Sunday Morning

The longer my father lived in this world the more he knew there was another to come. It was not that he thought this world beyond saving, although in darkness I suppose there was some of that, but rather that he imagined there must be a finer one where God corrected His mistakes and men and women lived in the second draft of Creation and did not know despair. My father bore a burden of impossible ambition. He wanted all things to be better than they were, beginning with himself and ending with this world. Maybe this was because he was a poet. Maybe all poets are doomed to disappointment. Maybe it comes from too much dazzlement. I don’t know yet. I don’t know if time tarnishes or polishes a human soul or if it’s true that it’s better to look down than up.

~ Niall Williams, History of the Rain.


Notes:

  • Photo by Indonesian Photographer Sukron Ma’mun.
  • Another inspiring quote from same book: “The River Shannon passes below our house on its journey to the sea. Come here, Ruthie, feel the pulse of the water, my father said, kneeling on the bank and dipping his hand, palm to current, then reaching up to take my hand in his. He put your arm into the cold river and at once it was pulled seaward like an oar. I was seven years old. I had a blue dress for summertime. Here, Ruthie, feel.”

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:

T.G.I.F.: It’s been a long week

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There is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that’s going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: “You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.”

– Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC


Notes:

  • Inspired by another quote from Whiskey River: “Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I always think that the chances of finding out what really is going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say hang the sense of it and just keep yourself occupied. ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 
  • Painting “Swallow” (2011) by Nicky Loutit (via Your Eyes Blaze Out).
  • Quote via Whiskey River

Sunday Morning

Last year, as often happens, my mood waned with the autumn light. At work, I stared blankly at my computer, inexplicably on the verge of tears. At home, I counted the minutes until I could sleep. I still woke early, intending to read and write, but instead lay on the couch, idly thumbing at my phone. I felt numb to the world. My psychiatrist adjusted my medication and suggested I invest in a light-therapy lamp. “Winter is coming,” he said without a hint of irony…

The darkness threw me over the edge. Over the next few days, as I began a free fall into despair, I was surprised to find a quiet comfort in the birds flitting about my friend’s window. Suddenly, I grew envious of his yard, a seeming prerequisite for a feeder. Then it occurred to me: I am not the first apartment dweller with this predicament. I opened Amazon, where I’d been browsing for light-therapy lamps, and discovered feeders that could be attached to our apartment windows with suction cups. “I bought myself a Christmas present,” I told my wife when I arrived at my in-laws’ house.

When we returned to Brooklyn, a house-shaped plexiglass feeder and four pounds of Deluxe Treat birdseed were waiting…Three days later, my wife texted me a picture of a blue jay. More soon appeared. So did sparrows, nuthatches, cardinals, mourning doves and a single red-bellied woodpecker. Within two weeks, I was ordering 20-pound bags of birdseed, Eastern Regional Blend, and filling the feeder’s trough daily.

Initially, it was the sheer novelty that caught my attention. My phone couldn’t compete with a woodpecker eating two feet away. Then I started to actually notice the birds, the peculiar rituals and particular charms of each species. I saw the nuthatches creeping down the window frame vertically, like awkward thieves, and dashing in for single sunflower seeds. The fat, insatiable mourning doves gorging themselves on white millet. The cardinals loitering shyly in the pear tree, waiting for them to finish.

The novelty has faded over time. But the beauty of the birds continues to draw my attention. In the tableau of blues gridded across the jay’s wing and tail, I see patterns of a Mondrian. More than once I have begun to scare away greedy doves only to stop short at the gleam of iridescent plumage. In these moments, and in the daily routine of filling the feeder with seed, I forgot my anxieties.

That something as simple as bird-watching could release me from the confines of my mind came as a surprise. When I began to struggle with depression, at an evangelical college, the faithful proffered a verse from the Gospel of Matthew: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” This provided exactly zero comfort. I wasn’t sure I still believed in a benevolent father. And besides, I’d seen enough dead birds in my cat’s maw to question their value in his eyes.

If the birds still don’t fill me with any divine reassurance, they provide something far more valuable: a respite, a chance to turn my attention away from myself to the grace and beauty of the world. I don’t know if God is feeding them, but I am.

~ David Michael, from “Letter of Recommendation: Bird Feeders” (NY Times, July 9, 2019)

Sunday Morning

HE: I believe in God in every respect, but I don’t expect to understand His will. God is in music. I believe that the great composers speak to us about their experience of God. This is not nonsense. For me, Bach is a constant.

SHE: But you used to have doubts?

HE: Not about Bach.

~ Linn Ullmann, ”Unquiet: A Novel

It should. It should.

Whatever you want to call your god—should say Yes over and over, in cycles, in spirals, with no other reason but to hear itself exist.

Because love, at its best, repeats itself. Shouldn’t it?

~ Ocean Vuong, from his new book titled: “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel” (Penguin Press, June 4, 2019)


Portrait of Ocean Vuong from Los Angeles Time Book Review

Sunday Morning

My son was almost 4 months old when he stopped breathing at daycare. It was his first day there, the first time I had left his side. Neither the doctors nor investigators could tell us why it happened…The question of my son’s death — the mystery of it, why he vanished — remains without answer. And so I ask the questions of life: What force grew this little child? How did those limbs form themselves from nothing inside of me? Why did I have the power to make him, but not to bring him back? Why are the things he saw on this planet so beautiful? Why did his eyes look at me the way they did? Where did love like this come from? I will never know who my child would have been, but I know his love. If there is a God, this is what he gave me.

~ Amber Scorah, Surviving the Death of My Son After the Death of My Faith (NY Times, May 31, 2019)

 


Notes: Photo by Ayla Maagdenberg titled “Grief“. Inspired by Sawsan: “Love is not a fin or a tail or an extra unnecessary tooth. It’ll be the last thing to pass through the evolutionary blades.”

 

Sunday Morning: Evolution?

Love

is

more than

evolution required.

~ David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life (Random House, April 16, 2019).  Revised from original: “I realized I loved her more than evolution required.”


Photography: Rachel @ 3 yrs old & Eric @ 1 yr

Sunday Morning

It’s hard to hurt things.

Isn’t it.

I’m afraid of spiders but I still scoop them cold

into my hands & let them free.

Where’s the church for things like this.

Talin Tahajian, from “No steeple” (Cosmonauts Avenue)


Notes: Poem via bostonpoetryslam. Photo “no bell” by Christian Collins

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

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