[World, November 26, 1994] “Hey, you got stuff all over your car!” the boy called out. He staffs the gatehouse at the retirement home where my son waits tables. The stuff I had all over my car was large white daisies with sun-yellow centers, carefully painted on by hand. Yes, it draws attention. It's my daughter's car, I explain, but she hasn't learned to drive a stick-shift yet. While she tools around in my massive station wagon, I'm in her lumpy old sedan. When this car rolled off the assembly line ten years ago, Megan was in the first grade. It kept rolling for 114,000 miles until it crossed her path, and as soon as she caught it she scattered daisies all over its powdery dull-brown hide.
[First Things, May 1998] Last spring saw a free-for-all break out in the evangelical Protestant camp over a proposed new “inclusive language” translation of the New International Version Bible. While World magazine, which sounded the alarm, was scolded for joining battle in hysterical and sarcastic tones, the translators were compelled to explain in what sense it was “accurate” to render masculine terms neuter, singulars plural, or produce grammatical whimsies like “everyone...they.”
[Orthodox Christian Mission Center, Summer 1998] How can we transfigure the world? The world presents itself to us damaged, restless, wronged and wronging, bent of heart and broken of spirit. We present ourselves, come to be its healers, and we are bent and broken as well. How can we transfigure the world? An old Western prayer of confession says, ”There is no health in us."
[NPR, “All Things Considered,” October 6, 1997] I was thumbing through a high-brow magazine the other day and came across an interesting essay on the virtue of Hope. But before I'd finished the first page I caught them in an embarassing blooper. The author stated that hope is ranked alongside faith and love in the 23rd psalm. In case you didn't catch the faux pas, run through the 23rd psalm in your mind--you probably memorized it in kindergarten. Yes, “the Lord is my shepherd is there,” and the part about the valley of the shadow of death, but there's no mention of faith, hope, and love. For that, you have to flip to the other end of the Bible, to St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In his famous meditation on love in chapter 13, he writes, “So faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” --Now, does it ring a bell?
[Christianity Today, July 14, 1997]* Selected for Best Spiritual Writing 1998 * As I saw my children swept up into the night sky I knew I had made a terrible mistake. I held the baby in my arms, but the two older ones--Megan, 7, and David, 4--were locked behind the bar of a ferris wheel in a shopping-center carnival. They had begged and clamored until I agreed to let them board the contraption but now, as they rose into the night, they panicked and began to scream. David's little legs were kicking as he skidded sideways on the slick metal seat. I saw how easily he could slip beneath the narrow bar and fall to the asphalt below.
[Christianity Today, October 6, 1997] In the middle of the room there was a woodburning stove. The small iron door was open on this chilly day, and the red flames could be seen leaping within as if in time to music. For there was music, too, a marching song, and the little girls who circled the stove marched around it in time. The girls were not happy. Each girl was holding in her arms her favorite doll. One by one, each girl marched up to the open door of the stove. One by one, each girl threw her doll into the “angry-looking flames.”
[Christianity Today, September 7, 1998] I flipped back the corners of the rugs, one after another. It was a clammy, rainy day, and these hand-knotted wool specimens from Iran, Pakistan, India, and China were giving off a fresh-from-the-sheep smell. I didn't know what I was doing; I'd never shopped for a rug before. But the one thing that struck me as I gazed at one gorgeous carpet after another was that they looked too perfect. Then I peeled back one more layer and saw a rug that won my heart.
[Utne Reader, August 1998] One of the best pieces of spiritual advice I ever received was one I fortunately gained early, while still in college. It was that I should give up the project of assembling my own private faith out of the greatest hits of the ages. I encountered this idea while reading Ramakrishna, the nineteenth century Hindu mystic. He taught that it was important to respect the integrity of each great path, and said that, for example, when he wanted to explore Christianity he would take down his images of the Great Mother and substitute images of Jesus and Mary.
[Books & Culture, July 17, 1995] Fiction is delicious, I discovered one day. I was about eight, sitting under the sycamore tree in the back yard and reading my mother’s childhood copy of Through the Looking Glass, while idly tearing off and eating the page corners. This old volume is before me now, and it is still full of pleasurable memories, visual, tactile, and even tasty. The book includes both the Alice stories, with Alice in Wonderland first. The cover, loved to pieces, shows a full-color Alice plumper than Tenniel’s familiar version; she is floating down the rabbit hole in a pose of peaceful surrender, one hand on her breast, something like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy. Inside, the book is inscribed in black ink, “To Barbara from ‘Inkle Ferber,’ Christmas 1930.” I have no idea who these people are. (Perhaps my mother stole the volume from another little girl.) The pages are cream-colored, aging to brown at the edges; they are thick and invitingly chewy. The oversized print is charcoal-gray.
[Christianity Today, October 26, 1998] “Work or home? Breast or bottle? Spanking or spoiling?” asks the front cover of the New York Times Magazine. “No matter what they choose, they’re made to feel bad.” This “special issue on the joy and guilt of motherhood” is titled in big red letters, “Mothers Can’t Win.” Is this a special issue from 1987? 1993? 1972? Does it matter? This story has had more lives than Shirley MacLaine.