Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Our Rumbling Nation 

This is an age of the world when nations are trembling and convulsed. A mighty influence is abroad, surging and heaving the world, as with an earthquake. And is America safe? Every nation that carries in its bosom great and un-redressed injustice has in it the elements of this last convulsion.

As I was reading these lines from the final page of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I couldn’t help thinking of the current rumbling earthquake in our country. Though not yet with physical violence—or not much so far—we seem to be experiencing a sort of civil war.

Or, more accurately, an uncivil war.

This isn’t why I pulled Uncle Tom’s Cabin off my shelf and began re-reading the yellowed pages of my 1981 paperback edition. I’ve been interrogating the hundreds of books on my shelves: am I going to read you again, or am I going to throw you out, or pass you on to my church’s second-hand sale?

I hadn’t read Stowe’s 1852 masterpiece for decades, so figured it was time to give it another try. Though sometimes sentimental or melodramatic, it does hold up: it paints a multi-faceted picture of the various forms of evil that the institution of slavery took.

It’s commonplace (though true) to say that our country is still living with the after-shocks of this evil.  How many of the people who voted for Donald Trump did so in the spirit of backlash of having to live for eight years under a Black president? Of course, people’s motivations for voting are too complex to single out one factor.

Yet in campaigning, Trump did play the racist card. And so far, as President, he has slapped much of the deck onto the table: Mexicans, Muslims with non-European ethnicity, Native Americans who are resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. [Read more…]

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…]

The Song of the Desert

dots-by-barbara-w-on-flickrThe Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

—Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

When the hospice nurse and social worker come to my parent’s home the first time, they are not what my sisters and I expect. Perhaps I was expecting a cliché: calm and restful sorts, hired because of their ability to show quiet dignity to patients who are dying. Instead, they are chatty and gregarious. Though their demeanor is initially surprising, there is a certain charm and assurance to their lack of worry about being so close to death; surely they also need a way to cope with the heavy burden of their job.

They are kind and highly knowledgeable, but they rush my mom through the heavy information about signing Do Not Resuscitate at Home forms, the different kinds of pain management options, and noticing the stages before death.

The nurse enthusiastically declares that she used to be afraid of morphine but she loves it now because of the relief it offers to suffering patients. I suppose it could seem jarring to someone newly acquainted with hospice care, but I think it’s necessary for my mom to hear. She’s been afraid of giving my father too much pain medication, afraid that she’ll be the one to kill him, not the cancer. [Read more…]

The Next Abraham

motherhood-by-barbara-w-on-flickrA few days ago, I was blessed to be present at my grandson Abraham’s bris, his ritual circumcision. The mohel, the rabbi who officiated at and performed the circumcision, explained to the family and friends gathered for the ceremony, explained that a bris is the way God signs God’s name on a Jewish male baby.

The day before the bris, women marched in solidarity all around the country and the world. Baby Abraham’s father, his uncle on his father’s side, and his oldest brother participated in the march in New York. So did the baby Abraham’s aunt on his mother’s side, uncle, and five-month-old niece. They were joined by baby Abraham’s stepmother on his mother’s side.

My wife, baby Abraham’s maternal grandmother, the baby’s biological grandfather on his mother’s side, and I stayed home with the newborn and his mother. At just a week old, baby Abraham was still too young to be taken to the march. And his mother was still recovering from the delivery. Had Abraham been a month or more old, I’m sure we all would have joined the rest of the family on the march. .

Everyone knows what happened on Friday January 20, the day before the women’s march.

It was a charged moment to witness the circumcision of a baby, marking the moment he ritualistically joined the Jewish people’s covenant with God. It was a charged moment to welcome a baby to the Divided States of America.

But this bris in particular was a deep moment of union, a moment that, for those present and for all those who will, God willing, get to know Abraham as he grows, marked, in its quiet way, a mending of the nation, even the world. This bris marked a moment of joining in love parts of the world that some would keep apart by instilling in us fear of certain others, by dividing the world simplistically, dangerously into friends and enemies. [Read more…]

Keeping Vigil

the-flight-into-egyptBy Suzanne M. Wolfe

These are dark times.

Here in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its lowest point in the sky; the winter solstice is still weeks away.

I’m sitting outside on my elderly mother’s kitchen step. I’ve come to England three times this year to take care of her. I came before and after her heart operation. A few weeks after I’d been home she fell and broke her elbow and so I’m back again.

My mother does not do well in the darkness of winter; she becomes agitated and depressed.  As I look out at her garden, I see an objective correlative of her physical and mental state since the onset of her illness a year ago.

I see bare branches with a few shriveled leaves clinging to them, vibrating forlornly in the chill air sweeping south from Iceland. I see frost-burned grass and plants. The herbs I planted for her in the spring look dead.

I know that once our planet begins its ancient, slow tilt towards the sun again, all will be resurrected. I try to keep that in mind as I huddle on the steps, smoke a cigarette or two and pray for God’s mercy to my mother at the end of her life, pray that she will find peace and joy and beauty.

I pray that spring will come to a life spent mostly in deepest winter. [Read more…]