It was “beautifully tragic,” my young companion said, and judging from the sobs and sighing all around us, this opinion was widely shared. The film is based on the best-selling Young Adult book by the same title, authored by John Green (best known, with his brother Hank, for the YouTube channel Vlogbrothers). The novel bucked current trends by not being set in a near-future dystopia ruled by vampires. Instead it’s a dying-teenager story, but not of the usual sort. It’s literate and funny. It doesn’t exploit the drama of diagnosis, horror, and teary acceptance; the characters have had cancer for years already, and have worked out believably different ways of living with their condition. (As a one-time aspirant for the Episcopal priesthood, Green spent some time as a chaplain in a children’s hospital. Hard lessons learned greatly benefit the storytelling.)
St. Mary of EgyptFeasts: April 1 and 5th Sunday of Great Lent About 500 years after the Resurrection of our Lord, a holy monk by the name of Zosimas lived in a monastery by the Jordan River. He had lived as a monk since childhood and when he was about 50 years old he began to think that he had surpassed all the other monks in virtue and that no one could teach him anything he didn’t already know. To prevent such a prideful thought from taking root, God taught him a lesson.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is surely the most Wes-Andersony of all the Wes Anderson movies, and if you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson movie, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Try this: of all contemporary filmmakers, Anderson is the one most likely to provoke reviewers to use the words “fey” and “twee.”
[St Seraphim Prison Fellowship; Winter 2013] Are there crimes that cannot be forgiven? Apollo was a shepherd, and had been hardened by his rough life. One day he saw a pregnant woman alone in the field, and was seized with curiosity to know how the unborn child lay in the womb. So he killed her; there was no one there to help her. He opened her body and looked upon the dying child.
Wes Smith’s column this week for First Things is about the flowers at his church that continued to be fresh, after a parishioner poured out the last of his holy water into one of the vases. The comment of a skeptic at that site clarified for me a point of miscommunication. The skeptic seems to think we are claiming that holy water is magic, and if we tested this in a controlled environment it would have this effect on flowers every time. There would be a pattern, one that kept appearing in any place and time.
Oliver Burkeman, a blogger for The Guardian, says that proponents of the atheist side of the God debate (where, he says, his sympathies lie) are being intellectually lazy. They attack a concept of God which imagines him as a sort of superhero, rather than grappling with the classic monotheistic view of God as the source and ground of reality. This is like anti-evolutionists refuting a distorted and absurd concept of evolution. Burkeman recommends David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God” so that they might grasp and then grapple with a more theologically-accurate concept of God.
Priest: O Trinity, transcendent in essence, in goodness and in divinity, O Almighty, invisible and incomprehensible, who watch over all, O Creator of intelligent essences, of natures endowed with speech, O Goodness of utter and unapproachable brilliance, who enlighten every person who comes into the world: enlighten me also, your unworthy servant! Illuminate the eyes of my mind, that I may venture to praise your immeasurable goodness and your might; may the prayer that I offer be acceptable for the people here present. Let not my sins prevent the descent of the Holy Spirit upon this place, but permit me now without condemnation to cry out to You, O all-good Lord, and to say: We glorify You, O Master and Lover of Mankind, Almighty King before eternity! We glorify You, Creator and Maker of all!
There’s much to admire, but not much to enjoy, in Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen, two Minnesota boys, have won great acclaim over 30 years of filmmaking, sharing a dozen Oscar nominations for writing, directing, and best picture. Their films cover an amazing range of genres, from dark and violent, like best-picture winner No Country for Old Men (2007), to quirky-funny, like The Big Lebowski (1998). You could say that, with Raising Arizona (1987), the Coens invented quirky-funny. A longtime favorite in my family is O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the comic odyssey of a trio of chain-gang escapees in 1937 Mississippi.
For children, Christmas is a time of wonder, if not outright bafflement, because of the archaic vocabulary and syntax of Christmas carols. This produces interpretations that our devout ancestors never had in mind. Here are some of my childhood mishearings of these songs. How about yours? * “For in thy Dock Street shineth…” (“Little Town of Bethlehem”) I knew what “Dock Street” meant, because my home town was a seaport. But if something was shining there, it was a little creepy.
Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming: “The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21) “He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)