The Casserole Dish Manifesto

I possessed a consummate ideology before I had children. It was a perfectly distilled comprehension of man, God, and government. I knew with certainty that if everyone would just turn off the television and read Important Books, we could live alongside one another the way the Almighty intended when he crafted laws of the universe that so clearly comported with my belief system.

It was all so obvious to me, which made the fact that some people disagreed with my worldview both infuriating and validating. How do you not see the truth? How can you ignore these facts staring you in the face? How awesome am I that I have not fallen prey to the deceptions entangling you?

I was enlightened. I was chosen. Only the ignorance and avarice of my ideological enemies stood in the way. Surely God would not have gifted me with words if he didn’t want me firing them from both barrels at the enemies of peace, freedom, and progress.

Then my children arrived.

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Each Woman Mary, Each Child Christ

I found respite recently in Jeanne Murray Walker’s essay on Alice Munro in Image, describing Munro’s domestic fiction, and related utterly to Walker’s wrestling with “Doing Something Important.” It is a place I find myself often, wondering if the few hours a week I have of child care for the baby are an example of my missing what I am supposed to be living and learning. Jesus does not say to come to him as someone Doing Something Important, but as a little child.

You’re not supposed to write about your own children if you want to be a real writer. Too cliché, too sentimental. But what about the one whose birth we so recently celebrated? This isn’t sentimental—it’s the real deal. A child is born in Bethlehem, and he is the king of kings. This is earth shattering. There’s something there we’re meant to learn. Maybe even everything.

A December 2004 article in Time notes that the nativity story is the part of the Jesus history that gives scholars most trouble. Only Matthew and Luke talk about the birth of Jesus, and like most parallel accounts in the Bible, their stories contradict each other. Neither account is given much room on the page for a holiday of such current social and commercial import.

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An Almost Human Happiness

nabokov, butterflyA typical plot complication on reality shows involves the unexpected twist, a challenge that the credulous competitors never saw coming: The next leg of the race will occur underwater, in an eel-ridden cove, says the host; the next round of the bake-off will require the incorporation of mountain oysters in a rendition of Crepes Suzette. The idea is simple: the greater the skill, the greater the capacity to overcome.

If there were a reality show writing competition (imagine that), the curve might come by way of a forced employment of cloying conceits: “Write a profound story using a waterfall, a widowed grandfather, a daisy—aaaaaannnnnd a basset hound puppy. You have thirty minutes. Break my heart.”

Then the topper would require that it be set around Christmastime. For if anything can lose flavor faster than cheap Christmas candy, it’s a maudlin Christmas story.

Unless you’re a master, that is. [Read more...]

New World

“There is no death, only a changing of worlds.” —Chief Seattle

At night I lie in bed and think of the cemetery gate on Monument Hill. It was a fairly steep climb up a gravel path and always left me winded, so I didn’t often attempt it with our all-terrain stroller. At the summit is a clear view of the college grounds and a circular, enclosed graveyard where the founders’ bodies lie.

I will likely never open that gate again. I wonder how long my arms will hold the recent memory of tugging at the rusted iron, the screeching of metal on the stone steps so loud it set my teeth on edge. I brace myself against the sound and pull.

I turn over in bed and rearrange the covers, hear the wind in the pines. The weather is already so cool in Northern Michigan, as cool as I remember my last winter in Virginia, and it’s only September. I’m restless at night. I reach for the gate. The grating of metal resounds in the earth and in my stomach. The kids cry out and cover their ears.

Inside the stone enclosure, the grass is lush and soft. The kids dance on the graves. The columbarium is their stage. They never want to leave, but I anticipate the long walk home. There are tears.

I’m romanticizing. I do that. It’s how I’ve always managed; I tell myself stories, create tableaux. [Read more...]

Chrysalis, Catacomb, Cloud Part 2

R. Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi (1617)

Guest Post
Jen Hinst-White

Continued from yesterday

 

Rob goes to bed; I go to my desk and light white candles. Someone I know makes a yearly Lenten project of holding a poetry contest, soliciting translations of psalms from friends. The timing is good; I need a quiet task. Which psalm, then?

Years ago I memorized Psalm 25, and it’s become my favorite ground to walk in the book of Psalms. It’s the one I return to, a beggar’s song of waiting and yearning and aloneness.

Plus—it’s got tricks built in. In Hebrew, this psalm is an acrostic, with the first letter of each line spelling out the Hebrew alphabet. Why the acrostic? Maybe for easy recall when you have no presence of mind. Ache and longing made manageable by mnemonics. [Read more...]


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