Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, I learned to confess my sins by kneeling directly in front of the priest. I had no reason to believe that other churches handled this sacrament differently. When I first saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, I was mesmerized by the scenes of Death and the Knight talking to each other, in part because they were sitting in some sort of booth with a small door between them. What a great cinematic concept, I thought. When I later visited a Catholic church for the first time and saw the rows of confessionals, my response was, “They stole the idea from Bergman!”
David Bowie called them his favorite iPod download. U2 used their song “Wake Up” as the walk-on anthem for their last tour. Coldplay and David Byrne are unabashed fans. Not bad for a band that just debuted its second album.
It takes 10 or 15 minutes to catch up to the shorthand narrative style of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film based on the J. K. Rowling novels (released at about the same time as the seventh and final book in the series).
Somewhere in the sacred opera, in a sea of men, the little voice, fearless in the face of the foreign marketplace of sound booming in the maw of the basilica, came forth, the little voice, like the water bird above the river.
The lost child’s chant, meant to take away a mother’s grief, came at us from behind.
His form, white, diaphanous, backlit, wafted from the narthex down the nave, one flaming wing trembling, his treble sure, sure, soaring, pinning my lapsed heart to some small certainty:
All shall be well. The ears of the deaf shall be open, as well as the gates to the house of doubt.
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).