August 23, 2003

John Geoghan Died today in

John Geoghan

Died today in a prison attack. I pray that he had time to repent and find the mercy of God. I am reminded once again to pray for the restoration and healing of all of his victims. May God have mercy on all of us, sinners.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:47 PM | Comments (0)

Report on Yancey

Report on Yancey

My small book group met today and the general atmosphere was one of agreement--wild enthusiasm for Soul Survivor. At least two of us had started with strong reservations about Yancey because of some preconceived notions and a wide experience in "Christian Bookstore" titles. We were delighted to be proved wrong. So wrong that I bought one other book today, although I initially had three in my hands to purchase. Decided to go a little easy on the budget. Came home and ordered about a dozen from the library.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2003

People Who Know Jesus Intimately

People Who Know Jesus Intimately

I never fail to be delighted by people who know Jesus more intimately than would seem possible. Take for example this blurb:

The Book of Enoch was a favorite of Jesus and where he discovered the title "Son of Man" to use in his public work.

What a rare and magnificent privilege to have access to Jesus' library, or if not His library, His personal scriptorium, or at least His intimate thoughts. I did not realize so much about Jesus was so readily known or discernable by so many. I do so love learning about these unnoticed byways on the path of salvation.

Of course it's wildly improbable that Jesus might have picked that phrase us from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel where it occurs about 50 times, or even Daniel where it actually refers to Him. I know my speculation is way out of bounds. These people undoubtedly have certain knowledge that it was the book of Enoch that was the source.

[This is one way I rate the reliability of a site offering religious works.]

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

As Though You Hadn't Been Subjected to Enough Already

As Though You Hadn't Been Subjected to Enough Already

My experience with Soul Survivor so inspired me that I picked up the other Yancey book I owned and started to read. And so, now, you will have that inflicted on you as well.

from The Jesus I Never Knew Philip Yancey

Before beginning this book I spent several months in three seminary libraries--one Catholic, one liberal Protestant, one conservative evangelical--reading about Jesus. It was daunting in the extreme to walk in the first day and see not just shelves but entire walls devoted to books about Jesus. . . .

The agglomeration of scholarsip began to have a numbing effect on me. I read scores of accounts of the etymology of Jesus' name, discussion of what languages he spoke, debates about how long he lived at Nazreth or Capernaum or Bethlehem. Any true-to-life image receded into a fuzzy, indistinct blur. I had a hunch that Jesus himself would be appalled by many of the portrayals I was reading.

At the same time, with great consistency I found that whenever I returned to the Gospels themselves the fog seemed to lift. J. B. Phillips wrote, after translating and paraphrasing the Gospels, "I have read, in Greek and Latin, scores of myths, but I did not find the slightest flavour of myth here. . . . No man could have set down such artless and vulnerable accounts as these unless some real Event lay behind them."


The truth of the last paragraph would seem obvious. But often in discussion and debate, it seem that the scholar is inclined to rely upon sources other than the Gospels themselves. To some extent we have the magisterium to aid us in our interpretation of the Scriptures, but to rely entirely upon the magisterium and to not have the direct and essential encounter with Jesus ourselves is a way of not knowing Jesus.

How many of us read through the entire set of Gospels in a year outside of Mass? Some protestants I know read through the entire bible every year. They are truly devoted to the word. And while I admire deeply that devotion, I must readily say that there are large, very dry, very barren portions of scripture for me. Every word is inspired, but not all the words are particularly inspiring at any given time. But let us consider the core of our faith--the story of Jesus. How many of us engage it directly and completely every year? How many plumb the depths of the scriptures on a daily basis. I would suspect very few of us. And were I to expand the thought to the whole of the New Testament, I would imagine that the number would go from few to a vanishingly small percent.

Over the past week or so, I've been reading the Gospel of Mark. I have read and read and read and read and read, and I have not yet finished with the marvels of the first three verses of the Gospel. The Gospel writings are so crammed with riches that they cannot be absorbed simply by reading (for most of us) nor by hearing them at Mass, though that is a truly graced and sacramental exposition of them. The Gospel writings must be encountered in the world of prayer. They must be slowly and carefully examined and unpacked. They must be listened to in the heart.

