Praise Bands, Lipstick, and other Futilities of the Faith

By E.D.

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The drummer in the rock band at my church, bangs on his drum, living for the solo at the recessional where a small handful of fellow children of the sixties clap their hands and shake their hips in a way that seems, I don’t know, like everyone would rather be at the Whitesnake concert, but if that’s no longer possible or respectable, then maybe church will do, “For creation was made subject to futility…”

And the children of the seventies and eighties, lower their heads, intentionally somber at the recessional, walk out, crossing themselves to patiently await the death of church drumming. There are grumblings of course, on the way to the car, and once inside the car with the doors shut, my husband and I engage in a complete failure of charity about baby boomers and self-satisfied idiots who can never bear to surrender the stage. The sorrow is not just that the music is bad, it’s that there are so many people who think it’s great.

There will always be lectors in toupees and well-suited ushers with bad breath, and ladies who like pie better than Jesus (sometimes, I am she). And that’s just at church where everyone is supposed to be living life differently, set apart from the things of the world. Church sometimes feels like a smaller theater, the place where the lipstick on your teeth matters just a tiny bit more. What is this lipstick doing here anyway, when Monday through Saturday, it rests? [Read more…]

Annie Spans the Gap, Part 2

This editorial statement from issue 88 is continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

In 1994, Image was in its infancy, and I was living in Wichita and working with the Milton Center, a nonprofit devoted to fostering excellence in creative writing by people of religious faith. Thanks to a major grant, we were able to put on a conference, the highlight of which was giving an award to Annie Dillard. We chose as a theme the phrase “Spanning the Gap,” taken from Holy the Firm and included in the epigraph in yesterday’s post. We wanted to explore the way writing itself might span the gap between here and eternity.

I was assigned the task of introducing her, which more or less scared the hooey out of me. I had only read a few scattered pieces of hers, and the only full book I was able to read in preparation was Holy the Firm, because it is so short.

I remember very little about the introduction, except that I described her as “a nature writer on speed.” What I lacked in insight I tried to make up in verve. Her reading was of course electrifying as she paced back and forth, declaiming from one book or another. The audience was pleased. [Read more…]

Annie Spans the Gap, Part 1

The following appears as the editorial statement in Image issue 88.

Annie Dillard illustrated by Alissa Berkhan

Illustration by Alissa Berkhan

There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows. When the candle is burning, who looks at the wick? When the candle is out, who needs it? But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is abomination. What can any artist set on fire but his world?… What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand? His face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap from here to eternity, home.

—Annie Dillard

Few books to come across my desk lately have stirred so many emotions as The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New by Annie Dillard. In the Atlantic, the critic William Deresiewicz says that the book “might just as easily be called The Absence,” because the author has published nothing new for years. It’s a clever lead-in, but devoid of substance. Our online culture, with its constant demand for hitting the feeds at peak times every day, may dictate constant publication unto death as a requirement for any self-respecting author, but thank God Annie Dillard grew up before the advent of the internet. I prefer to look on her body of work and celebrate the abundance. [Read more…]

The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman

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Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

Caution: National Poetry Month

Aesthetic LightHow do you know if it’s a poem?

Maybe it’s a month, a month-at-a-glance, many days lined with appointments to exchange energy in cells, rows, examination rooms, fields with clients, colleagues, patients, classmates. But, ah, a few blank, spacious days.

Maybe it’s an old-fashioned phone book, the white pages with everything you need to call (or recall) a distant cousin, a local star, a first kiss.

Maybe it’s pre-op, the nurse anesthetist, a tree of life, trying to comfort you. Oh lazy kabbalist, your left eye dull, no divine emanation to be found there, not even when your daughter, holding your hand while fluid drips into your vein, looks deeply, lovingly to draw forth the hidden light.

The last dark poem you loved, the poem you wanted to love you back and live with you under a bridge: how did you know it was a poem and not a prescription for despair?

It’s been so long since you visited Uncle A for breakfast, the elegant table, a grapefruit half glistening with sugar crystals before you. How is your Jewish detective novel coming along, you ask him? Are you disappointed with heaven, or is it hell or somewhere in between? I don’t know the day of your yahrzeit, you tell him, or I would say Kaddish for you, you lie. [Read more…]


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