The faith that gives us wings. Or at least a soft place to land.


Notes:

Sunday Morning

I didn’t know if there was anything like a God. I didn’t care. But it was mostly clear to me we were not just castaways in some tohubohu bearing an ensign of meaning only for those desperate enough to concoct one: I felt mostly certain more was going on than met the eye—despite not having a real clue just what that “more” might entail. My assuredness on these matters owed less to faith than it did to experience, for I’d been hearing echoes of the uncanny since early childhood.

— Ayad Akhtar, Homeland Elegies: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company, September 15, 2020)


Photo: DK, Daybreak. December 20, 2020. 6:23 am. 28° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford CT

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Yes,

even when I don’t believe—

there is a place in me inaccessible to unbelief,

a patch of wild grace,

a stubborn preserve, impenetrable…

music that builds its nest in silence.

Sunday Morning

I don’t believe in religion, but the aesthetics of Catholicism have stuck with me. I love the way church incense coats my hair and skin. It is a safe smell, like a blanket, waiting for me to curl up in it. I love stained-glass windows and religious portraits, the colours of Mary’s clothes and the bright red drops of blood on Jesus’s face. I like the Stations of the Cross. I like pausing to run my finger along an emaciated rib and wrinkle my nose at the thought of the vinegar being offered on a sponge. I like prayer cards and medallions and rosary beads. I like advent candles and Bibles edged in gold and the way the skirt over the tabernacle matches the colour of the priest’s robes. There is so much attention to detail.

I envy the faithful. There are shrines dotted around the hillsides here in Ireland, places where saints have supposedly appeared and healed the sick. There are wells of holy water and statues in the rocks, huts filled with prayer cards and gardens filled with painted stones in memory of loved ones who have passed away. I like to visit them occasionally. I sit in the stillness and observe people crying and praying and I close my eyes and try to let some of their hope get carried on the air and through my pores. I would like to believe that everything is accounted for, that there is life after this one, and that all of our decisions hold some kind of significance or moral worth. There is weight in religion. It is an anchor of sorts.

I cannot believe in the vengeful patriarch of the Catholic Church but sometimes, in the daytime, when there’s no one around, I go into the church and light a candle. I like sitting in the quiet and sensing my own insubstantiality against such old and serious things. I am learning that there is a good kind of smallness; a smallness in the face of the universe rather than a smallness in my own body. I like the ritual of prayer and reverence, even though I can’t identify with it. I like the feeling that other people believe in something.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)


Photo Credit

Catholic, Non-Catholic. Believe. Don’t Believe. But Watch.

Of course I have sinned….
As a child, I have failed you first by not having the courage to taste of life itself.
Instead, I hid away in books, and then study.
I know now this left me empty and void of the world.

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes (Netflix, 2019)


If you’re going to make a movie about what’s holy, it had better be outstanding — and this drama rises to the occasion.” ~ Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media

Sunday Morning

“You’re going to ask if you can marry my daughter,” Nan’s father said.

“Yes,” James answered.

“Why?”

James thought: Because she is jolly and pretty and bright, like a firefly, blinking in and out of hedges and trees. Because I imagine her in the kitchen, washing dishes, looking out the window and humming to herself, her brow knit in concentration. I imagine myself coming up behind her, putting my arms around her, resting my chin on her shoulder. I imagine her face turning up to me, bright and pale and astonishing, and I imagine her lips just before I kiss her, full and parted, almost singing the words of a song. Because I think beyond kissing her, because I think about her naked and warm under clean sheets and damp from the bath. I imagine her bare ankle rubbing against my own. I imagine her hair disheveled; I imagine myself smoothing it out of her eyes. I imagine making toast with her and eating it at a round table. When I do, I am just as crazed with passion for her as I would be in bed. There is no difference between imagining her naked and imagining her with a kerchief over her hair. 

“Because I love her,” he said.

