"Politics pulverizes,” observed the elegant, white-haired editor as she looked at me across her mahogany desk. She knew about such things, having grown up a bishop’s daughter, single-handedly raised several children, lost friends to war, managed a farm and worked for the last decades of her life in journalism and publishing.
Some friends of mine are avid labyrinth walkers and have recommended the practice to me. But though I’ve long admired the floor of Chartres Cathedral—and once had the pleasure of seeing my children race around it at top speed before they climbed the tower and searched the high vaults for bats—I’ve never been on a formal retreat involving labyrinths. Perhaps that’s because I’m more familiar with informal collapses than with formal retreats. Fortunately an economic alternative has suggested itself: puddle hopping.
What would Agatha Christie Do? In 1971 she put her name on a petition urging the conservation of an endangered species: the traditional Latin mass, threatened with extinction in the aftermath of Vatican II. The petition noted that the preconciliar mass, a thing of beauty in its own right, was the inspiration for countless works of poetry, philosophy, music and other arts throughout the centuries.
The current spate of atheist, antitheist and antireligious books has made me ask myself whether I ought to be working, strictly pro bono, for the defense. Fortunately there are a host of reasonable and well-spoken public intellectuals like Alister McGrath, Keith Ward and John Haldane who are willing to undertake this tedious but necessary job.
Once again it was a Lent of loopholes, of minor sacrifices deferred by family travels and travails and of minor irritations unredeemed, so that as Palm Sunday drew near it caught me in need of a new beginning, in want of a jump start.
A few weeks ago, oppressed by some worrying news, I stopped into our college art museum. On the floor devoted to American and modern European paintings, I paused to admire Charles Sheeler’s Rolling Power, a close-up of train wheels, pistons and steam commissioned by Fortune magazine to honor the dynamism of the industrial age.
She died on Sunday, after a month of dateless days that began on Halloween and ended just short of Thanksgiving. We went from the hospice admitting office to a Halloween party in the family room, where volunteers offered us fruit punch, orange cupcakes and orange and black balloons. Three toddlers in identical ladybug suits were dancing on the faux-parquet ballroom floor to the electrically amplified folk songs of a long-haired balladeer.
Now that the dust has settled from l’affaire Regensburg, it’s a good time to think about what makes for genuine interfaith dialogue. One thing is clear: the reactions to Pope Benedict XVI’s address, as reported by the media, allowed little scope for dialogue. People took sides with tedious predictability.
Our children expect peculiar vacations. While their friends go to Disney World or the beach, we go to monasteries and rare book libraries, making a holiday out of castles and forests along the way and returning with odd bits of nature or history for our display case.
On an ordinary day some ten years ago, when I was in the midst of a long-forgotten project, a call came from preschool: “You need to pick up Andy. The nurse found head lice.” So began my first encounter with the horror, the shame, the benightedness—I had no idea then how common and manageable it could be—of this medieval infestation.
Humility's job is not to crown the virtues but to serve them and infuse them with the spirit of the beatitudes ("Blessed are the meek.") Genuine humility orders the soul, bestowing clarity, calmness and competence.
My class on the Inklings (C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their circle) met on Tuesdays and Thursdays last semester, just in time for elevenses. A master baker in the class provided Lembas, which we found remarkably sustaining. Turkish delight was selling out all over the country, but we managed to locate a supply and discovered we were immune to its sticky spell.
Andy, our ten-year-old, loves to hear stories about his baby years. He has a stock of secondhand memories that have become his own through frequent retelling, and his favorite one is about Christmas presents. “Remember what I used to do with my Christmas presents?” he asks. “Yes, we remember.
It’s Dad’s birthday next week, I tell the boys. What shall we get him? Without hesitation, they chime in: the Phacops rana at A2Z. A2Z is a science and nature store in town, where our youngest is taking weekly yo-yo lessons. His father has been admiring this particular trilobite for months. And why not?
Mage Knights, those miniature warriors with names like Gibbering Ghoul, Bone Grinder, Soul Stealer and Weresabertooth, were all the rage last year in elementary school. Though designed primarily for the adolescent male world of gaming enthusiasts, Mage Knights also cast their spell on the younger set.
Where were you on the day John Paul II died? I won’t soon forget, for I was caught in a looking-glass world of improbable encounters and reactions. A friendly neighbor dropped by to deliver his boy for a play date with our son Andy. “Did you hear the pope is dying?” (Yes, I did.) “Can’t see why such a fuss is being made about him.” (I can.
One of my desk drawers is filled with old calendars, which I’ve been saving as a prop for a faulty memory. I suspect it’s a fruitless exercise. Appointments and to-do lists, however necessary, don’t add up to a life, and the dates that really do matter return like faithful comets.