With the imposition of ashes imminent—this stark ritual signalling the onset of a season starker still in its confrontations with mortality and its fleshly (and fleshy) deprivations—I am reading about food. Glorious food.
In his role as prophet to the nation, Martin Luther King, Jr. drew on the ancient wisdom of both the Greeks and Hebrews. From Aristotle he learned that the character of an orator is of prime importance, but not in the ways we moderns might imagine.
In 1595, the English Jesuit Robert Southwell wrote “The Burning Babe,” a startling, unsettling poem about the incarnation—which means, given Southwell’s rich theological imagination and deep Catholic piety, that it is also a poem about suffering and salvation. And about the human predilection to resist divine love.
Three hundred seventy-one years later, Denise Levertov penned “Advent 1966.″
It seems odd in this era of “pervasive cultural irony” (David Foster Wallace) that Americans are so prone to sentimentality. We have been schooled to be cool with the shocking, the disgusting, the daring, the outrageous–to strike postures of ironic detachment and to mask our true feelings by displaying their opposite: indifference, say, for disappointment or amusement for anger. Having recently attended a reading featuring the poetry and fiction of undergraduates, I submit as anecdotal evidence a roomful of students and professors who winced not a whit as bland and clinical reportage about post-adolescent sexual experimentation was lauded as literary art.
A boy, the son of a zookeeper, grows up in picturesque Pondicherry, India. He is bright and inquisitive and unusually attuned to the world around him. He is, by place of birth, a Hindu, and a devout one. He discovers Christianity (“Thank you, Vishnu, for introducing me to Christ”), and then finds the religion of Allah, especially its profound witness to the practice of daily prayer, to be life-giving.
Our assignment last week in my poetry class was to write a sonnet–English or Italian, our choice. But when it comes to sonnets, that, in many ways, is where the freedom seems to end. You can’t write as many lines as you want (has to be 14, of course). You can’t make it rhyme–or not–however you might like (must be abab, cdcd, efef, gg for the English kind). Line length is non-negotiable, too:five “feet” of “iambs” (unstressed syllables followed by stressed ones). Sonnets and the poets who write them take their metrics very, very seriously.
There are lots of ways to talk about the relationship between sports and religion.
The opening scene of Bull Durham comes to mind. As does the cultic quality of America’s obsession with football.
Sport as the center of personal and communal piety has a long history in many cultures, with the U.S. perhaps—to keep the competition motif alive here—winning the prize for the world’s most zealous devotees of the faith.
It’s the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s choral work, Chichester Psalms. A boy soprano (or a countertenor), in the “role” of the shepherd boy, David, sings in Hebrew the opening verses of Psalm 23. He is accompanied–sparingly, fittingly–by the harp. The first several measures are tender but not tentative; filled with sentiment, but without sentimentality (this per Bernstein’s instructions). When the women’s voices take over the text at גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת . . . (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .) there’s an ethereal echo-canon effect. This part of the movement, when executed well, is something sublime.
By all accounts Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a remarkable
woman: A respected, conciliatory colleague in the contentious House of
Representatives long before the tragic shooting in Tucson; a hardworking
politician deeply committed to the concerns of her constituents
(which is why she was in a suburban parking lot that fateful Saturday
morning); a supportive spouse
Whenever I attend Catholic mass during Advent, as I did last weekend,
I’m always struck by how it is simply assumed—how it’s a liturgical .
. . no, an ontological given—that Christmas is nowhere yet in sight.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James H. Cone. "Black body swinging in the Southern breeze," sang Billie Holliday in "Strange Fruit." Cone sets the Romans' preferred apparatus of torture and death beside the spectacle lynchings of America's shameful past.
In 1992 political strategist James Carville coined the catchphrase that
won Bill Clinton the presidency: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton
made good on his word to address the deficit and high unemployment and
through both skill and luck presided over unprecedented economic growth and prosperity.
I’m sure it will end today when the news media go back to
reporting on the most urgent question of our time — which GOP candidate
will win the Tea Party debate on Monday night? — but this past weekend’s
coverage of the tenth anniversay of 9/11 was relentless.