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Literature

Angels in the Architecture: A Defense of Repetition

Angels in the Architecture: A Defense of Repetition

A while back, an acquaintance asked me if I was “still writing for that website,” by which she meant Mockingbird. The question was delivered with a smirk that I interpreted as vague condescension from someone I know to be more into DIY than grace. I assured her that I was, in fact, still writing for […]

For Walt So Loved the World

For Walt So Loved the World

In honor of WW’s 200th birthday, here’s this. I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. (1-3) Whitman is my favorite narcissist. His poetry overflows with ego, but instead of being stuffy, his poetic self is so all-embracing, so […]

Miriam Toews Has Something to Say

Miriam Toews Has Something to Say

Miriam Toews (pronounced “taves”) first came to my attention in 2015 with her book All My Puny Sorrows, a moving novelization of her sister’s suicide. Her newest book, Women Talking, is a response to the real-life story of mass sexual assault in a remote Mennonite colony; its cover art (see below) is both elegant and […]

When Everything Came Alive for Leo Tolstoy

The new episode of The Mockingcast dropped yesterday (“Pelagian Privilege”), in which Sarah shared the following entry from Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. The Arrival Fallacy strikes again:

[Leo Tolstoy] was 52 years old, and his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), were behind him. He had found himself in a crisis—he was famous, had a family and land and money, but it all seemed empty. He was unable to write, had trouble sleeping, contemplated suicide. He read the great philosophers, but found holes in all of their arguments. He was amazed that the majority of ordinary Russians managed to keep themselves going every day, and he finally decided that it must be their faith. From there, it was a short time until Tolstoy took a walk in the woods and found God. He wrote: “At the thought of God, happy waves of life welled up inside me. Everything came alive, took on meaning. The moment I thought I knew God, I lived. But the moment I forgot him, the moment I stopped believing, I also stopped living.”

His wife Sophia was not so thrilled with his conversion. He renounced meat, sex, alcohol, fiction, tobacco, and the temptations of a family. He dressed like a peasant. He wanted to give all of his money away, but Sophia wanted to live what she considered a normal life, not to mention raise their 10 children.

Tolstoy made his first visit to [the Optina-Pustyn monastery] in 1877, a visit in which he apparently exhausted the chief starets—or community elder—with his questions. On this day [June 10th] in 1881 he set off on a second visit, and this time he decided that to be more like the common people, he would walk all the way there, dressed in his peasant coat and wearing shoes made out of bark. He was pleased with his spiritual guidance, but he wasn’t used to walking in bark shoes, so by the time he made it to Optina his feet were so covered in blisters that he had to take the train back home.

For the next chapter in Tolstoy’s eccentric spiritual journey, look no further. You can also check out our Tolstoy archive here. And for more on where he landed on monasticism be sure to track down his masterpiece of a novella, Father Sergius.

Bo Giertz Sees the Gospel With New Eyes

Bo Giertz Sees the Gospel With New Eyes

In the wake of a 1931 trip to Palestine, PhD hopeful Bo Giertz’s experience of scripture reached new depths. A physical encounter with the biblical context freed Giertz to “read his Bible with completely new eyes. It smelled of earth and daily life. It reflected a reality that one could still see with their own […]

Tales Too Uncomfortable to Be Apocryphal

Tales Too Uncomfortable to Be Apocryphal

An amazing phenomenon happens every time I climb a ladder. With each step, I gain about a thousand pounds. I probably should report it to science, or it’s simply that I’m really afraid of heights; either way, the effect is as real as gravity. I’ve climbed right up through the clouds to the very top […]

I’m a Vampire! I’m a Vampire! I’m a Vampire!

I’m a Vampire! I’m a Vampire! I’m a Vampire!

Another year, another Dungeons and Dragons campaign on the books. Fully enveloped within the modern resurgence of the classic fantasy roleplaying game, I’ve been running (“dungeon mastering”) a series of campaigns for my wife and our group of best friends over the past few years. We just wrapped up a six-month campaign where our party […]

Through Him All Things Were Made: Mercy in John Chapter One

Through Him All Things Were Made: Mercy in John Chapter One

Grateful to share this sermon by author Francis Spufford, delivered this February at St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. The full passage is John 1:1-14. And without him not one thing came into being. May I speak in the name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. I’ve been hearing the first chapter of […]

The Problem with Paradise (According to Toni Morrison)

The Problem with Paradise (According to Toni Morrison)

Toni Morrison’s Paradise (1997) begins with a startling act of violence, then, in a landscape of confounding spirituality, unfolds the stories of several different women. The book was, in part, one woman’s answer to a question that will be familiar to anyone interested in the language of faith. How might religion be rendered in a […]

Walker Percy on Distraction and Selfhood ~ Scott Johnson

Nuclear winter, malaise, transcendence, and an amiable dude in khakis — all this and more in the following video! Very pleased to share this talk by Scott Johnson, from our recent conference in Oklahoma City, a revised version of which appeared in the latest Mockingbird magazine, the Faith and Doubt issue.

Walker Percy on Distraction and Selfhood ~ Scott Johnson

The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the <i>Harry Potter</i> Series

The Boy Who Lived: A Tribute to My First Reading of the Harry Potter Series

Spoilers! (But I might be last person who would have needed that warning.) I closed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and sat frozen in place. The weight in my chest slowly subsided as tears continued to stream down my face. I couldn’t quite figure out what to do next. The reality sunk in that […]

MORE LIFE: Blessings and a Guilty God in <i>Angels in America</i>

MORE LIFE: Blessings and a Guilty God in Angels in America

the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force The Great Question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great Question before us is: Will the Past Release us? The Great Question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come. So begins the […]