Regardless of what you think of the Christianity of my upbringing, its one unambiguously worthy value is that of loving others. “Love your enemies,” “Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength,” “Love your neighbor as yourself”: Pouring love into the world is Christianity’s core mandate. For five decades of church-going and three decades of serious spiritual practice, loving others has been my orientation and effort.
So when my friend Michael Bischoff cavalierly told a crowd, “What matters is the degree to which we can receive love,” my jaw dropped. (more…)
“Fear not, for behold: I bring you glad tidings of great joy.” I’ve listened to these words, sung them, shouted them from a church basement, and read them hundreds of times. They are the great refrain of Christmas. This year they strike me differently, though, because this year I am afraid.
I’m afraid because my mother’s no longer here, which is just sad on most days but then sometimes feels like the ground under me has heaved and is no longer trustworthy. I’m afraid because, walking to work last week in below-zero temperatures, I passed through a happy flock of robins—the climate is changing, what used to be predictable is no longer, and we’ve elected a government that will likely aggravate the problem. (more…)
If you want to write, here’s the most important bit of advice I can give you: The best reason to write is for the love of it. Love is literature’s essential ingredient. If you are concerned with the quality of your writing, striving for publication or recognition, you may think this sounds simplistic. But listen to David Foster Wallace in an interview with Larry McCaffery:
I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent… Talent’s just an instrument. (more…)
John Gardner writes that we read for “the pleasure of exercising our capacity to love.” Having been an English major, I find this idea slightly challenging. Don’t we also read to see the world from others’ eyes or to learn about history or as a social critique or to have our beliefs turned on their heads? Don’t we read to be entertained? To escape?
But when I think back to my first and best experiences of reading (in grade school, when I spent summers on the back porch with my nose in some Newbery Award winning novel and my whole being transported to worlds more contained and extravagant than my own), they were saturated with love. And if I’m honest, all my lofty academic reasons for pursuing an English major were cover-up for a plain old love of reading. (more…)