An Orchestra Against Ignorance

The alumni magazine of Brown University, my alma mater, begins its article on a unique orchestra like this:

“We are an orchestra against ignorance.” That’s how Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim describes the West-Eastern Divan, which consists of young musicians hailing from Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Picture a teenage violinist from Israel; his name is Ilya. Picture a teenage violinist from Lebanon; his name is Claude. They know nothing of one another’s lives. Or, actually, they think they do know about each other’s lives, because each has been raised on negative stereotypes about the other. [Read more...]

Making Rules for Life

For my forty-first birthday, I decided to write a personal rule of life.

Turning forty hadn’t magically made me wise in the way that translates into action, and I didn’t wish to spend the next decade wading in the same bog of issues and habits and disordered affections that kept me from feeling present to my thirties.

I gathered some resources, ranging from the Rule of St. Benedict to works by some of my favorite contemporary spiritual writers like Paula Huston and Henri Nouwen. There are also, of course, the always-relevant Ten Commandments and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. I found various examples of religious and nonreligious personal rules on the Internet, including Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” (desired things, or things desired), which is not technically a rule but functions beautifully and succinctly as one. [Read more...]

Whispering Along a Thin Trembling Thread

Most of us are vulnerable to the solipsistic notion that our sufferings and joys are exquisite. My ex-wife once attended a seminar, a Christian women’s retreat, in which the keynote speaker opined about the peace of God. “Most of you have never truly known the peace of God,” the speaker told her audience. “You may think you’ve known the peace of God, but you haven’t.”

The speaker had the peace of God in a headlock. She wrote a book about it, after all.

She’d experienced her dark, or at least dimly lit, night of the soul and lived to tell about it and write about it and tell about writing about it. And somehow along the way she came to think that this set her apart from other women––women who’ve buried children and suffered infidelities and survived breast cancer, but who hadn’t found the time, in the midst of grieving and raising their children and maintaining something like order in their homes, to write books about it.

And so in strode the writer, knowing none of them from Eve, to instruct them on the peace of God.

[Read more...]