How many try to do this? I don't really know. I suspect much of St. Blog's actually makes the attempt, but the discipline may become too tedious--we may not find the time each day, etc. But the source of our knowledge of Jesus Christ are the gospel accounts. We deprive ourselves of essential nutrition when we choose to read Fr. Brown's redaction of the Gospels, or Fr. X's summary of the Gospels, or anything other than the Gospels themselves.

I know that one of the things that often keeps me away from the Gospels is fear. I know that if I let Him, Jesus is going to encounter me where I am presently, and if I allow it, I will come out of the encounter changed. Because I don't know fully the nature of that transformation, I tend to avoid it. Who knows, I might come out and discover that I'm not supposed to be a father (seems kind of unlikely since I have a child--but you never know). What it really boils down to, for me, is laziness that takes the form of fear. Jesus will transform you, and transformation means change, and change means work. Good enough reason right there to avoid the Gospels.

But it is only in the Gospels that we encounter the words and the life of Jesus. Yes, we can read visionaries and novelists, and any number of other writings of Saints and other sinners, but not one of them has the authority of the word touched by God Himself--inspired and inerrant--Truth undiluted.

I guess what I'm saying is--if you're reading the scriptures, and particularly the Gospels every day--great! keep doing it. However, it you're not, it's time to start. Life changes day to day, and reading the Gospels seems to be a good way to let God guide the change.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)

What Kind of Day Would It Be Without a Quote of Some Sort

What Kind of Day Would It Be Without a Quote of Some Sort

And so, for those of you anxiously awaiting it, this from Torgny Lindgren:

"Even the days and moments could be split up and broken down to the size of footsteps, one after another, the various little movements of the fingers, the blinking of the eyelids and the breath of the lungs. Like grinding down time in a hand-mill."

Remarkable, and even more so when one considers that this is a translation from Swedish!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

Some Interesting Corners of the

Some Interesting Corners of the Blogworld

Now, here's an interesting little place I stumbled across this morning. I don't how many of the opinions here I'm likely to agree with; however, it the goal is succinctly stated in the group name, I'm right there with them: Epivalothanasia: Citizens United Resisting Euthanasia (CURE). God grant success to such a mission.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

The Culture of Complaint

The Culture of Complaint

I was recently listening to someone rant on NPR about the horrors of Disney World and the ultimate cultural destruction it signifies and I grew progressively more annoyed. I live near the place, many people here hate it for a great variety of reasons. There are a great many reasons to despise the Disney congolmerate, not the least of which is the manner in which they treat some of their lesser-paid employees. However, to rail on about the horrors of Disneyworld strikes me as a setting up a straw man for the world's problems.

I lilke Disney World for a couple of reasons. First, as a Florida resident, it attracts enough people here so that I'm not killed by state income tax. When I moved here from Ohio at the same pay, I got an immediate 7% raise because there was no state income tax.

Second, I enjoy it because children do enjoy it, and they enjoy not because it is Disney but because it is fundamentally enjoyable. You walk around a world that is utterly unreal and encounter utterly unreal folks, and you have a pleasant day. (That is except for a minority of sturm und drang New York or Brazilian tourists who drag their little ones through an exhausting day and spend their time red-faced screaming at some over-tired child who only wants to go back to the hotel room and rest and be cool... but then, that's a different rant)

There is much to dislike about Disneyfication of society. However, to dislike Disneyworld itself seems a waste of time. If you so disike it--don't go. Don't take your family, advise your friends to stay away. But don't waste your time and everyone else's ranting and raving about its horrors--myriad though they may be.

I see this as symptomatic of our society. If I don't like this or that thing, I must assure that no one else enjoys the same by pointing out all of its many faults and problems.

Why not just forego the displeasure of the place? Why try to denigrate and destroy what many are obviously enjoying? What harm is there in enjoying it?

Like the great many quizzes that circulate about St. Blogs--some take them, some don't. But what sense would there be inveighing against them and trying to persuade everyone that pressing a few buttons one way or the other is somehow tearing down society.

Again--I don't care for the novels of Michael Crichton--I could write a dissertation on their errors, their problems, and their many flaws--but why? Rather than do so, I neither read them, nor in large groups tend to comment on them. In a one-on-one conversation I might give an opinion, but I have long got over the need to make a point of dispising vocally everything that is popular. Popularity is not a crime.

