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 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…]

Flying into Fear, Part 2

Read Part 1 here

What a strange airline it was!

My fear of flying made every flight I took an exhausting process of dread, panic, relief, and guilt. Mental health issues usually require a variety of strategies to overcome. Healing is more art than science, a process of trial and error with fingerprint individuality. For me, therapy on its own wasn’t cutting it.

I’d heard more than once that information doesn’t help the phobic person, that irrationality can’t be countered with facts. That was not the case with me. I sought out information to set my brain grooves aright. I read Patrick Smith’s book Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, which communicates the science and safety of flight with frankness and humor.

I also started to spend time on the SOAR Fear of Flying forum online, where Captain Tom Bunn puts all manner of fearful flyers at ease with data about planes and the human brain. (In short, planes are a lot more predictable and reliable.) [Read more…]

Finding Another World in Winterkill

Winterkill by Todd DavisThere is another world, but it is in this one.” —William Butler Yeats

Reading Yeats’s line, I think vaguely incarnational thoughts: heaven enters earth with Christ’s Incarnation; God dwells within our world, not separated from it; and so on. I believe these statements. Yet these formulations give me nothing to grasp onto, nothing to engage my imagination.

How astonishingly rich, though, the other world “in this one” becomes in Todd Davis’s latest collection of poems, Winterkill, which takes Yeats’s line as its epigraph. For Davis, “this world” is the world of nature—particularly the mountainous woods, streams, and wildlife around his longtime central Pennsylvania home.

From what I’ve just said, you might think: oh, so his poems are about nature. But, no: something much more enlivening is going on in Davis’s poetry. He doesn’t write about nature; rather, he writes from deep within nature. The natural world is his ambiance: he so immerses himself in it that he breathes it, he prays it, he caresses each minute detail of it with his eyes and hands, his heart, his soul, his language. From within nature, life’s meanings speak to him.

Take fish and the water they live in. Davis spends a lot of time in these poems fishing. And sometimes it seems as if he catches fish specifically in order to handle them with delicate awe: to trace their wonders with his fingers and words. [Read more…]

Charles of the Desert

By Rebecca A. Spears

charles-of-the-desert-a-life-in-verse-5One early June, traveling to a wedding in San Diego, I’d taken the long way from Dallas by train. I wanted to see the Southwestern deserts. Two days later Amtrak’s Sunset Limited broke down in the Mojave Desert.

Pretty quickly it became clear: We are not so great. Nature is. God is.

Perhaps this is one reason why Charles de Foucauld went to live in the Sahara: not only to offer the people there hospitality and love as Jesus had, but also as a way to empty himself of the temptations of civilized life, allowing himself to be humbled by the vast universe.

The Christian hermit and martyr Charles of the Desert (1858-1916) is a complex, puzzling character. William Kelley Woolfitt’s new book of poems Charles of the Desert develops a full portrait of this mystifying cleric from childhood in 1863 to his last day in Algeria’s Hoggar Mountains. The poems, written in first person, proceed on a timeline, zigzagging geographically from France to the Holy Land to Algeria.

For over a decade, Père Charles lived a stringent life in the Sahara, a life that would kill most of us. He lived and worked among the Tuaregs, who saw him at best as an eccentric, at worst as an enemy. In 1916, he was assassinated by rebels attempting to rob and kidnap him. He left to the world a four-volume dictionary of the Tuareg language, a new order—the Little Brothers and Little Sisters of Jesus—and a public fascination for his austere life among the Muslims, whom he hadn’t been able to convert. [Read more…]


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