The principal of the Catholic high school was taken aback by the phone call. It came from an inmate in a nearby prison. He was known to be wealthy, but had been incarcerated for having acquired some of his wealth by fraudulent means. Now the man was offering to make a significant donation to the school.
It was not what was predicted by mainstream sociologists who followed in the footsteps of Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, but it has happened. Instead of slowly withering away or lodging itself quietly into the privacy of worshipers’ hearts, religion has emerged as an important player on the national and international scenes.
Although I live nine miles away from town, there is nothing much to slow me down on my way in. After the first two miles of tooth-rattling dirt road, it is a straight shot down state highway 17, with only one stop sign between me and the city limits.
Perpetua, Macrina, Theodora, Sara, Syncletica, Melania the Younger and Melania the Elder, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila—I didn’t hear about any of these great women of faith when I was growing up. It’s not that teachers withheld knowledge of them from us. Rather, I think they themselves hadn’t heard of most these women.
Several years ago Carly Simon recorded a CD titled “Letters Never Sent.” The songs reflect a collection of letters she wrote over the years but never sent to the intended recipients. In an interview, Simon said that she keeps a shoebox on a closet shelf to hold these letters. She finds writing them therapeutic, a way to keep frustrations from bottling up inside her.
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).