~ Cara Wall, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, August 13, 2019)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

Why is it any more ennobling for someone to claim to be a person of faith rather than a person of doubt? I like people of doubt. I like people who question what the hell is going on. St. Thomas is my favorite apostle, even if he was wrong. Galileo smelled a rat, and he was right. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters how you behave. Or as it so succinctly says in Christian scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” Believe what you like, but this is what I believe. God, if there is one, speaks and expresses Herself through a group of people who the great becardiganed philosopher Fred Rogers called “helpers.” […]

Helpers are people who try to make life more bearable for those who are suffering. They are people who try to clean up the mess, are tolerant of the weak-minded, and resist those who would exploit others for their pleasure or profit. […]

So if I have a religion it’s in appreciation of helpers, whoever they happen to be at the time. I’ve tried not believing in God, but that’s just as hard as swallowing all of the liturgical mumbo jumbo. I don’t know who or what composed our universe, but I’m not sure that matters anyway. I suspect that any real spiritual peace lies in simply being a decent human being. Or at least trying to be.

~ Craig Ferguson, from “The Helpers” in Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)


Portrait: AT&T Performance Arts Center

The still, quiet voice


“I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times during the ten years I was writing The Incendiaries. I love that song and its powers; I can’t tell you its name, lest it stop helping me. By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing. Even now, months after I last edited The Incendiaries, to play the song I can’t name is to be pulled back toward my novel, into my made-up town of Noxhurst. The still, quiet voice. That’s what I used to listen for, back when I was deeply religious: the still, quiet voice of God. I’ve lost that kind of faith, but I do believe in fiction’s voice, and in spending the rest of my life, or so I hope, listening for it.”

— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries: A Novel in Poets & Writers, July 26, 2018


From a book Review of The Incendiaries by Ron Charles in The Washington Post on July 23, 2018: ‘The Incendiaries’ is the most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be. “…Kwon, who was raised Roman Catholic and has said that she lost her faith in her teens, seems to understand with extraordinary sympathy just what that loss entails. And as her debut novel catches fire and burns toward its feverish conclusion, she offers a strikingly clear articulation of the fanatic’s mind-set: It’s not an excess of belief that drives some believers to violence; it’s a maddening lack of belief, which requires that radical action be substituted for faith. In a nation still so haunted by the divine promise, on the cusp of ever-more contentious debates about abortion and other intrinsically spiritual issues, ‘The Incendiaries’ arrives at precisely the right moment.”

Are you religious?

Easter, Passover, spring break, holiday weekend. Let us unfurrow the brow and look at something elevated. It’s a small thing, a half-hour television interview from 60 years ago, but it struck me this week as a kind of master class in how to be a public figure and how to talk about what matters…

Is he religious? Here Hammerstein told a story. A year ago he was rushing to work and jaywalked. A policeman called out; Hammerstein braced for a dressing down. But the officer recognized him and poured out his appreciation for his work. Hammerstein thanked him and moved to leave, but the policeman had a question. “He said, ‘Are you religious?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t belong to any church,’ and then he patted me on the back and he said, ‘Ah, you’re religious all right.’ And I went on feeling as if I’d been caught, and feeling that I was religious. He had discovered from the words of my songs that I had faith—faith in mankind, faith that there was something more powerful than mankind behind it all, and faith that in the long run good triumphs over evil. If that’s religion, I’m religious, and it is my definition of religion.”

~ Peggy Noonan, excerpts from The Wisdom of Oscar Hammerstein II (wsj.com, March 29, 2018)

Sunday Morning

Except for Aunt Maria. Unlike her father, my grandfather, she belonged not among the Enlightenment’s disciples, but with the deeply religious, the deeply silent. I know she read serious works on theology, I would guess that she knew how to pray (an ability far rarer than it seems), but she was a quiet person, like all in my family…Aunt Maria’s silence, it seems to me, grew from her religion—I sensed her conviction that things linked to faith must be left unexpressed, that they’re lost when spoken, they become banalities. I admired her for being different, for the deep devotion that she wouldn’t, couldn’t share with us—she was the opposite of those pious hypocrites who place their religious fervor on public display…Maria kept silent for different reasons. Perhaps those who pray truly and deeply inevitably watch their words around others.

