Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents

two nuns walking through an empty alleyway into light.After World War II devastated eastern Europe, the Red Army pushed into the countries allotted to them as spoils, such as Poland. There, they continued the destructive work that the Nazis had begun. Among those hardest hit were the women religious of Warsaw.

French Red Cross physician Madeleine Pauliac, sent to find and repatriate the French who were still in the Polish countryside, discovered that whole convents of nuns had been gang raped by pillaging Russian soldiers. Some of the women were molested thirty to fifty times each. Unsurprisingly, a good number died in the process, and those who survived often fell pregnant. Lives of avowed purity were changed forever into lives of violent desecration.

Pauliac, who herself died in an automobile accident while still on duty in Poland, wrote of these women in her diary. That work formed the inspiration for Anne Fontaine’s 2016 film, The Innocents. The movie provides a careful, respectful, and convincing portrayal of the emotional array that comprises such a tragedy. For nuns do not stop being women when they take the veil, nor are women who have not consecrated their lives to God any less called to the courage that nuns must possess. [Read more…]

How To Arm Yourself Against Irrationality

people-running-the-central-station-by-national-museum-of-denmark-on-flickr-no-known-copyright-restrictionsIf I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
—1 Corinthians 13: 1

My four-year-old enthusiastically agreed to another term of gymnastics with the parks and rec department. He’s not particularly athletic, but he enjoys climbing over obstacles, hanging from bars, and tumbling on mats, so we signed him up.

Nonetheless, one Saturday morning he was lying on his bedroom floor in a pile of clothes, crying and screaming because he didn’t want to go to gymnastics.

“There is no such thing as gymnastics!” he shouted. “I want to stay home forever!”

He’s been speaking in this way for several weeks, now. Normally I’d chalk it up to a preschooler’s creative logic. But these aren’t normal times. His absolute rejection of reality and his stated desire to accomplish absurdities remind me too much of the insane rhetoric of a certain world leader and many of the voters who are trying to justify their support of him.

Sure, that’s a little dramatic; if anything, it says more about the leader and his supporters than it does about the preschooler. It probably says something about me, too, like that I hold my children to unreasonably high standards of coherence and rationality.

My world leaders, too, apparently. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Bewilder”

Beluga whales swimming in a bluish cave with light illuminating them in the ocean.This is a poem about scale, about the awesome power of the Creator, who in turn gave humanity the power to create. And it’s about the power of a created being, and its potential to do good or evil. Here we have a whale sighting, her powerful fluke useable for constructive or destructive acts—“so many gestures// a fluke or fin can make with or/ without ruin.” Over time, the Leviathan has stood for evil of various kinds. Yet the bulk of the poem celebrates the whale’s beauty without romanticizing or anthropomorphizing. Indeed, it makes deliberate strides against that temptation, admonishing: “her eye deeply/winking at my eye, no more/ human for that.” The poem affirms, if for no one else than for the speaker, that the whale was made for her own good purpose, for God’s own good purpose, “to sing… for enchantment and for love.” The mystery of creation rises into view, immense, blinking its wild eye, and then disappears again, leaving our hearts pounding. Leaving us feeling more alive, as any good poem— creation—ought to. 

—Melissa Reeser Poulin


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To Run and Not Grow Weary, Part 2

eric-liddell-public-domain-via-wikimediaGuest Post

Maybe it was instinct that sent me back to relive the 1924 Olympic Games.

Yesterday you found me despairing, feeling a sudden collapse of my lifelong will to write. Slumped on the couch, I was watching, of all things, Chariots of Fire.

As a child, I loved this movie. But it wasn’t until college that I saw how it stands in stark contrast to so much evangelical entertainment, how it avoids a faith will make your dreams come true pep talk.

In fact, its most fervent evangelical figure, Eric Liddell’s sister, Jenny, is frustrated when her athletic brother postpones his missionary work in China in order to become an Olympic runner. Straightforward evangelism, Jenny believes, is the real work. If people are dying without hearing about Jesus, what is running but self-indulgence?

The tract-peddling, altar-calling culture in which I grew up would have loved Jenny.

And yet, Eric argues with her: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

His father supports him: “Eric, you can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection.”

And we still hear about Liddell’s faith today. Why? Because he ran. He ran like a holy fool. [Read more…]

To Run and Not Grow Weary, Part 1

Three men running in a track covered with water puddles in the 1948 Olympic Games in LondonGuest Post

So, why Chariots of Fire?

Why is that what I chose for tonight’s movie? Netflix is recommending all kinds of recent, highly rated titles. Why revisit this old DVD?

It happened like this:

Two hours earlier, I’d taken the car, planning to drive north to a waterfront park to work on my novel. I planned to walk along the beach and watch the sun’s long surrender while ideas filled my head. Then I’d veer into the nearest café or pub to scribble down scenes while they were fresh.

A strange way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Perhaps.

For me, it’s as automatic as it was for my father and grandfather to watch Sunday afternoon football, as it is for you to do what comes most naturally, and be what feels most like yourself. Filling pages with story—it’s what I’ve done every weekend since I was seven. When I don’t, I feel like I’m holding my breath.

What is that for you? Maybe running, parenting, or knitting. Maybe you read, hike, fish, or cook.

Just a mile from home, a tremendous fatigue settled over me. I slowed to a stop at a traffic light, turned off the radio. Silence. The light turned green, the road was open, and I may as well have been staring at a brick wall. I couldn’t bear the thought of going forward. The weariness I usually felt after four hours of filling pages with prose—I felt before.

A few minutes later, I was home. And my wife Anne was surprised.

“I couldn’t do it,” I heard myself say. “I got almost halfway there and then…” I fumbled for words. [Read more…]