Prayers in the River

9186219783_2c482b06e7_mI stand hip-deep in a river, casting into the eddies. I am not the kind of man who routinely stands hip-deep in anything, but the kids are still asleep, and I need to pray somewhere—God knows—so here I stand. The water is frigid and it soothes my feet, sore from stumbling over stones to rescue my lure. All I’ve caught in this damned river are rocks.

I’m here mostly to pray and because I want to fish in peace. Lord Jesus Christ—cast—son of God—lock—have mercy on me—reel, reel, reel—a sinner. In his last scene in The Godfather II, Fredo tells Michael Corleone’s son his fish-catching secret is to say a “Hail Mary” when he casts. Maybe that works for Catholics; this Orthodox Jesus Prayer is getting me nothing. [Read more...]

The Eucharist: Eat, Eat!

By Shannon Huffman Polson

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We sit in the back pew at church with intention; there’s an easy exit if our two-year-old’s patience has run out, or if ours has. Bible stories shine down on us hopefully from brightly colored stained glass windows on either side of the church.

Earlier I made spelt French toast for breakfast and my son ate three pieces, but halfway through the service he’s hungry again. He’s played with the hymnals and retrieved every stuffed animal from the basket at the rear of the church. We work on silent diversions when he tries to use the visitor card pen on the pews themselves.

Then he has another idea. “Eat, eat!” he says, with sudden and sincere desperation in his eyes, just as the congregation says “the Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and gave it to his disciples, and said ‘take, eat, this is my body…’” [Read more...]

The Two Lists

imageSeven-year old Isaiah found a small desk in the back of our garage and claimed it. “I want to paint it red,” he said. So we prepped it with a hand-sander, and I bought him a can of paint. Familiar with Tom Sawyer and being no fool, he recruited two of his brothers. Determined to let this be Isaiah’s project, I left them to their labor. Soon the desk was drying in the sun, and I was preoccupied with cleaning brushes along with whatever boy flesh I could lay hold of long enough to scrub it with mineral spirits.

Isaiah returned to the scene of the crime to survey his work. It was a damned atrocity. Paint ran haphazardly against the grain, tacky pools of it collected on the surface, and thick rivulets had crawled down the sides and hardened.

“Look at it,” the boy said, his arms spread wide. “It’s beautiful!” [Read more...]

Go Ahead and Have the Damn Children!

3724627479_62ac89a307_mI was working from home a few days ago, on a day when both of my children were sick, a day that teetered back and forth between writing memos and proposals at the dining room table and wielding the digital thermometer aloft as I re-tucked the covers around hot little bodies.

It was the end of the day and I had turned to random housecleaning when I happened to hear, on the public radio program Marketplace, the latest installment of the show’s series on “first jobs,” pegged to a new book out called First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Jobs, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks. In it, a young man named Jesse Kovalcik talked about his first job as a gravedigger at the South Florida pet cemetery where his father was working.

Aside from the built-in oddity of the job he described, the story was compelling for the family portrait it provided: The reason the family was in South Florida in the first place was that the father had gone there to enter a rehab program, and the pet cemetery job was the position he was given on release. [Read more...]

My Rainbow Connection, Disconnected

By Chad Thomas Johnston

2067021449_5fea38708a_mIt was a Saturday night and my wife, Becki, wanted to stream the documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, on Netflix. As a new father, I protested. Our seven-month-old daughter Evie carried with her the promise that Elmo would invade our house soon enough—but this was too soon.

I also protested because I lost much of my enthusiasm for puppets when Jim Henson died on May 16, 1990. When Henson’s silver cord was severed—a phrase the writer of Ecclesiastes uses to refer to death—the rainbow connection Henson sang about as Kermit the Frog was disconnected for me.

People said Henson’s death could have been prevented if only he had gone to the hospital earlier. In my eleven-year-old mind, I thought this meant he had given up on living, much as people give up on hobbies they no longer love. [Read more...]


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