Archive for the ‘Religion and Culture’ Category

“O ye of little faith.” Jesus’ criticism of his disciples applies to all of us in a way that is not often considered. We do not recognize the depth and wonder of humans, even those of us who confess that we believe all humans are made in the image of God. Read the rest of this entry »

I was glad to see that Simone Biles was able to compete again in the Olympics and win a bronze medal on the balance beam.  She is an outstanding gymnast who has advanced the sport/art with new moves and a high level of execution.  Unfortunately, because of her very public withdrawal from some of the events for reasons of “mental health,” she has been subjected to some extremely harsh criticism.

The reactions both of her critics and defenders have been mostly superficial. What happened to Simone Biles is the result of the confluence of four currents in modern American society: the role of sports, the financial impact of sponsors, the ubiquitous presence of social media and its baleful influence on the self, which was already trapped in the hopelessly contradictory reality of mass society and the exaltation of its individual expression. Read the rest of this entry »

“… and those only that feel the keener wound are known as Lovers”[1]

I have lived a life of quite undeserved happiness and health.  However, a few weeks ago I was struck with a severe pain running down the entire length of my left leg from some pinched nerve.  At approximately the same time I was teaching from Julian of Norwich’s Showings and was struck by her desire for “three gifts of God” and how they relate to the mysterious role of suffering and a life of love. Read the rest of this entry »

I messed up.  A few years back, I read all the novels and short stories in the Modern Library edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writings, except the Scarlet Letter. I had read it as a young boy—too early, I will admit, since I had to ask my mother what the letter A was all about.  Still, I reasoned that I knew the plot; so, why read the book again?  Dumb, even dumber.  There is more to a great novel than just knowing the events of the plot.  On my second reading, I was profoundly moved.  The Scarlet Letter is a great novel about human sin, the guilt that it causes, and the costly redemption for the sinner and those affected by the sin that comes from confession. Read the rest of this entry »

“As I went down the village street on my way to bed after midnight, the high Alpine valley lay silent in its frozen stillness.  For days it had now lain thus, even the mouths of its cataracts stopped with ice; and for days, too, the dry, tight cold had drawn up the nerves of the humans in it to a sharp, thin pitch of exhilaration that at last began to call for the gentler comfort of relaxation.  The key has been a little too high, the inner tautness too prolonged.  The tension of that implacable north-east wind, the bise noire, had drawn its twisted wires too long through our very entrails.  We all sighed for some loosening of the bands—the comforting touch of something damp, soft, less penetratingly acute.”

I read these lines from Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The South Wind” while seated on our deck during a late April morning, one of the first warm and sunny days following several cold, rainy ones in which winter seemed unwilling to lose its grip.  My initial reaction was twofold.  The first was envy.  I wished that I could write that well.  The second was an admission of the truthfulness of the sentiment, even by one such as I who likes the cold, bracing feel of winter.  Even that pleasure I have in winter is, to use Blackwood’s words, “a sharp, thin pitch of exhilaration,” a “tautness.”  Yes, it was time for “some loosening of the bands,” “the comforting touch of something … less penetratingly acute.”  It was time for spring.  I sat back, felt the sun on my face and relaxed with a sigh.

Then, because of the interrelatedness of life, my mind turned to the stay-at-home order during this corona virus pandemic.  My feelings were contradictory.  On the one hand, it has been rather pleasant for me.  I’m an introvert; so, I enjoy being alone.  However, I am a fortunate introvert. My wife and I have been able to continue receiving our salaries.  We have a nice home, living in a nice area in which walks are pleasant and it is easy to maintain social distancing.  We remain healthy, have not suffered from the loss of loved ones, and have no small children to care for.  On the other hand, thousands have died, or lost their health, jobs, and loved ones.  Others, more socially oriented than I, are suffering emotionally from the isolation. Their nerves are taut, and they need a break, “some loosening of the bands.”

While fully cognizant of those terrible losses, since this life of ours is contradictory,there is a benefit to the sheltering, now of nearly two months duration.  The workload at school was heavy.  I was tired but did not realize it until we had to shift to online teaching.  True, there was work to do and technology to conquer or be conquered by, but the pace was different.    My wife, who was placed on administrative leave, was home.  I slept more and was less tense.  We took more time over our meals and in prayer.  We went for walks together.  The period was a kind of rest.

Let me repeat that this has not been the experience of the many who have been hit hard by the disease or directly involved in fighting against it.  Nevertheless, the lesson in slowing the pace of our lives is important for all.  Biblically speaking, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Therefore, as God worked, so we were created to work (Genesis 2:15).  With the right attitude work can be fulfilling and a pleasure.  Yet, just as we need to be reminded that as the image of God, we are called to work, so also we must remember that we are called to rest, as God did after his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3).  One of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel was to cease from their labors one day a week to honor him.  The reason given for this is that God himself had rested on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-11).

I mentioned that my wife and I take walks and spend more time at our meals.  Today’s families do not regularly eat meals together and often live almost separate lives, each with their own devices watching whatever is of interest to the individual family member.  We moderns tend to be rushed or to make ourselves busy even when we’re not at work. The current difficulty of eating at restaurants and going to the movies and sporting, while real, can become an opportunity to slow down and spend time getting to know other family members.  Rest can allow us to deepen our relationships with those nearest to us.

The mounting death toll from the corona virus also serves as a somber and admittedly unwelcome reminder of our own mortality.  Awareness of our mortality can cause worry and stress and lead some to believe that life is pointless.  However, Hebrews 4:9-10 promises, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”  The eternal rest promised to God’s people is not like the rest of a Sunday afternoon nap—delightful as that can be.  It is rather, the entrance into the fullness of life, a celebration in God’s presence with all his people, and the end of all striving and doubt and suffering.

Algernon Blackwood’s story describes the arrival of spring with the south wind bringing “that sweet and welcome message of relief” from winter’s harshness.  As I savored the warm sunlight and reflected hopefully on the end of this “winter” of quarantine and of all life’s sufferings one day, the last line of Blackwood’s story, a quotation from Job 37:17, eased my mind. “He comforteth the earth with the south wind.”


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