~ Adam Zagajewski, Slight Exaggeration: An Essay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 4, 2017)


Notes: Image – Farm Hands, via Mennyfox55

Lightly child, lightly.

balloon-upside-down

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

~ Henry Miller, Sexus: The Rosy Crucifixion I

 


Notes:

  • Photo: Paul Apal’kin via Newthom. Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Faith…is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words

boyana-petkova-art

In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _______. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith— only, say, a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Winter Hours” in Upstream: Selected Essays

 


Watercolor: Boyana Petkova (Bulgaria)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

bryan-cranston-a-life-in-parts

But it’s not odd to me. Actors are storytellers. And storytelling is the essential human art. It’s how we understand who we are. I don’t mean to make it sound high-flown. It’s not. It’s discipline and repetition and failure and perseverance and dumb luck and blind faith and devotion. It’s showing up when you don’t feel like it, when you’re exhausted and you think you can’t go on. Transcendent moments come when you’ve laid the groundwork and you’re open to the moment. They happen when you do the work. In the end, it’s about the work.

~ Bryan Cranston, A Life in Parts


Related Post: Bryan Cranston – Breaking Good

The Morning After…

red-hair-portrait-peace-jpg

Humble down,

I tell myself.

Love this.

~ Marjorie Stelmach, from “Divestments of Autumn,” Beloit Poetry Journal (vol. 67, no. 1, Fall 2016)

 


Notes: Poem Source: Memory’s Landscape. Photo: Mennyfox55

A temple – or a green field – a place to enter, and in which to feel.

forest-woods-morning

Whitman kept me from the swamps of a worse uncertainty, and I lived many hours within the lit circle of his certainty, and his bravado. Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs! And there was the passion which he invested in the poems. The metaphysical curiosity! The oracular tenderness with which he viewed the world— its roughness, its differences, the stars, the spider— nothing was outside the range of his interest. I reveled in the specificity of his words. And his faith— that kept my spirit buoyant surely, though his faith was without a name that I ever heard of. Do you guess I have some intricate purpose? Well I have . . . for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.

But first and foremost, I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple— or a green field— a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing— an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness— wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak— to be company. It was everything that was needed, when everything was needed. I remember the delicate, rumpled way into the woods, and the weight of the books in my pack. I remember the rambling, and the loafing— the wonderful days when, with Whitman, I tucked my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time.

~ Mary Oliver, from “My Friend Walt Whitman” in Upstream, Selected Essays


Notes:

On what grounds did I fast from the daily bread of birdsong and starlight?

barbara-brown-taylor

Sixty-hour weeks were normal, hovering closer to eighty during the holidays. Since my job involved visiting parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes on top of a heavy administrative load, the to-do list was never done. More often, I simply abandoned it when I felt my mind begin to coast like a car out of gas. Walking outside of whatever building I had been in, I was often surprised by how warm the night was, or how cold.

I was so immersed in indoor human dramas that I regularly lost track of the seasons. When a fresh breeze lifted the hairs on my neck, I had to stop and think, Does that wind signal the end of spring or the beginning of autumn? What month is this? What year, for that matter? In the ICU, nurses wrote details like these on blackboards to help their dazed patients hang on to reality. Most days I could name the president of the United States, but my daily contact with creation had shrunk to the distance between my front door and the driveway. The rest of my life took place inside: inside the car, inside the church, inside my own head.

