Our Mother Mary

DormitionToday is the Feast of the Dormition (the “falling asleep”) of the Mother of God. It is the analogue in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin in Roman Catholicism, and on balance, the similarities between the two commemorations are greater than their differences: The Dormition is one of the twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox year. The Assumption is a holy day of obligation and, I am told, is superseded only by Easter in its importance for Catholics.

The heart of the feast remains the same for both: the end of Mary’s earthly life of faithfulness, the culmination of her own original yes in her agreement to bear the Son of God in the reception of her sanctified body into heaven. It is believed (contrary to some popular misunderstanding) by both Orthodox and Roman Catholics that Mary experienced a normal, natural death, but received upon her burial the glorified state—reunion of body and soul—that is the ultimate end for which all we faithful pray.

In their aesthetic emphasis, though, the two feasts are utterly different: In all the Roman Catholic portrayals of the event that I have seen, Mary is bright-faced and young—evoking the description of the woman “clothed with the sun” from Revelation. [Read more...]

This Crazy Pope

“Good Letters” is pleased today to welcome Morgan Meis as a regular contributor. Read Image’s interview with Morgan here.

There were hints of craziness from the very first day. Pope Francis—Jorge Mario Bergoglio—was elected to the Papacy on March 13, 2013. When he went to the balcony of Saint Peter’s, he asked the people in the crowd below to pray for him. Only after receiving those prayers did he dispense his own requisite blessings upon the crowd. Unusual.

The next day, Francis celebrated Mass at the Sistine Chapel. He preached his first homily. In the homily, he quoted a line from Léon Bloy. Léon Bloy was not exactly your average Christian, or average-anything-else for that matter. Léon (1846-1917) was a troublemaker and a pain in nearly everyone’s ass. Heather King, in her “Credible Witness” column for the Catholic magazine Magnificat, described Bloy this way: “A ranter-writer, [Bloy] refused to get a day job, was perpetually penniless, and at one point fell violently in love with a prostitute who later converted, saw visions, and was committed to an insane asylum.”

Bloy was fond of saying things like, “Priests are latrines. They are there for humanity to pour out our filth.” You’ll notice that this statement is perfectly correct, doctrine-wise. That is exactly what happens in confession. The filth pours out. Nevertheless, it takes a certain chutzpa to compare priests to latrines, even when you mean it as a compliment.

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Courage in Community: 25 Years of Image

Guest post by Hunter Sharpless

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years. Read the earlier installments: Stumbling into the WaterfallHenri Nouwen, Reaching OutThe Notecards of Paradise, and 18 Years of Glen Workshops.

Once I eavesdropped on a conversation in the graduate student lounge. A couple of my MFA peers here at the University of Minnesota were discussing a project they were going to call the Post-human Anthology. A snippet of their editorial statement: “We are simply and passionately trying to assemble a constellation of visionary contemporary poetry that challenges humanism by reaching into the volatile beyonds of post-humanism.”

This is today’s avant-garde: A rational materialism so strict that it has moved beyond any distinction between human beings and animals.

Two hours later, off campus, I was with a group of friends that not only believes in the atavistic ideas of the soul and human exceptionalism, but in fact believes that we have been made in the image of a loving, omnipotent God.

Thus swings the intellectual schedule of an evangelical Texan writer.

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Mystery and (Southern) Manners

It’s a chicken-and-egg kind of question I get all the time, but I don’t think I am the only one who has faced it: Am I more religious because I am a Southerner (as most of my Yankee friends seem to think), or do I seem more Southern because I am religious—never mind the fact that I am a longtime, generally happy exile to the Northeast Corridor?

I’m sending this question out not only to some of the other Southerners who have proceeded through “Good Letters”—A.G. Harmon, Kelly Foster, Tony Woodlief (A.G., Kelly and I are from Mississippi, and Kelly and I are even from the same town)—but to all of you out there who might have some input on the matter.

For what so many of us Southerners—even those of us who are not, ahem, writers—seem to share is a great and abiding sense of mystery about the world. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, in the main, even now, most of us grew up around codes of manners and behavior that were commonly known, but rarely spoken of, and there was even less discussion about the realities of class and race that were all around us. And we could go off on long tangents about the various implications.

Whatever the reason, it is a characteristic of my life that the world has constantly seemed (and continues to seem) to be filled with portents about nearly everything, turns of circumstance that seem significant, as though a narrative arc cuts through my life as sharply as a ray of sun.

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Graciously Effaced: Saintseneca’s Dark Arc

Guest post by Isaac Anderson

Last August, Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins fame, got some press for declaring God the “great, unexplored territory” of rock music.

I’ve thought about Corgan’s comment of late, while listening to the record that’s been on repeat in my apartment the last month. Saintseneca’s Dark Arc is a meditation on doom, according to Zac Little, the band’s frontman and lyricist. Though that word may mislead, for this record is bleak at times, but luminous too. Nods to death or impermanence are often met with a resistance to the same:

If only the good ones die young
I pray your corruption come
Swift like a thief in the night
Right I pluck my right eye right out

Little is a fighter, of sorts—When I crave a split lip, he sings in “Happy Alone,” I’ll get it quick—and the doom expressed here wakes the listener to the appetites bucking beneath apathy, the desire to not go down without a fight.

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