So, I've gone on at length to say simply what everyone's mother probably told them at one time, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." And this is a good credo for commenting on most things. There are some exceptions--people should be warned about things that are potentially spiritually damaging. They should be warned about things that once seen cannot be unseen. But for the most part, if something is popular and you don't like it, the better part of valor is to share that dislike with close friends who want to hear about it. To shout it from the rooftops seems bad form.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

For Those Who Wish To

For Those Who Wish To Know More

About Torgny Lindgren, here is a brief biography. He is a member of the Swedish academy, and thus eligible to vote on the Nobel Prize. I don't know what it does for to his status for receiving one.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2003

Another Praise Moment Once again

Another Praise Moment

Once again I marvel at the wonderful and interesting work done in St. Blog's. Witness the work of Against the Grain, a blog with always reasonable comment by a person who seems to take the task of commenting quite seriously. Go there and enjoy!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

A New Site of Great Interest

A New Site of Great Interest

For those not particularly bothered by the adoration of God in other cultures this wonderful resource.

An example:


I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking from the inside!
sufi mystic - jelaluddin rumi - 13th century

And another

O love, O pure deep love, be here, be now. Be all; worlds dissolve into your stainless endless radiance, Frail living leaves burn with you brighter than cold stars; Make me your servant, your breath, your core.

sufi mystic - jelaluddin rumi - 13th century


Not everyone's cup of tea, but wonderful reflections and prayers from around the world.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

Brag Session--Feel Free to Ignore

Brag Session--Feel Free to Ignore

I thought I might offer an explanation as to why things are so sparse here these days. I've been asked by the local science center to assist in the writing of all of the display copy for their newest temporary exhibit. Such stuff shall die away, of course, when the exhibit is gone, the ephemeral copy is lost--such is the way of the world. But what a thrill to be able to write for so large a public, even though most will give no thought to it having been written and having a person who put together the thoughts expressed. How many of us stop to consider that someone puts together all that text that accompanies an exhibit? Nevertheless, it is a rare thrill and a privilege to be able to contribute in such a way to the education of adults and to that of children as well.

Also, I have been tapped by the local historical society to assist in their next publication of a bulletin. I'm contributing several poems and have assisted in the past as an editor--I hope to do so in the future as well.

So, I've been maxed out recently with writing. You'll forgive the paucity of what is here presented, and perhaps its disjointed nature. This week I also have to prepare our local Carmelite Newsletter, review the website we've just started, and prepare for a family visit.

Nevertheless, as I said yesterday, I write because I cannot do otherwise. The thought of not writing is overwhelming. If I did not write I would be only a shadow of what I am, and presently I am only a shadow of what I should be.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

Summation

Summation

I will start by pretending that someone out in the world at large is interested. Actually, I get the impression a great many MIGHT be interested, but I think we're at a week of summer vacations. However, it could simply be that everything written in recent days is just cataclysmically boring. If so, my sincere apologies; however, I must say that :

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Sorry.

As to Philip Yancey's book--he rounds out his discussion with a review of Henri Nouwen's life and writing. My conversation with the author on this part of the book was sufficiently private that I sha'n't bore you with the details. Suffice to say that I found his portrait profoundly moving--more moving and more profound in many ways than I find the written work of Fr. Nouwen.

I have moved on. I own one other Yancey book that has lain on the shelves gathering dust for lo, these many years. So, I picked it up, and it already has me engaged. Perhaps more on that later.

In addition to another Yancey, I am also reading Torgny Lindgren's Light, a novel about the aftermath of a plague in Sweden that has some gorgeous stuff in it. To wit:

"He was the third to die. He died of plague and knowledge."

"It's not right," said Könik. "Death has lost its senses and its sight and is flailing around blindly."

"They think they're going to save themselves, they think salvation must consist of some sort of deception."

"Könik wanted to make coffins that it would be easy to rise from."

"A lot of them have lain down to rest for a while," said Könik. "But they'll be up again."

"If the Great Sickness came here to Kadis," said Önde, "we'd let it be. We wouldn't disturb it unnecessarily. We never molest any stranger who comes here."

I've read two other Lindgren books Sweetness (yes, so one author has both Sweetness and Light) and one of my favorite books of the last ten or so years The Way of The Serpent--a marvelous very short novel told in a rolling Biblical voice that is just stunning. I've read it twice already and am looking forward to a third and a fourth time. Vivid, powerful, and very mysterious--there are tremendous depths here. If the Nobel Committee didn't have such a powerful political agenda in their selection of writers, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lindgren nominated. He would be the first worthy recipient in some time.

