Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 9: Psalms, In the End

Continued from yesterday

 

11826685814_171e060196_mThinking of the psalms as a way to cycle through the entire range of human experience, I recently brought them with me into juvenile detention.

The kids there, on Sunday afternoons, shuffle through automated doors wearing orange jumpsuits and pink booties and take their seats shyly around bolted-down steel tables with me.

These are boys and girls who have likely seen, and felt on their bodies, and heard, what no child should have to see or feel or hear. And after absorbing all they’ve endured and trying to maintain composure, they have probably been kicked out of classrooms for not watching their tongues. For small outbursts, foul language, bad attitudes. Now, in detention, they spend most of their time in lockdown, in cells of their own, alone. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 8: Psalms, In the Beginning

4591112088_e1c7fb17da_mI always privately hated the psalms.

Most of them, anyway. As a teenager, I’d leaf through the Bible’s songbook quite often and feel it was full of self-pity and self-righteousness, often launching into bombastic praise of God and two lines later wishing curses on enemies. I didn’t understand why Christians still used the psalms, and so often.

As I got older, it was the worst part of visiting a monastery for me: hearing monks or nuns fill up so much of their time together chanting through these oft-sub-merciful prayers. The sentiments throughout the ancient songbook seemed so far from the heart Jesus teaches us to inhabit. They felt human, as Nietzsche said, all too human. Yet monasteries cycle through the entire Psalter month after month, year after year. [Read more...]

Facing Calvary

12820770544_c702bd9450_mThere’s a line from last year’s thought-provoking film, Calvary, that’s uttered by a young French woman. She has just lost her husband in a senseless car wreck somewhere along an Irish country road. After Father James (Brendan Gleeson) gives the last rites, he goes to sit with the woman for a time. Their subsequent discussion is the difficult one that follows all such traumatic events, when the comforting banality of the world has imploded, and the unmoored psyche bobs about in a world without physics.

Except there is a difference here, as the woman proves unlike any of the other people in the priest’s life. Instead of being enraged, vindictive, and accusatory, she remarks upon the good marriage that she’d had with her husband. She speaks with a marvelous repose.

I loved him, and he loved me. We were happy together. And now it’s over. It’s not unfair. It’s just what happened. [Read more...]

Seeing The World As It Is

The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram“My religious commitment: to stay in conversation with Jewish stories.” That’s Nancy Fuchs Kreimer in “The Face under the Huppah: Relating to My Closest Stranger.” The essay is a meditation inspired by a drive with her husband from Philadelphia to Boston. Near the beginning of the drive, Fuchs Kreimer and her husband get stuck in a familiar conflict: a disagreement over whose proposed route is best: hers that is shortest, his that sometimes involves less traffic. They’ve been here before: on this highway, on this trip, caught in this disagreement whose stakes to them seem high.

Given the “circumstances”—their late start, the threat of snow and ice in Connecticut, and the building Friday afternoon traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike—her husband declares that “he will be determining” their route. “Alone.”

How does he get away with simply claiming the authority to choose their route? Fuchs Kreimer doesn’t openly protest her husband’s autonomous action. Rather, she devotes the rest of her illuminating essay to considering her response to him in relation to relevant rabbinic texts and others, including Freud, Levinas, and the Israeli novelist David Grossman. [Read more...]

Writing My Mother’s Icon

Blessed Santa Barbara, / Your story is written in the sky, / With paper and holy water.

December 4 marked the feast day of St. Barbara. An early martyr, St. Barbara announced her faith to her pagan father by having three windows—a sign of the Trinity—cut into a wall of her private bath. It is said that the torches St. Barbara’s father used to torture her would extinguish themselves before they could be pressed against her skin.

My mother, also named Barbara, spent her summers cleaning the rooms of my grandfather’s motel; memories of the task still make her shudder. My grandfather refused to wash sheets or towels, and was either too drunk or angry for my mother to ask for a clean washrag.

“I cannot stand dirt,” she says, filling her sink with soapy water, reaching for the spoon I used to spoon sugar into her coffee. Her cigarette rests on the sink’s aluminum edge, its ash hovering over the sudsy water, which she will use to wash the spoon and the rest of the day’s dishes. It is a better spot for the cigarette than the counter by the stove, which, she has mentioned, is now miraculously free of grease stains.

“Baby oil! A little bit just rubs the grease away,” she exclaims, somehow forgetting how flammable baby oil is, how easily it could set her small kitchen ablaze, the file cabinet holding her life’s paperwork sidled next to the stove, the first thing to go should the oil spark.

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X