When John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, I was sitting in Miss Wyatt’s seventh grade classroom at Tuscaloosa Junior High School. My wooden desk was next to a wall with high windows, and while the news came over the intercom I watched dust motes drifting in a beam of light as if they had been excused from the law of gravity.
"Ministry a satisfying vocation.” Headlines like this one appeared in newspapers, church periodicals and elsewhere this past spring, as Duke’s (Lilly-funded) Pulpit and Pew Project reported the initial findings in a national clergy survey. It was not the only, or the most important, finding of the survey. But it was the one that reporters and editors found most fascinating and newsworthy.
When I visited a Baltimore neighborhood called Sandtown in 1997, my most vivid impression was that of disturbing, jarring contrast. I remember a whole neighborhood of abandoned houses—each one an oversized skull, with empty darkness peering out of its broken doors and windows and mocking the life that had abandoned it. In the midst of these ruins, however, there was a street teeming with life.
Last summer around this time I was on the island of Nantucket, once a whaling port and now a tourist destination, where I noticed numbers of people wearing canvas clothing in a peculiar shade of pink. Men wore trousers made of it, women wore jumpers, and I even saw a baby in a stroller wearing a pair of bib overalls made of it.
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).