The Prophet of Uninterrupted Complaint

Morning IvyI am grateful for deadlines, even when I have little time, or only brief windows of it, which I often manage to fill with reading the Internet. I know my cannons will fire, because they must, but lately I’ve experienced a sort of brain-fatigue, or perhaps it’s peace (I don’t really know the difference), that’s brought me back to this position, sitting, waiting for the words to visit me.

I’ll be generous with myself and call it peace, which would be a paradigm-shift for me, not only because if it weren’t for deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing at all right now, but also because I spent many years “writing to survive.”

One of my favorite leisure activities from adolescence to young adulthood, was passionately leaving my house to take long brooding walks whilst listening to emo-pop music and imagining that I was God’s deep well of spiritual wisdom.

It was how I signaled to the cruel world (mostly my antagonistic siblings), that I had an interior life that was enjoyable to me: Yes, there’s something within me that I like and cherish and want to spend time with, and also, you’re not invited. [Read more…]

Thin Places, Part 1

DSC_0176A few summers ago, my husband Tom and I were in Dublin for a week, and one day, we took a tour bus to two ancient holy places—thin places, the Celts would have called them: spots where heaven and earth are very close to one another, where the ordinary distance between the two collapses.

When I was an evangelical teenager, I thought the idea of thin places was sort of cool, another way to describe that feeling I got when I sat on the beach during vacation and saw an especially vibrant sunset, or stood on top of a mountain and spun slowly to take in the vista. The world was transformed in a moment of extraordinary beauty, and so was I, for a little while.

I felt close to God, closer than I felt singing hymns or listening to sermons. Church, in its very weekly-ness, wasn’t extraordinary like that. I’d never been one of those “on fire for Jesus” types, like my friends who raised their hands in worship, but when I felt that spark, I thought maybe for a while I was like them. [Read more…]

The Wounds of Resurrection

Doubting ThomasAs my husband prepared for an Easter sermon a few weeks ago, our dinnertime conversations during Lent turned to Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the episode where poor Thomas is saddled with his unfortunate moniker. Carravaggio painted a terribly potent picture of Thomas probing Jesus’s wounds, his lord’s flesh curving over the doubter’s finger.

With its emphasis on suffering, broken bodies, deprivation, and wounds, Lent’s focus isn’t far from the realities since my father’s cancer diagnosis a year ago: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, the failure of his natural killer cells.

When you have a loved one with cancer, you enter the cloud of unknowing, or perhaps it’s a club of unknowing, a society of those wedged in the grief and emotional confusion that a non-linear illness brings to all who are involved. In this club you might become more familiar with the less famed side effects of chemo like neuropathy and a sensitivity to hot or cold, with the comments people make in an effort at sympathy, or with the ebb and flow of sadness, guilt, and normal life.

Lent puts us in mind of those wounds and scars, of bodies failing, of death. But when Easter comes, and we celebrate resurrection, it sometimes feels like those wounds are mended too quickly. Or perhaps they were never really healed. [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…]

A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]


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