Moses and this Moment

Our mouths, our words, can be used for good or ill, to liberate or enslave, to bless or curse or encourage, to ask difficult questions. We share our stories, so others might be invited to tell their stories in turn, allowing us to not simply scream at and past each other but to see what values we might hold in common, to perhaps one day even arrive at a place of mutual understanding and esteem.

The Poem as Lantern: Q&A with Leslie Williams

Some readers have asked: who is the you? I hope it’s not greedy to have “you” mean multiple things! First it speaks to the reader, the “you” who’s invited into the book. In some of the poems “You” addresses the Divine. And in other poems the “you” is addressed to the friend, a character in the book. Finally, “Matters for you Alone”: not only meant for a single person, but also for someone literally by himself: a solitary reader.

Living Traditions

It’s not a good time for “organized religion.” “Nones” now comprise the largest single group in the American religious landscape. The dominant narrative seems less one of accelerating secularization than growing disillusionment with institutions and the communal practices they sustain. All the more interesting, then, when thoughtful writers breathe new life into ancient traditions of prayer, learning, and discipline. Two talented poets—one already well-known; another who soon will be—have new books that go against the contemporary grain.

Matthew Porto’s Moon Grammar Poems

Matthew Porto’s debut poetry volume, Moon Grammar (just published by Slant Books), is an intriguing collection. In three Parts, titled “The Angel,” “The Wanderer,” and “Endings,” Porto engages biblical narratives, travels in space and time, and finalities. All in all, Moon Garden’s poems give us a unique entry into what human life is about: its astonishments, its darknesses, its mysteries.

Telling the Truth

Enter Frederick Buechner’s Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, which explores the Christian gospel through the lenses of three literary genres: tragedy, comedy, and fairy tale. In essence, Buechner suggests that serious matters of the gospel are first matters of a human life well lived before they are a logical problem to be solved and systematized.

The Most Challenging Book

This year, I’ll place my hope in books—history, poetry, Torah, and that most challenging book of all, the book of my life. Everything is in it—good and bad. I’ll try to catch myself when I’m tempted to skim, skip, cut words, sentences, paragraphs, lines, stanzas, pages, entire chapters that challenge and complicate the simple narrative I’d like my days and nights to tell.

An Invitation to Close Reading

When Karen Armstrong writes “Nature does not figure prominently in Judaism and Christianity,” in a chapter which looks mainly at Islam (she goes on to imply this is not the case in Islam and that in that religion, unlike in the other two, nature is a revelation on par with the Qur’an—which is of course also what Jews and Christians believe about the Bible and nature)—when she makes such a sweeping statement, I balk.

On Idols, Art, Doubt, Broken Tablets, Writing, Reading, Hearts

Lo yadanu. “We do not know what has happened to him.” Moses, that is. “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us, for that fellow Moses—the man who brought us from the land of Egypt—we do not know what has happened to him’” (Gen 32:1).

Lucille Clifton: Paring Down Poetry

Recently I pulled some of Lucille Clifton’s poetry off my shelf, because I hadn’t read it for a while—not even since her death in 2010. Opening her books now and browsing in them felt like re-connecting with an old friend. The first thing that always strikes me about Clifton’s poetry is what’s missing: capitalization, punctuation, long and plentiful lines.

The First and Best Close Reader

God’s reading of us, while rooted in flesh and bone, is not limited to them. Or better said: flesh and bone, in God’s eyes, provide an absolutely reliable witness of our moral health (or lack thereof). No mystery there: God made human flesh and bone that way, as unambiguous representatives of who we are and of what we have made of ourselves.

Dylan the Prophet, Part 2

The desire that is typical of Blues—from which Bob Dylan draws so much of the spirit of his music as well as actual phrases—is the same we find in the prophets. The Lord God is a jealous and often a jilted lover.

Dylan the Prophet, Part 1

I’ve been spending Covidtide cycling as much as possible. The mental rhythm of riding is calming, contemplative. Something gets in my head and I just keep turning it over. Since June 19th it’s been Bob Dylan’s new album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, released on that date.

Scriptural Poetry

Here’s a game: in the lines below, can you tell which are from the Bible and which from an English poem?
Ho, every one that thirsteth,
come ye
to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
come ye,
buy, and eat;