Evil’s Share

Johann Heinrich FussliIt has been said that one of the most effective means by which evil can have its way is to convince us that we are too abominable to love. It’s not a bad tactic. When our faults are catalogued back to us, the inventory is hair-raising and earth-shattering.

This is one of the methods attributed to demons, unsurprisingly; they shock the conscious self through the exposition of things it knows but won’t look at, has suspected but never acknowledged. This takes the self to a place from which it is loath to return. Amazed at the true level of its depravity, it exacts a self-imposed exile and seeks its own annihilation.

And yet, for all of the destructiveness wrought by the demonic motive, there is something searching about it as well—a hunger perversely akin to the longing of those who seek a better end. Evil desires its level, but can only destroy it in the attainment. A famous literary work supplies the example. [Read more…]

There Must Be a Word for This

Summer Country LandNow spring has come again, the season that’s best for hope. Post-Lenten promises are fresh as a baby’s breathing, and the failures that eventually spoil them are as far away as the height of summer’s heat.

Hope can make us believe in endings as well as beginnings, in the idea that we can accomplish the hard tasks of life and see them to the finish.

“It will get done,” says hope, settling a resolve into our hearts. “Despite all, it will get done.”

However, as usual, I get pensive about things coming to a close. When years of labor spent in achieving something are about to meet resolution, there’s part of me that puts on the brakes—not strong enough to stop the momentum, but strong enough to set my mind churning.

“What now?” becomes the question. Achievement ends purpose, and purpose gives meaning. When foundering around for purpose, we can’t help but feel disoriented.

I’ve heard people express what I’m describing along these lines: “Without what I’ve been doing for so long, I expect I’ll be a bit lost.” And that feeling is all the more profound when the end is an event more necessary than relished, more required than sought. [Read more…]

Refugees Are People, Not a Crisis

APTOPIX-Hungary-Migra_HoroSometimes the horrors in the news are so overwhelming that I’m left speechless. This is how I feel now—have been feeling for months—about what is being called Europe’s “refugee crisis.”

Refugee crisis. Encapsulating massive human suffering in those two simple words strikes me as demeaning: a slap in the face of every refugee from the endless wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya….

I imagine a woman who was evicted from the French refugee camp at Calais, sleepless with worry over the sick toddler she holds in her arms. I imagine her staring at me in numb despair when I read her a news story about “the refugee crisis.” I hear her scream back, “I’m not your crisis; I’m a person, a person who is pouring all my energy and money into trying to save my family from the brutalities of war and the indignities of being classified as a low-class refugee.”

I have no answer for her. I share her pain—to the extent that it’s possible for a comfortable U.S. citizen to share the pain of a despairing country-less person. But I don’t have the words to express my sharing. [Read more…]

The Living Among the Dead

mushroomThanksgiving Day after I turned four: high fever at dinner, a drive through a blizzard, then a spinal tap. Meningitis. The nurse promised me angels, and they floated from the bright examination light to the floor, and this is all I remember: paper angels filling the emergency room, snow falling outside, my mother crying.

For two weeks while my brain boiled, I was in the hospital bed and outside in the falling snow, both at once. My parents made me testify about the angels (but not about the snow) to our church, and later, I teased my father about this, about people who wanted a miracle so badly that they confused miracle with inflamed brain. He shrugged and said maybe they’re not so different.

I have been putting things side-by-side, trying to make sense of images that occur and reoccur and tie themselves to other things, snow and angel, miracle and spinal cord smolder. The signs of crisis averted, barely. Bear with me. I’ve been walking in circles, encountering the same signposts, over and over since my grandma died this summer. I’m looking for what I’ve lost, the signs for loss that only seem to point back toward themselves, building a constellation of images around the shape of something I can barely see. [Read more…]

The Confessions of X: An Interview with Suzanne M. Wolfe, Part 2

By Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here.

Suzanne M. WolfeGW: One of the most interesting aspects of The Confessions of X is the way that X herself responds to Augustine’s intellectual passions, from his Manichean phase to Platonism. She’s not an intellectual but she’s no pushover and she instinctively challenges Augustine…

SMW: The last thing I wanted this novel to be was either a hagiographical account of the Great Man, Augustine, by the little woman or an intellectual debate about theology. And when I reached deeply into who X was and what her life experience was and how that had shaped her, I realized a couple of things:

1) That only a remarkable woman in her own right would fall in love with a man as fiercely intelligent as Augustine, so she would be no dummy;

2) Lacking a formal education, her grasp of intellectual and theological issues would be through her experience and her instinct. At one point in the novel she says, “I think better in pictures.” This is true to her experience with a father who was a mosaic layer. But it also reveals a more sacramental understanding of the world, a type of understanding in which women, I believe, excel. She and Augustine complement one another. More than that, X provides a necessary check to his tendency towards abstraction both as a Manichean and as a Platonist.

GW: In a sense, she’s a natural incarnationalist, even though you depict her as living in a space between her childhood pagan upbringing and Augustine’s Christianity…

SMW: Not only her experience with art through her father but her own experience of motherhood make her an incarnationalist. For her, beauty has a form; love has a form. She says: “Grace, for me, is flesh and blood, bones and sinew, someone whom my mouth can name.” [Read more…]


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