Where were you on the day John Paul II died? I won’t soon forget, for I was caught in a looking-glass world of improbable encounters and reactions. A friendly neighbor dropped by to deliver his boy for a play date with our son Andy. “Did you hear the pope is dying?” (Yes, I did.) “Can’t see why such a fuss is being made about him.” (I can.
Two messages arrived on the same day, each one from a talented young adult concerned about how best to use Christian language. One person was concerned about the “large number of people my age who cannot seem to connect with God. I think part of the reason is because the church has a very traditional, peculiar vocabulary.”
As I was writing this piece, Good Friday was in view, and I thought of the renowned Viennese composer Antonio Salieri as portrayed in the movie Amadeus. In a scene from Salieri’s childhood, Salieri is kneeling before a crucifix and trying to make a bargain with God. “Lord, make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music—and be celebrated myself.
Whoever tied Easter to the spring equinox made a very good decision. For those who are so inclined, there is no better time for feeling alive, as the whole world wakes from winter and makes new birth look easy. Clumps of green grass erupt from the flat tan lawn. Bluebirds appear on the clothesline. There are so many redbuds in the woods that a pink haze seems to waft through the trees.
One of my desk drawers is filled with old calendars, which I’ve been saving as a prop for a faulty memory. I suspect it’s a fruitless exercise. Appointments and to-do lists, however necessary, don’t add up to a life, and the dates that really do matter return like faithful comets.
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).