Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) This simple sentence, found in a […]

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Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice

Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the largest obstacles to belief in a […]

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Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) For insight into how much suffering is […]

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Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) The first way for […]

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Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) Near the end of […]

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Notebook 2: Religion & Originality

NOTEBOOK 2: RELIGION & ORIGINALITY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the ways in which all religions justify […]

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Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD’S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) As an addition to this essay, here are more instances from history where, to our peril, various contemporary events were interpreted as obvious manifestations of divine action. While the superficial justification for anti-Semitism has always been a variation on, “[Because] Jews suffered proved that Jews deserved to suffer,”[1] this is also generally true for everyone at some time or another: it is always assumed there is an obvious, divinely sanctioned correspondence between our religious or political or civic affiliations, and the fates of those religions and nations, even though there rarely is. Even worse, throwing such explanations on the sufferings of others allows us to ignore that suffering entirely, or even grin in assuming that it is deserved. The refrain is this: there is simply no reliable or coherent way to ever interpret material or political events of any kind, and of anyone, as the result of divine pleasure or displeasure. And so there is no basis for judging people of other political or religious persuasions when things go good or ill for them, or for us. Each of the following quotations suggests the folly, and attendant […]

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Viking Jesus

To see the ways in which a religion works, one of the best ways is to observe their missionaries and how they adapt stories created in one historical and geographic area, for people and places wildly different. On this point, nothing beats the ninth-century Saxon saga Heliand, which presents Jesus as a chieftain, prayers as runes, and refers to the […]

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The State of Poetry … in 1993

The following essay was published in the New Criterion in February, 1993, and reflects a view of American poetry from at least the 1970s forward. It’s quite depressing to read this two decades later, since the status of poetry as a subculture can’t help but be worse than it was then, and worse in part because the technology noted as […]

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Voluspa

To close out a month of posts, here’s the Voluspa, that great bit of the world turning over, from the Norse Poetic Edda. Somehow these bards, in the voice of the Seeress narrating it all, were able to cram into a few pages everything from creation to the apocalypse, and there is simply nothing like it. The oddities and opaqueness […]

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Egyptian Pyramid Texts

As a companion to yesterday’s excerpts from the Hindu Rig Veda, here are excerpts from religious texts even older than those: the Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt. Beginning in the late Old Kingdom (c.2375-2181 BC), pharaohs had prayers and spells to assist them in the afterlife carved onto the walls of their pyramids—and as you’ll notice immediately, they are almost […]

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Rig Veda

In another life (appropriately enough), I would have been Hindu; in an additional other life, at the very least I would have started studying Indo-European at a young age. As it happened, whatever brief time I’ve been able to devote to Hinduism has no doubt been saturated with the romanticism of a novice who is very far indeed from any […]

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Heaney’s Bog Poems

Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested readers would do well to […]

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Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”

I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what you call it, as it […]

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Whitman Last

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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Whitman First

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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T. S. Eliot on Dante

Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally presented as a speech given […]

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Wallace Stevens, Intergalactic Planetary

Here are some bits on writing, nature, and anonymous everyday life from Wallace Stevens, that quiet murmur of American poetry who may well outlast nearly everybody. The following are from his letters and journals, from 1898 to 1955, only a few months before his death at seventy-five. That a poet so technically isolated (and gladly so) from all the clichés […]

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Yeats & Lady Gregory

(photo from the LG/WBY Heritage Trail) In the single-volume Autobiographies of W. B. Yeats, which collects all of Yeats’s autobiographical writings from throughout his life, the great Irish poet mentions the memoirs of one John O’Leary. O’Leary was apparently taking his good old time at it, writing “passages for his memoirs upon postcards and odd scraps of paper, taking immense […]

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Classic Joyce

Too much to choose from, but here’s some classic bits from James Joyce that are always worth keeping in mind: On Writing: “Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure […]

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One Time People (Fiction)

Many thanks to the editors at Juked, who just published my story, “One Time People.” The story is from a collection, slowly emerging online and hopefully someday in print, called The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old. Other stories from the collection are here.

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Adult Conversation (Fiction)

Many thanks to the editors of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, who will be publishing my short story, “Adult Conversation,” in their next issue. An update will be posted when the issue is available. The story is part of a larger collection on the neglected and easily forgotten, The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old.

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Zen (Favorite Passages)

Along with my excerpts from Ramakrishna and the Desert Fathers, the following favorites from Zen Buddhism constitute just about all the religious wisdom I need. In one way or another, they are all expressions of humility and empathy, and upend the usual fundamentalist (and simple-minded, arrogant, and certain) approaches to scripture, discipline, knowledge, and to diversity of practice or belief. A Word document of […]

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The Desert Fathers (Favorite Passages)

Alongside the sayings of Ramakrishna and the monks of Zen Buddhism, the sayings of the Christian Desert Fathers are about all the wisdom I need, and below are my favorites from four separate collections. It will not appeal to everyone, but what these hermits seem to speak of more often than not is that greatest of virtues: humility. It is […]

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The Lake (fiction)

Many thanks to the editors of Foliate Oak, who published my short story, “The Lake,” in their December Issue. The story is part of a larger collection on the neglected and easily forgotten, The Lonely Young and the Lonely Old. An .mp3 of my reading of it is available here. A YouTube page of that reading is below:

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Hieronymus Bosch

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Albrecht Dürer

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper - People in the Sun

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Favorite Passages)

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, written by “M”, translated by Swami Nikhilananda. It is hard to overstate my love for this book. Along with being the first gift my wife gave me soon after we met, it also contains everything I adore about religion, and articulates all that I ever hope to express about the interaction between different religions and the […]

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Silence in London

Just back from London, where the hugeness of space and history were hard to ignore. But the experience was always deepest in the smallest space, where something sacred, or just something simply old, could be apprehended intimately, in silence. So that it was not Westminster Abbey, despite its beauty as a space and the unnerving realization that one is walking by the actual tombs of early kings and queens, including Elizabeth I. It was not this, but Westminster’s cloister: And it was Westminster’s Chapter House, with its original 13th-century tile, 14th-century paintings on the wall, and nearby the oldest door in England, supposedly used by Edward the Confessor, c. 1050:   And it was, most of all, Westminster’s Pyx Chamber, also dating to shortly after 1066. It is hard to say why this room struck me, but I could have stayed there for days: It was also not the Tower of London, the only time where the idea of royalty truly stank of excess and arrogance and blood, especially at the exhibit of the crown jewels. It was not here, but nearby, at the church of All Hallows by the Tower, a place gutted during the Blitz, the damage revealing a c. 775 Saxon Arch from the earliest version of the church, as well as c. 200 Roman pavement in the crypt below, and of course, crypt chapels for silence: And it wasn’t even London, really, so much as it was a side-trip to Salisbury, […]

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