Actually, my column at First Things this week is both:
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 6:25 AM: In the palest light, I follow footprints left in the season’s first frost, just a few minutes behind the regulars. The church’s glaring overhead lights are softened by the flame-glow of a few dozen candles—real wax, seven-day candles that burn a constant supplication—and by the shimmer of one gloriously large and eye-catching Icon of the Crucifixion scene. I wait to stand my candle as a slope-shouldered older man first places his own and then remains a few moments in wonder before all that beauty. He bows low; his eyes close and his hands press together in prayer, but imperfectly so. Form follows function, and these hands, roughly callused, with knuckles gnarled by age and decades of hard work, reveal the laborer who grounds the esthete.
6:36 AM: To the right of the altar, on a worn kneeler, another gray-haired man. He too has lit a candle—electric, this time—before an image of Saint Joseph, patron of husbands and fathers and workers; of immigrants and the whole church and a happy death. There is suppleness to the arc of the man’s body that suggests both comfortable familiarity and ardent longing. He cannot know that in this mid-twentieth century, minimalist building, he is the closest thing to a gothic arch thrusting heavenward, or that his unconscious affect works to similar effect, on some.
It’s gratitude for the past, and hope for the future — a smaller, sassier future — and you can read the rest, here.
Speaking of a smaller, sassier church, Leah Libresco was received into the Catholic church this weekend. She is wisely refraining from immediately writing about the sacramental reception and giving herself time to process everything, but leading up to the event she wrote some wonderfully thoughtful, curiously heart-gripping and edifying posts (and brought out the show tunes) to describe where she was at. I look at Leah and the other young people I know who are embracing Catholicism or Orthodoxy and I think, as the church gets inevitably smaller, it will retain the brightness of its light, with such as these so aflame.