That here in the deepest water, beyond even rags of light, nearly transparent creatures glitter and flash like neon signs floating down the Las Vegas strip;
That as recently as seven years ago liquid water flowed down an arroyo on Mars, shifting sands and turning small rocks, a pattern like a palm print on a rusting door;
That on a cold night water vapor makes visible the breath of small children, who laugh to see themselves breathe,
and makes visible the broken breath of old men forgetting their children in refugee camps, and the drying breath of prisoners in stone cells, whose mothers and sisters believe they’re long dead;
That in the beginning the Spirit moved over the waters like a mighty wind; that the spirit moves through water even now, even now through the straw held to a sick man’s lips, blessed from basin to scallop shell to the forehead of a crying child; That we are from conception almost entirely water.
The low-budget English production Is Anybody There? is now reaching screens in the United States, thanks to the presence of Michael Caine in the lead role. The action takes place at Lark Hall, a family-run nursing facility. As one aging resident dies, another arrives to take over the bed—a cycle of life and death accepted mostly with a nod and a shrug.
The way Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist, summoning him from his cell for private chats but could make no sense of what he said; the way Festus kept the apostle Paul locked up for two years because he enjoyed hearing him talk, although his words made him afraid; the way the German guards, terrified by night bombings, sought out Pastor Bonhoeffer, even though he was, by his own account, a provider of cold comfort, writing to a friend, “I can listen all right, but hardly ever find anything to say. Yet perhaps the way one asks about some things and is silent about others helps suggest what really matters”—did not stop the sharp rap on the prison door or the words “get ready to come with us” as if for one more quiet conversation about what really matters.
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).