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?
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:
When the liberal political pundit Ana Marie Cox decided to come out as a Christian, she was worried less about the response from her secular colleagues than about that of Christians. She worried that they wouldn’t approve of a “progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer.” When people ask her why she now seems happier and freer, she’s tempted to say it’s because she moved out of Washington, D.C. But the honest answer is: “I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray.” Cox said, “I am saved not because of who I am or what I have done (or didn’t do), but simply because I have accepted the infinite grace that was always offered to me” (Daily Beast, February 28).