How did he do it? Open those good hands, spread his five fingers wide to receive the blunt nails? Hear the crack of bone, delicate wingwork of phalanx and carpal? Hang the weight of his whole self from those soft clay doves and trust them to hold? To hold?
They flutter light. Brush against the good wood. His mother’s eye catches, watches as she used to watch beside her dreaming child those white birds of paradise gently reach for some thing lost, some thing left behind, a kingdom he saw about to come.
The entrancing animated feature Coraline, faithfully adapted by Henry Selick from Neil Gaiman’s marvelous children’s novel, is an Alice in Wonderland story. The feisty, sharp-witted Coraline (voiced by today’s busiest child actor, Dakota Fanning) finds an alternate world behind a locked door in her apartment building.
Onion skin, they called those thin pages in our Bibles, translucent and strong. Finger smudge at the edges, pages shining over the layers that wait for understanding. After decades I taste them new, the onion sliced raw, tang of earth in my mouth.
Book of leaves, a tree in our house. My father brings it to the table. Before oatmeal and bread, the words like seeds drop down into a damp place. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away,” blessed be the leaves turning in his hand.
My children, bathed and fragrant, lean against my shoulders as I read. They listen to the Shepherd who calls to them, who walks the edge of a cliff. They smell the burning bush, huddle with me as the glory passes over, as I cover them with these paper wings.
The stories walk out the door with us— Joseph dreaming, Ruth gleaning, Jesus in a boat, Jesus wearing thorns. Sometimes he gazes like a lion, stares down the marble aisles of churches through glass angels, out to the ruins we have made.
One red satin ribbon marks the place, cord of God’s desire for us sewn to the spine of the text. No matter where the scarlet falls, no matter which chapter or verse, it is relentless in pursuit, the prophets stumbling behind us, weeping and singing, the blind man seeing.
Veins in the leaves are traceries of Hebrew and Greek, hidden and sweet, stories from which we begin again. I smell roots and eat. “Blessed are those planted by the river.” I will sleep in threads of silk, for I have eaten the Book, and one day will emerge with wet wings lifting toward the white lilies.
My good neighbor of long standing said to me, You know, I think that old nursery rhyme, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, is the golden key To a successful life. Remember how it goes?
Oh yes, I said, but what about all those folks Whose boat is leaking, and their oars have Battered blades and split handles that pinch Their palms and splinter their fingers at every stroke, And as far as they can see downstream, There is crashing white water, great boulders And perhaps a fatal waterfall ahead?
Ah yes, he sighed. I pray for them every day. I pray earnestly that they can swim—that they Know how to swim, he said, pouting his lips Thoughtfully and nodding his white head. Yes, they must know how to swim.
Religion is often on display in professional athletics, with the exception of the National Hockey League. The few hockey players who are open about their faith buck a tradition of reticence or downright distrustfulness toward religion. Unlike professional football or basketball, many NHL players come from Canada or Europe, where the culture is much more secular and religious faith is closely guarded. There is also the suspicion in hockey that a person of faith might be too soft a player. Some hockey clubs make chapel services available, but far fewer than in professional basketball (Boston Globe, April 5).