Once there came a wolf so fierce he devoured not only lambs but goats and children.
The villagers armed themselves as if going to war but even their weapons could not save them from his teeth, so fear fell like a shadow upon Gubbio and sealed the village gates. Enter the saint: once a dandy, once a soldier, once a prisoner of war and war wounded, who embarked on the Fourth Crusade but on the way gave his sword and supplies to a beggar. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?
Saint whose father beat him and dragged him away in chains, saint who kissed a leper’s stinking hand and set out to embrace Syrian warriors, saint who negotiated an exchange with Sultan Melek-el-Kamel of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. That saint sought and found the wolf’s hiding place, and there said, Brother, do not hurt me. You have committed crimes. You deserve to die. This town hates you, but Brother, I want to make peace between you and them, so they won’t be harmed, and when they have forgiven you, men and dogs will never chase you again. Brother, I know the evil you have done came only from hunger. If the people feed you, will you pledge never to harm a living thing? The wolf put his paw in the saint’s hand, then curled at his feet like a hound.
O friends, if beasts hold us in such terror, how much more do we fear the fires of hell? Turn to the One who frees you from wolves in this world and flames in the next!
For two years, the wolf wandered from kitchen door to door. No dog barked. No hand rose against him. Not one child ran from his gaze. When he died of old age, the villagers of Gubbio missed his kind patience. Who can take you farther, the lord or the servant?
Welcome Sister Death, said the saint when his own time had come and taking her hand into his palm, he drew her famished fist to his lips and slowly kissed her knuckles one by one. O, who can take you farther?
He spoke to you in blue, in the long call of light from the top of a Tuscan hill. Your hand answered, the quick sketch of a girl taking shape before you knew she was you, head uplifted, her angelful eyes sure of what they see: being bodied true as the stilled wings, the beatified sky. What words might have passed have passed as air sighed by the soul in the act of rapture. Now there is only ochre and thin-skinned cream, struck gold against the garden’s sudden green, forever as present as it once seemed, her hands crossed soft against her hidden fear and angel’s breath still warm within your ear.
The modest Irish picture The Eclipse has slipped below almost everyone’s radar; it’s moving quietly across the country in brief art-house engagements. This contemporary ghost story about loneliness and connection is worthy of attention.
The sedentary Presbyterians awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread with white, to humble bits that showed how God almighty had decided to embrace humanity, and why these clean, well-fed, well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers and callous climbers on the make, the wives with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts of stone, the ones who battle drink and do not always win, the power lawyers mute before this awful bar of mercy, boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in alike by cash, physicians waiting to be healed, two women side by side—the one with unrequited longing for a child, the other terrified by signs within of life, the saintly weary weary in pursuit of good, the academics (soft and cosseted) who posture over words, the travelers coming home from chasing wealth or power or wantonness, the mothers choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed by children died or lost, and some with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes of pain in chest or back or knee or mind or heart. They come, O Christ, they come to you.
They came, they sat, they listened to the words, “for you my body broken.” Then they ate and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead recalled, a hint of color on the psychic cheek—from tables groaning under weight of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.
It was the holy part of the day, my loved ones asleep in other countries, me with no duties and rooms full of quiet. I ate my dark bread with brie and jam, pressed out two cups of dark coffee. And that must be the sun, skulking like a grown-up boy who knows it’s been too long since he visited his mother. He has no excuse but all is forgiven, she will open the curtains, haul up the shades, crack the windows though it’s far too cold for that. We will ring all the bells in the quiet church across the street, unscrew the doors from the jambs, dismantle all the borders, forgive the Russians whether they like it or not. And mercy will pour down like sunshine in the grand photographs in the vast inscrutable book I bought for ten euros at the bookstore downtown, a store full of books translated out of the language I know so that I could read only the authors’ names. Truth must be personal, said Kierkegaard, home from another of his long, brooding walks. And yet not merely private. You shall love the neighbor, he insisted. Outside my window the church is solid and pale, three stories and a squat round tower, in the tower three narrow windows that reveal nothing. Winter sun warms the green roof, but the entrance is still in shadow.
Ten refugees have been selected to compete in the Summer Olympics in Brazil this year. Five of them are runners from South Sudan who have been living in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. The Sudanese will be joined by two Congolese judo fighters, two Syrian swimmers, and an Ethiopian marathoner. Anjelina Nadai, one of the Sudanese runners, said she first started running while tending her family’s cows. She discovered she could get to the cows in half the time by running instead of walking. These athletes will compete under the Olympic flag, not that of any nation. If any of them should win a medal, the Olympic theme song will be played (The Christian Science Monitor, June 3).