I collect expressions of anti-intellectualism. I even consider myself to be a connoisseur of the sorts of things that fall within this genre. But this is no mere hobby. I was raised in a spiritual environment in which the intellectual life was regarded with suspicion, even with overt hostility at times. The anti-intellectual one-liners of my childhood still echo in my heart.
Dear Father Anselm: It’s been 900 years since that dawn of April 21, Wednesday in Holy Week, when you fell asleep in Christ. You may be surprised to learn of the fuss that is being made about you, with major conferences in England, Italy and New England, and glasses raised wherever Christian philosophy is prized.
“How do you develop such rich metaphors for your speaking and writing?” I asked my colleague, a stylist whose images stick with listeners and readers. “I read as widely and talk to as many diverse people as I can,” my friend replied. I was disappointed in the reply, for I was hoping I would discover a clever technique that would help me write and speak with greater eloquence.
“I am looking for a way to vocalize, perform, act out, address the commonly felt crises of my time,” Terry Tempest Williams writes in her new book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon). “These are spiritual exercises.”
People have asked me to pray for them or for their loved ones all my adult life. I practice intercessory prayer very seriously, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what I’m doing. Is intercession magical thinking? Does something actually change somewhere else when I pray? Doesn’t God know our needs before we ask? What’s the use of praying when I can’t actually go actively help?
The nuns at the Abbey of St. Walburga in northern Colorado have been raising and selling grass-fed beef for about seven years. They always have a waiting list for the organic beef. One sister sees a relationship between cattle and their life of prayer. “Praying with the scriptures is like chewing your cud,” she says. “So all through the day, we’re ruminating on it. We chew, chew, chew, swallow, regurgitate. So it’s not just ‘the Lord is my shepherd,’ it’s ‘the Lord is my cowboy’” (NPR, December 22).