Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 9: Psalms, In the End

Continued from yesterday

 

11826685814_171e060196_mThinking of the psalms as a way to cycle through the entire range of human experience, I recently brought them with me into juvenile detention.

The kids there, on Sunday afternoons, shuffle through automated doors wearing orange jumpsuits and pink booties and take their seats shyly around bolted-down steel tables with me.

These are boys and girls who have likely seen, and felt on their bodies, and heard, what no child should have to see or feel or hear. And after absorbing all they’ve endured and trying to maintain composure, they have probably been kicked out of classrooms for not watching their tongues. For small outbursts, foul language, bad attitudes. Now, in detention, they spend most of their time in lockdown, in cells of their own, alone. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 8: Psalms, In the Beginning

4591112088_e1c7fb17da_mI always privately hated the psalms.

Most of them, anyway. As a teenager, I’d leaf through the Bible’s songbook quite often and feel it was full of self-pity and self-righteousness, often launching into bombastic praise of God and two lines later wishing curses on enemies. I didn’t understand why Christians still used the psalms, and so often.

As I got older, it was the worst part of visiting a monastery for me: hearing monks or nuns fill up so much of their time together chanting through these oft-sub-merciful prayers. The sentiments throughout the ancient songbook seemed so far from the heart Jesus teaches us to inhabit. They felt human, as Nietzsche said, all too human. Yet monasteries cycle through the entire Psalter month after month, year after year. [Read more...]

Facing Calvary

12820770544_c702bd9450_mThere’s a line from last year’s thought-provoking film, Calvary, that’s uttered by a young French woman. She has just lost her husband in a senseless car wreck somewhere along an Irish country road. After Father James (Brendan Gleeson) gives the last rites, he goes to sit with the woman for a time. Their subsequent discussion is the difficult one that follows all such traumatic events, when the comforting banality of the world has imploded, and the unmoored psyche bobs about in a world without physics.

Except there is a difference here, as the woman proves unlike any of the other people in the priest’s life. Instead of being enraged, vindictive, and accusatory, she remarks upon the good marriage that she’d had with her husband. She speaks with a marvelous repose.

I loved him, and he loved me. We were happy together. And now it’s over. It’s not unfair. It’s just what happened. [Read more...]

When We Die

4837682207_f99b2224d6_mA text from a friend: “What do you believe happens when we die?”

She’d recently lost her son. He must have been no older than his late twenties, maybe early thirties. Over the years, she had told me enough about him that I knew he was troubled. I didn’t really know what kind of trouble. I knew she worried about him, about his ability to take care of himself. I don’t know how he died. I can only imagine.

But I cannot imagine what it feels like to have lost a son or daughter. I want to comfort my friend, but I don’t know how. [Read more...]

Las Madres: Art and Death in the Arizona Desert

pic“The artist is a beggar because she is empty, waiting to be filled. But the artist is also… someone who is driven to go out to the margins of society in order to learn what the margins can teach those at the center.”

When I’d read these words in Greg Wolfe’s editorial in the current issue of Image (#84), I immediately thought of fiber artist Valarie James. Living in the desert of southern Arizona, James hasn’t had to go far to get to society’s margins. When she walks her dog near her home, she finds objects left behind by Central American migrants who have risked their lives—and often lost them—as they traverse the harsh desert mountains seeking safety and the dignity of work in the United States. [Read more...]


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