I did not own one for ages. The first reason was personal: driving the car was a kind of Sabbath for me, with nothing to do but listen to music and watch the scenery. Why muck that up with a ringing telephone? The second reason was ecological: if I detested the microwave towers that were springing up all over the countryside, then why participate in their proliferation?
There are times when the world, instead of being the solid stage on which we conduct our affairs, instead of enveloping us in its massive givenness, seems to totter at the cliff’s edge. The news announces financial meltdown, the friend who seemed forever young dies, the best plans and provisions crumble. What does the future hold?
What is Jack Boughton really like? How will he respond to Reverend Ames’s blessing as he gets on the bus to leave Gilead again? Will he embrace the grace and forgiveness of the blessing? Or will he return to his old ways?
When Toma and I became friends, he was somebody. I was 16, he was 22. He was a body builder, one of the best in the country, with aspirations and good prospects of becoming Mr. Universe. But then he embraced Christian faith and joined the church where my father was a pastor. He felt that God required him to abandon his athletic pursuits, which until then had been his god. He transposed the dreams of becoming Mr. Universe onto a religious plane: he wanted to be the apostle Paul of Yugoslavia, and maybe a new Billy Graham to the world.
In mid-August I attended the grand opening of the new Al-Farooq Masjid in midtown Atlanta, a complex that includes gardens, fountains, a school and a 46,000-square-foot prayer hall with room for 1,800 worshipers. Along with other guests, I admired the hand-painted dome, the carved stonework, and the custom-made carpet with individual prayer spaces woven in, all pointing toward Mecca.
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).