Monthly Archives January 2014

Notes From a Walk in the Park

“Everything that is, is holy,” wrote the renowned monk-in-the-world, Thomas Merton, everyone’s favorite chatty Trappist. (Fortunately, after he took the order’s traditional vow of silence, no one could shut the man up over the 80 or so books and thousands of letters and journal jottings that subsequently came out under his name.)

I was put in mind of that phrase on a hike through the park midway through this fine Friday afternoon, the kind of luxury I have mostly denied myself over these working years, a denial that Merton very likely would have chastised me for.

Out in ridiculously unseasonal 70-degree weather under soft breezes and shifting, wispy clouds, it is easy to think that humankind was made to be outdoors, breathing deeply and letting thoughts emerge and waft along as they will.

Sure, we need shelter from the elements when the night turns cold or the days nasty, but at base, it is a rare...

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Henry, Lost and Found

There are these moments. Moments of extreme elation and bliss, abject fear and terror, crystalline understanding. Moments of such intensity that our everyday somnolence is exposed as a kind of fraud, a delusion we perpetuate in order to keep at bay the dueling hounds of our fragility and immensity, our contingency and divinity.

A late dinnertime run to the store for a few items; the daughter had volunteered to cook. Dark as we turn onto our block, no streetlights to illumine the way. In the headlights, a man in the middle of the street, first starting to cross, then doubling back, then pausing too long in the middle as I approach and instinctively slow, him sloughing off late as I swing wide and recognize him—Michael.

Young dad, good man.

Strange for him to be so unyielding of the road. Another man stands on the sidewalk; they seem in contact.
Pulling near our house up the block, I ease to the curb and m...

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Tell Me a Story and My Heart Will Be Glad

My most recent post on The Book of Job led some readers to say it had heartened them or their loved ones in grappling with issues of tragedy and grief in their own lives. I was glad for that, even as I couldn’t help but note the slight oddity of being heartened by discussion of a work that basically tells human beings flat out they had better rethink any notions they have of a tender merciful overseer reaching down from the heavens with a helping hand to set their lives aright.

I suspect the God depicted in The Book of Job would scoff at those nice posters you see in malls with footprints on the sand disappearing for a time and then picking up again, and the prose suggesting this is where God had carried you when your burdens became too much to bear.

It was quite the contrary for Job. The news in his story is not good, and the hand of God is notably absent as Satan goes about his business...

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God As Is-ness: Answering the Challenge of Job

Is there a more put-upon human being in the entire saga of humanity than Job? And is there a more troubling indictment and challenge to all notions of God that rest on his kindness, caring spirit and insistence on justice for his subjects?

The Book of Job is right about in the middle of the Old Testament, befitting its central role, its flashpoint status, as an inquiry into faith, justice, human perseverance, the nature of God, and the existence of evil. It stands as the original investigation into “why bad things happen to good people,” and to read just a portion of the millions of words written about it in the (estimated) 2,500 or so years since its appearance is to understand that in detective terms, the investigation remains very much open and subject to a staggering array of analyses. Here’s mine.

History is replete with epic struggles for supremacy, but few can compare with what God’s “good s...

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That “Hope” Stuff: Inside Llewyn Davis and the Boston Bombing Survivors

Few filmmakers convey the desolation of the physical landscape and its various reflections in the human heart as well as the Coen brothers. Their current film, Inside Llewyn Davis, takes this desolation to new (and cold!) heights in its portrayal of a marginalized, barely surviving folk singer wandering the unforgiving winter streets of Greenwich Village and Chicago in the early ’60s. Davis is homeless, which requires him to spend inordinate amounts of energy searching for a couch where he and his guitar can flop for a not-overly-imposing night or two while he awaits some kind of break or affirmation that his hope of making it in the music world isn’t completely misguided.

Among his many problems, though, is that even hope itself seems to have been beaten down in him by the time the film picks him up as a sad-eyed, occasionally mendacious soloist, pushing into his 30s with nary an asset nor credential to...

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