The Eighth Day: Reclaiming a Neglected Novel

3220989233_da89ced170_zIt must be a common occurrence—having certain inanimate things make periodic appearances throughout a life, much like acquaintances who keep popping up in odd places—on the bus, in a crowd, across a room. They’re noticed, but barely so; the conscious mind remarks upon them—“There’s that thing again”—then moves on until they reappear, stepping out from the flood of experience with a gentle tug at the sleeve.

When I was a boy, a paperback copy of Thornton Wilder’s The Eighth Day would appear like this. I remember it on a table; I remember it in a box; the last time I recall seeing it, the book lay on the floor of a garage closet. It was a thick little text, with a cover that bore a sunrise in a yellowish cast and a title in Ten Commandment-size font. Still, I don’t remember ever thumbing through it. At some point, it must have been thrown away; it disappeared and has never resurfaced.

Not physically, at least; but later on, as though it had evanesced into the spiritual world in order to permeate the weightless atmosphere of the mind, someone mentioned the book to me. I was told that a novel I’d written (as yet unpublished) had put her in mind of it. Flattered, amused that the old paperback visitor had come to call once again, I began to use the comparison myself. [Read more...]

Beauty, Christian Love, and Gay Marriage

wedding couple

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, wrote the following concluding paragraph:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Quite a few commentators have noted the beauty and elegance of this statement’s prose (not a given for Justice Kennedy, who’s been known to drift toward the purple with his pen). Jordan Weissmann, for instance, titled a post for Slate “The Beautiful Closing Paragraph of Justice Kennedy’s Gay Marriage Ruling.” [Read more...]

Dancing for My Life, Part 1

barn-wedding-dance-area“ONE two three, LONG short short—don’t step on her!”

Gulya is my dance instructor. She’s from Azerbaijan, she’s five feet tall, and I’m afraid of her. Gulya, too, is afraid. She fears I will stomp my wife’s toes. I’m wearing boots, because we are a month away from a wedding on a California ranch, where real cowboys will be dancing real cowboy dances. Faced with this prospect, I realized several weeks ago that my choices are:

1) Ask my beautiful wife to sit beside me in a gorgeously decorated barn and watch everyone else dance the night away;

2) Sit by myself in said barn and watch my wife dance the night away with cowboys;

3) Learn how to dance.

In other words, I have no choice. [Read more...]

The Thing Itself: Art and Poverty, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

 

picasso1How should we treat the poor?

Among those who work on behalf of them, it has become a truism that our first obligation toward our less fortunate brothers and sisters is to first recognize and celebrate their humanity. What is less often recognized is the vital role that art can play in such a process. Roberta Ahmanson in the interview she gave recently for Image spoke about how she, as a patron of the arts, has worked to serve homeless families through a nonprofit called Village of Hope:

I think people might say that the Village of Hope doesn’t need stained-glass windows; they need food, job training, tutoring, beds for the babies. But Jim [the founder] intuitively understood that the places you bring people to speak to them about their own value. When you…put them in a box like a prison cell, you have just said, “We think you are a prisoner.” [Read more...]

The Thing Itself: Art and Poverty, Part 1

The following is adapted from a presentation given at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley in January 2015 during a convocation on the topic “Blessed Are You Poor: What Does It Mean to Be a Poor Church for the Poor?”

 

pop__frugal_mealI am profoundly grateful that the witness of Pope Francis has spurred so many of us to rethink our relationship to the poor and marginalized. There are a dozen directions to take this topic, depending on how we define poverty. We have spoken of it as an evil—a condition to be ameliorated whenever possible—and we have spoken of it as a virtue—a habit that embraces simplicity, freedom, and sacrifice.

It is, of course, both.

[Read more...]


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