A Holy Habitation for Life’s Story

By Allison Backous Troy


May the Lord bless thee out of Zion; and so shalt thou behold the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. —St. Gregory of Palamas

Last night, I dreamed that I was in Montana. My neighborhood looked like the one I live in—same Tudor house, same cul-de-sac, same wooded corner where I take my dog for morning walks. But there were mountains to the south, gray and wide, and the grass was a rust-colored brush, dry and prickly beneath my feet. [Read more...]

God in the Godforsaken Places

1834413480_3f2cfbf078_bI live in the shadows of Washington, D.C. It’s a big place and said to be a very important one in geopolitical matters. I trust them on that. But I’ve found that in most cities its size—in most cities of any size, for that matter—many of the citizens share a rather parochial disposition about the rest of the country.

The other day, a longtime resident who comes to this metropolis by way of an even larger one was telling a story at work. Though an educated man, and a world traveler, he didn’t really know where the action in his narrative took place. So he gestured towards the west with a dismissive flip of the hand and named a few states, randomly: “Kansas, or Nebraska, or some other Godforsaken place,” and went on to finish the tale.   [Read more...]

In Memoriam

roadside-memorialIf you live long enough in a place, people will start to die there, but the phenomenon of time’s passage is often framed more romantically. Consider the lines of the classic Beatles song (emphasis mine):

There are places I remember…
Some have gone and some remain
All these
places have their moments
with lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all.

I’m not immune to this tendency myself. I am a Southerner, after all, and a Mississippian, a member of the tribe for whom the phrase “a sense of place” is endlessly and (often) sententiously invoked.

A real joke: How many Southerners does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Three. One to call the yardman, one to mix the martinis, and one to talk about how lovely the old one was. [Read more...]

We All Have a Place on the Great Chain of Being

XJF347996Somewhere along the Great Chain of Being, we all have our place. That’s an old concept, and perhaps one that doesn’t fit our times as easily as it did in the past, but there’s much of it that still holds true.

From the ancients comes the idea that all things in reality can be located along a continuum—a “Great Chain,” as it were—hierarchized so that each thing possesses an attribute in addition to those that rest immediately below it, and lack an attribute possessed by those immediately above. Plants have life, so are above sand, which has only existence; but plants cannot move, so they are below animals.

Likewise, each entrant within a category can be hierarchized: The lion is the king of the beasts, because it possesses all of the prized attributes of creatures—strength, courage, beauty, etc. But because it lacks a soul, the prophets would rate even the most glorious of the leonine family below the most inglorious of the human. [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...]