“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?
I’m not a great fan of limericks. By a curious accident, however, we have on our living room wall an original autograph letter—itself a limerick, answering a request for a limerick—by one of the great limerick makers of the last century, the English priest and writer Ronald Knox:
“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.” The first words of English novelist Julian Barnes’s hauntingly beautiful memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, suggest that this is not going to be your typical atheist’s manifesto. There will be no shots across the bow à la Richard Dawkins, no overblown criticisms of religion’s deleterious influence à la Christopher Hitchens.
It’s the day after the election, and I am clicking around on one of the many interactive maps of the nation available on the Internet. I’ve found one that shows, in reds and blues, how every single county in the nation voted. You click on a state and the data for each county appear, down to the very last vote.
In the wake of a deadly shooting in Denmark possibly motivated by anti-Semitism, Muslims in Oslo, Norway, have planned an antiviolence demonstration at the local synagogue. They want to form a “peace ring” around the synagogue as a way of distancing themselves from violence against Jews in Europe and to make a statement about the peaceful intentions of Islam. “If anyone wants to commit violence in the name of Islam, you will have to go through us Muslims first,” one of the organizers said. The leader of the synagogue approved of the plans as long as at least 30 people showed up. More than 630 people agreed on Facebook to be there (Times of Israel, February 18).