deal us. And I admire especially the painful closing two stanzas: the piercing image of that mother somewhere whose “hem of life” will be “snagged, /from here forward”: from the instant she learns of her child forever lost.
—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]