I'm also reading another of my favorite books of all time--a book I have much ado to make any sense of as the "satire" it is supposed to be--Mikhail Bulgakov's magnificent The Master and Margarita. Highly, highly recommended to all. It combines the story of a poet or publisher (I forget which, I haven't gotten that far in the reread yet) who goes to a mental hospital with a retelling of the Passion from Pontius Pilate's point of view. I don't know what to make of it, but it intrigues me constantly.

So much for my reading list. I hope to share with you some of the varied fruits of this labor.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:47 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2003

Another Samuel Story Samuel visited

Another Samuel Story

Samuel visited his Daddy at work today. My screen-saver/background on the computer at work is Hans Holbein's portrait of St. Thomas More. After we did the usual tour of the office identifying the various things--starfish, octopod, sponge, scorpion, bone-man dinosaur, I asked him about the person on my screen saver.

Very enthusiastically he said, "Yes, I know who that is."

I was surprised. "Who is it?" I asked.

"That's a pirate. Look at his pirate hat and his pirate gold on his necklace."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

From an Eastern Catholic

From an Eastern Catholic

An interesting blog with a perspective from the East, Katolik Shinja. If I read aright, the blogger is not Korean himself, but lives in Korea or Corea (before they make this change, I would suggest that the hierarchy read about Huntington's Corea). It provides a breeze from the east and a perspective not often seen in our bloglands.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

More from Yancey

More from Yancey

Reading any worthwhile writing is engaging the author in a kind of dialogue. I know that I have allowed you to overhear far more of the conversation that you might be entirely comfortable with or entertained by. However, writers that really provoke thought and who provide fresh and interesting perspectives are really few and far-between. Moreover, I think Yancey needs an even wider audience than he already has. There is a refreshing generosity about his prose and attitude that rewards even the casual reader. Soul Survivor is a nice place to start because while it is a complete chronicle or story, the individual pieces can be read separately, and there is no need to attempt the entire book in a sitting. In addition, Yancey's genuine enthusiasm for the writers he discusses evokes in the attentive reader a desire to become better acquainted with their work.

I greatly regret that I am coming to the end of Soul Survivor and wish that I could read more and more about this too-often neglected subject--the effect of writers on the life of an author, on the life of a Christian.

from Soul Survivor--Frederick Buechner Philip Yancey

Every writer must overcome a kind of shyness, putting out of mind the fear that we are being arrogant by thrusting ourselves upon you the reader, and egotistical by assuming our words are worth your time. Why should you care about what i have to say? What right have I to impose myself on you? In another context, Simone Weil presents a kind of answer: 'I cannot conceive the necessity for God to love me, when I feel so clearly that even with human beings affection for me can only be a mistake. But i can easily imagine that he loves that perspective of creation which can only be seen from the point where I am." That is all any writer can offer, especially a writer of faith: a unique perspective of creation, a point of view visible only from the point where I am.


There is some truth here and a huge point that is overlooked. Some of us write because we cannot not write. Writing is a process and a prayer--it is a form of analysis that reifies what happens to us. In a sense things are not real and not internalized until they are written. I read that and it sounds nonsensical, and yet I also know that I live it.

Writing is a form of prayer. It is a form of appreciation of God's creation and of consideration and careful meditation on His works. Writing calls us into otherness in a way that little else does. I suppose, in some sense, this is why I don't get tremendously worked up over issues that exercise a great many Catholics. Poor music at Mass--oh well--Jesus is there. Strange liturgy, odd sermon, so long as the Eucharist is consecrated correctly, Jesus is present. Yes--it could be much more beautiful, much more respectful, much more reverent. But then reverence comes from the participant, not from the planner, and the attitude of the hearts in the pews is more important than any external trapping.

However, assault me with the execrable NAB translation--leaden, dull, and sometimes downright idiotic--or place a lector at the ambo who not only needs locution lessons but who hasn't passed his second grace reading class yet, and I'm ready to go ballistic. The words of Scripture are scared, the writing is holy and transforming. Yes, I know that all the rest is as well, but we each have our areas of sensitivity.

