While I respect the age-old wisdom about steering clear of politics, sex and religion in polite conversation, those seem to be the only things that anyone wants to talk about these days. My line of work has something to do with it, I am sure. So does the fact that this is an election year.
There are some of us who read more than we pray. We know we should pray more. We mean to pray more. But something happens to us when we read that does not happen when we pray. We find our lives by losing them. We enter into communion with people whom we have never met, some of whom never existed in the world we call real.
At this time of the Christian year, worship services feature narratives that stretch credulity to the limit. Whether the stories star hayseed shepherds confronted by hosts of glittering angels or desert pilgrims watching something like a dove descend upon a man in a river as a voice from heaven calls him “son,” this is the season of beholding things beyond belief.
In the absence of a real, live spiritual director, I often turn to the Desert Fathers for wisdom about living a holy life on earth. My farm is no desert, but enough happens here for me to understand St. Anthony’s reply to the philosopher who asked him how he could be happy without books.
During the fourth century, at the height of the Arian controversy in Constantinople, one Christian wrote that it was impossible to go into a bakery for a loaf of bread without debating the nature of Christ. Was he the eternal Son of the eternal Father or was there a time when he was not?
Every July for the past seven years, my quiet corner of North Georgia has become the site of a Native American Sundance ceremony. While the rest of the nation stocks up on beer and firecrackers for the Fourth, the Sundancers arrive in cars with license plates from Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Maine.
Every year around this time, the fescue pastures surrounding my home become suddenly colorful, as the purple heads of nodding thistles (Carduus nutans) break through the waves of green. As lovely as they are—and as much as the goldfinches love them—this is not good news, since it means that next fall’s hay will be full of thorns.
Listening to news of the war with Iraq, I have never been more aware how much depends on people’s view of reality. Support for the present conflict has been built on the rhetoric of good versus evil, which rises so naturally from the worldview of the West that many people I know accept it as reality instead of one view of reality.
As a preacher and teacher, I make my living telling stories. While I know people who say that they “use” stories to make important points, I am one of those listeners who consistently remember the stories and forget the points.
Last fall on a weekend trip to Manhattan, I noticed an unusual addition to the art galleries listed in the Times. The gallery was in the apse of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the art was a collection of religious treasures from Spain, including handwritten letters from Teresa of Ávila and her mentor John of the Cross.
It is Columbus Day, and I am halfway through the Bible survey course that I teach every other year. Twenty students signed up this time, although one dropped out after I asked him to rewrite his paper on the canonization process. The rest have declared “Septuagint” the coolest new vocabulary word, despite the fact that there are few opportunities to use it outside of class.
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.
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.
I was judged last week. I had been dreading my 3:00 p.m. appointment at the City of Atlanta Traffic Court ever since the policeman handed me the yellow citation a month and a half earlier. In a sudden slowdown on the downtown expressway, I rear-ended a Toyota van loaded with a full-sized refrigerator.
Easter is almost here and I know I should be glad. The whole Christian year leans toward this Sunday of all Sundays, when God raised Jesus from the dead and made the whole creation new. During the great 50 days that follow, the trajectory of the Easter hymns will be up.
A man I know raised four children with few requirements of them. But one of those few was that each of them learn to play a musical instrument. This would not only supply them with discipline and delight, he reasoned. It would also give the family a language that surpassed speech, and his children a patois that would carry them around the world.
Now that the war against terrorism is well under way, things have eased up a little in Clarkesville. A month ago, you could not walk into a room full of people without someone trying to pin a flag on your lapel.