On the nights when Ed and I walked, I sometimes talked with my eyes fixed on the moving pavement for more than a mile before an owl’s cry or a chorus of cicadas brought me, literally, to my senses. Only then did I smell the honeysuckle that had been there all along or notice the ghostly blossoms on the magnolia trees that deepened the shadows on more than one front lawn. The effect was immediate, like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. All these earthly goods were medicine for what ailed me, evidence that the same God who had breathed the world into being was still breathing. There was so much life springing up all around me that the runoff alone was enough to revive me. When it did, I could not imagine why I had stayed away so long. Why did I seal myself off from all this freshness? On what grounds did I fast from the daily bread of birdsong and starlight?

~ Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church. A Memoir of Faith.


Image Source: RNS

Everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments.

kate-bowler

[…] Cancer has kicked down the walls of my life. I cannot be certain I will walk my son to his elementary school someday or subject his love interests to cheerful scrutiny. I struggle to buy books for academic projects I fear I can’t finish for a perfect job I may be unable to keep. I have surrendered my favorite manifestoes about having it all, managing work-life balance and maximizing my potential. I cannot help but remind my best friend that if my husband remarries everyone will need to simmer down on talking about how special I was in front of her. (And then I go on and on about how this is an impossible task given my many delightful qualities. Let’s list them. …) Cancer requires that I stumble around in the debris of dreams I thought I was entitled to and plans I didn’t realize I had made.

But cancer has also ushered in new ways of being alive. Even when I am this distant from Canadian family and friends, everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors. In my vulnerability, I am seeing my world without the Instagrammed filter of breezy certainties and perfectible moments. I can’t help noticing the brittleness of the walls that keep most people fed, sheltered and whole. I find myself returning to the same thoughts again and again: Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard. […]

…I find the daily lives of its believers remarkable and, often, inspirational. They face the impossible and demand that God make a way. They refuse to accept crippling debt as insurmountable. They stubbornly get out of their hospital beds and declare themselves healed, and every now and then, it works.

This is surely an American God, and as I am so far from home, I cannot escape him.

~ Kate Bowler, 35, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer. She is an assistant professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School and the author of “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.”

Don’t miss Bowler’s full essay here: Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me


Source: Thank you Susan.

And, it was “game over”

Eric-Metaxas

[…]

Mr. (Eric) Metaxas pushes back against what he calls the “lie that faith and science are somehow opposed to each other.” He thinks the two work in tandem. As he wrote last year in these pages: “There are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart.” In sum: “Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident?”

This resonates with people. “They say: ‘You know, it didn’t make sense to me that the universe made no sense.’ ” In his book about the miraculous, Mr. Metaxas cites the Christian scholar C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his 1952 book “Mere Christianity”: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” […]

While he “floundered,” he was influenced by a good friend who was a Christian. Mr. Metaxas’ initial attitude was: “Don’t come too close. That’s all that weird stuff I’ve been trained to avoid. On the other hand, tell me just a little bit more.” The friend gave him “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor from a prominent family who stood in solidarity with the Jews in World War II, publicly denouncing the Nazis at his peril. At age 39 Bonhoeffer was murdered by Hitler’s henchmen two weeks before the Americans liberated Flossenbürg.

This story laid the groundwork for Mr. Metaxas’ “dramatic” conversion experience, which he says happened overnight, in a dream. It was “game over.” He said he knew he believed in Christianity and his only question was: “How do I reconcile my life to this?” […] [Read more…]

Burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be

art-fear-eyes

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

“But then there is no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

~ Agnes de Mille, The Life and Work of Martha Graham


Credits: Quote Source: Brainpickings. Image: Your Eyes Blaze Out

Sunday Morning: Light from Light

faith-light-God-church-woman-alone

I am as culpable as the rest,
my veneer spit shined and shallow,
my intentions on the level of a Sufi master’s.
Pill and pearl.
Twee of divine.
Look how my articles of faith
are disheveled, disorderly, squalling,
nailed to no door, unrecitable, in bloody flux, forgettable.

Light from Light 

Yet I believe them, my faith’s restless articles.

~ Melissa Pritchard, Decomposing Articles of FaithA Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, And Write


Notes:

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