But writing and words break through the stupor and astound and convict me. Reading scripture and writing about it give God true access to this stony heart. I think about it as a heart encased in limestone. The Living Word of God is a true and pure stream that carries its payload of carbonic acid to etch away slowly. One day the entombed heart is set free to love Him and all of His creation. This grace for me comes in the form of words and language. Or perhaps this consolation for me is the grace of the gift of speech and thought. We pray in words and words have made a home with me and bring the world to me in a way that little else does. Perhaps this is why I am more skeptical than some about the worthiness of some universally acclaimed writers who are prone to sloppiness and misuse of the language. Perhaps that is why, conta Dale Ahlquist and others, I have no time for the poetic theorizing of G.K. Chesterton, whose own poetic works evoke little or no sympathy from anyone really in tune with poetry. For Chesterton's work (the vast majority of it at least) the word verse is more appropriate than poetry.

We are all constructed differently, all given a slightly different perspective on the world and on reality. And we are all blessed beyond blessing to be who we are and how we are. In some ways our words and our lives celebrate this. Yes, there is time and cause for action, but only after considered thought and reason, after prayer, and after conversation with God and with his Saints. For me, this occurs in writing, in the world of words--wonderful, varied, multitextured, anastomosing, refreshing. I suppose I take as my essential credo, the centerpiece of my celebration of language, this reminder from the Gospel of John:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

Writing and WRITING

Writing and WRITING

I have often heard denigrated the efforts of people who compose blogs as the work of substandard writers or not-writers-at-all. I, for one, am tired of either the false modesty or the blatant snobbery of these statements--for the most part I find much of what is published via blogs as readable or more readable than what is published by large commercial concerns. Admittedly, there is no great undying prose--but read your local newspaper and look for the same.

What blogs have that almost no other source provides is authenticity. The writing touches the real concerns of real people living ordinary lives--people who would not think of writing a novel or publishing memoirs or even composing essays for publications. Some of the work is extraordinarily well-written, some just so-so. But it is real writing, where writing begins--in the heart. Nearly all of it is unpolished to a greater or lesser degree, but that does not render it useless, less-than-other, or not worthwhile.

The efforts of bloggers should not be so lightly denigrated and derided. The process of composition is the same, and blogging might be likened to your local dinner theatre--it's not Broadway, but it can be as entertaining, and is often infinitely more accessible.

So, put away worries about better, worse, worthwhile, not worthwhile, and write, write, write. You have an audience already built in, talk to us. And don't tell us how worthless what you are doing is. Don't trot out an endless stream of writers from the past who look down their noses at everything from Shakespeare to "lady novelists." It's tiresome, and, to some degree indicative of false modesty. We don't have anything to apologize for and a great many have much to be proud of.

Now that I finally got that off my chest, we return to local programming.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2003

One More Time--Frederick Buechner

One More Time--Frederick Buechner

Okay, I know you may be tired of hearing about it, but there are tremendous riches in this book, and so I continue.

from Soul Survivor--Frederick Buechner Philip Yancey

There are two ways to picture how God interacts with history. The traditional model show a God up in heaven who periodically dispatches a lightning bolt of intervention: the calling of Moses from a burning bush, the Ten Plagues, the prophets, the birth of Jesus. The bible indeed portrays such divine interventions, although they usually follow years of waiting and doubt. Another model shows God beneath history, continuously sustaining it and occasionally breaking the surface with a visible act that emerges into plain sight, like the tip of an iceberg. Anyone can notice the dramatic upthrusts--Egypt's Pharaoh certainly had no trouble noticing the Ten Plagues--but the life of faith involves a search below the surface as well, an ear fine-tuned to rumors of transcendence.

Buechner has spoken of his quest for that subterranean presence of grace in the world. He writes of an anxious moment in an airport (he battles a fear of flying) when suddenly he notices on the counter a tiepin engraved, against all odds, with his own initials, "C. F. B."; and of a good friend who dies in his sleep and then visits Buechner in a dram, leaving behind a strand of blue wool from his jersey, which Buechner finds on the carpet the next morning; and of sitting parked by the side of the road in a moment of personal crisis when a car barrels down the road with a license plate bearing the simple message "T-R-U-S-T."

. . . Buechner, however, prefers to see in such occurrences hits--upthrusts-of an underlying Providence. For example, when the car drown by, "Of all the entries in the entire lexicon it was the word trust that I needed most to hear. It was a chance thing, but also a moment of epiphany--revelation--telling me, "trust your children, trust yourself, trust God, trust life; just trust.'"


