Back in 1994, when Peter Jackson was a relatively unknown director, he made the small but brilliant Heavenly Creatures, a tale about an “unhealthy” friendship between two teenage girls in 1950s New Zealand that led to bloody matricide. It remains my favorite film by this extremely talented filmmaker.
Reader, here is no know-nothing muddle-mouth grinning till his time’s up, nor this month’s charismatic hotshot— let’s be glad for that. Nor is it time for deeper, troubled things, the heaviness of swollen hands that knit our sweaters or underfed teenagers who look like my six year old, sweet in his warm bed. Shall I go on, then, or end it?
It’s not even an occasion for lyrical greatness (who can bear or hear it?), or honoring the slain and scars of veterans (how to sustain it?) or excursions on hermeneutical wings along the Word. Or less estimable, more complicated forms of happiness: breathless days when we became better than ourselves, as if awaking from a dream.
Let other songs bless or curse with big decibels. I leave this business, such as it is, to higher-minded poets or tireless annalists.
I sing simply of Love, of grace, and those graces who are your friends, warm with life and giving you grief, playfully—these late evenings in December. And I sing of such beautiful people, even closer, safe and asleep nearby, here and there, her and her and him, so pleasing and peace be with them, and you too, Reader, you too.
It’s 1967 in Minnesota, and life is getting more and more difficult for physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). Despite his best efforts to be a good man, a respected member of his Jewish community, a bona fide mensch, the structure of his life is collapsing like the walls of Jericho.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).