Divine Drudgery

vanTwo weeks after we moved to the Mennonite community in rural Illinois, a baby was born in a teepee in my backyard. My neighbor Angela was a doula and had agreed to let a friend give birth in her own home. I’m not sure even Angela had expected the full-sized teepee to be erected fifty feet from the double sliding glass doors that looked out onto the backyard we shared.

Really, though, we share more than a backyard. Along with five or so families, we live on 180 acres of woods and farmland and dwell in the seven or eight buildings constructed by community members in the seventies and eighties.

That night, the teepee, straight out of the movie Dances with Wolves, was full of smoke, fire, and rain from the fateful thunderstorm whose thrumming rose and fell in pitch with the mother’s vocal contractions.

I stood at the window early the next morning and heard the newborn’s very first cries. And despite the strangeness of it all, I cried too.

Witnessing an unusual birth, living on a farm, rubbing shoulders with hippies, growing and raising our own food: It all sounds so romantic and interesting when I describe it, doesn’t it? [Read more…]

Wanted: God—Dead or Alive?

305880083_7cf2d7bf10_mIf you practice a religion faithfully—faith-fully—, why do you do this? And why is it this particular religion that you practice?

“The embarrassing fact is that most religious people seem to believe in a religion for no better reason than that their parents believed in it.” So states poet and literary critic Adam Kirsch in his review-essay “Is Reason Enough?” in The New York Review of Books (April 23, 2015). [Read more…]

Sunday Morning at Wegmans, Prince George’s County, Maryland

7318387934_a5430df8a7_mIt is the Feast of Pentecost on the Eastern Orthodox calendar, the annual commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the assembled, expectant, and yet uncomprehending (read: totally clueless) Apostles. It is also the day after B.B. King’s funeral: “The Thrill is Gone” is going yet again, over and over, on the newscasts on the car radio.

And on this festival day, I am feeling once again my status as the Chief of Sinners, slipping out of the house with unwashed hair in a faded, above-the-knee, sleeveless, beach sundress. (So much for all my lurking on frum-clothing websites as of late and our family’s general decision to avoid any commerce on Sunday.) I’ve blown receiving Holy Communion today, having already drunk a lot of coffee in violation of the pre-Communion Fast. I do not feel okay about this, but I have to go to Confession anyway, so this is just another damned thing I can add to the list. [Read more…]

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…]

Triple Scoop

By Jessica Mesman Griffith

3714575165_05a6e53752_mMy best friend died suddenly almost two years ago. She’d lived across the country from me for almost ten years by then, and since our relationship mostly happened over the phone and email, it’s easy to sink into the feeling that we just haven’t spoken in a while. The phone will ring and I’ll catch myself hoping it’s her.

Then I have to face it: never again.

I’ve thought of her often in these last weeks of pregnancy. Maybe it’s the sleeplessness. I lie in the dark, feeling the twists and stretches of my growing child, struggling to recall the last conversations we had. We had a fight before she died—not unusual for us—and we weren’t speaking. [Read more…]