There is so much here to reflect upon, but chief among those things is a primary disagreement I have with Yancey about how to view God's action in the world. He states that there are two ways. I think there may be as many ways as there are people to reflect upon the situation. I don't see God's intervention in either of these two ways. I concur, there are obvious "highs" that may stand out to all people. But if one looks closely enough God's intervention in history is NOT subterranean. It is overt and constant, a smooth running stream that always fills its banks and occasionally overflows. God is present in every moment of every day in every event in history. What He allows to happen, what He causes to happen, what He guides to its final conclusion, these things make up the rhythm of the stream.

In His great mercy God intervenes at every moment. It is up to us to recognize it. God is an ardent lover, not one who passes by momentarily, waves at us and hurries on to other business. He is constantly attentive. He is Freddy in My Fair Lady who stands outside our window and sings, "The Street Where You Live." When He is ignored, still he is attentive. And when he is assaulted (as eventually Freddy is when Eliza sings,Ē Donít talk of stars burning at night. . . if you're in love show me), still He loves and responds lovingly.

This is the truth of our personal lives, and I believe that it is the truth of history. Despite all of the great evil that has occurred through history, much of what has happened is the sign of God's hand, his continuous outpouring of love and grace that has brought us to this moment, this day. God is not indifferent.

And if this is true, then so too is the conclusion reached by Buechner. Trust--the hardest thing in the world. Fall back and know that He will catch you. Life is not a lame psychological experiment--how many partners did not catch the person falling back. Is that really trust or simply reliance on peer pressure. But God's eye is on the sparrow. He numbers the hairs of our heads and knows each one. With that kind of personal attention, trust is the only reasonable alternative. Trust God who has supported all of history up until know, whose thoughts and minds keep the universe in existence, whose love has given us all of history up until know, and whose deep caring and concern was given ultimate expression in His Son who loved us unto eternity. Nothing less than God is sufficient, but God alone suffices.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

More From Yancey

More From Yancey

Some interesting comments on posts below--an interesting book. Admittedly, it seems, some details of presentation may be fuzzy, but then the main thrust of his point is not to present those details (C.S. Lewis) but to talk about people whose work has helped him through troubling time as a Christian. So I grant him a certain leeway--particularly because I tend to latch on to the side streams and make a big deal of them. As in this next piece.

from Soul Survivor--"Annie Dillard" Philip Yancey

On Puget Sound, she attended a tiny church in which she was often the only person under sixty, and felt as if she were on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia. The Catholic church proved more innovative. On one occasion parishioners partook of sacred mass to the piano accompaniment of tunes from The Sound of Music. Dillard sighs, "I would rather, I think, undergo the famous dark night of the soul than encounter in church the hootenanny." She adds, "In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter."


Several notes of moment:
(1) I never knew that Annie Dillard had become Catholic.

(2) I have never cared a bit for Ms. Dillard's writing. In fact, the whole genre that Pilgrims at Tinker's Creek is part of has left me cold since the time of Gilbert White. I don't know what to make of it. I have felt similar things in nature, but the only person who ever came close to capturing it was William Wordsworth. Obviously just a genre I don't understand. I know that Ms. Dillard has written other things, but her most famous work so thoroughly alienated me, I've never bothered to seek out others. Now, I shall try to return to the main work and perhaps dabble in others.

(3) And most significantly--I love the way she envisions God. I am so tired of the Calvinist God who has crept even into the confines of the Catholic Church--the dour, demanding, imperious, old Curmudgeon who, like some spoiled Prima Donna insists always upon His own way, in every detail and in every motion. A God who laughs appeals to me. A God who sees our feeble attempts and who out of His great love is deeply moved to laughter and to joy by them is a Father whom I can love. Just as I watched the fumblings of my young son as he tried to do things and I rejoiced in his failures and ingenuity, not because I was pleased that he was failing, but because i was pleased that he was trying, so is my image and understanding of a God who can laugh. That is the God of encouragement, hope, and joy. Not the one who sits with some large toteboard, carefully inscribing every error, every slip, every straying from the clearcut path. Obviously God does not wish us to depart from the path, and such departure grievously wounds Him. But, I think overall, my heart is inclined to a God who can look at some of the nonsense we generate, accept it for what it attempts to be--worship, after a fashion--rejoices at the attempt and shakes heaven with the thunder of His laughter.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:43 AM | Comments (0)