New Here?
     
Literature


Right: An Unspoken Sermon

This one comes to us from Alan Jacobs. Anthony Trollope’s novel He Knew He Was Right is, like Shakespeare’s Othello, a story of jealousy. But not really. Its true subject is something far worse, and far more common, than jealousy. And if we understand the real point of the story, we’ll understand something about Christian […]

Taking a Walk? Godspeed!

Solvitur ambulando, or “It is solved by walking,” in Latin — a Roman quip probably effused on one of the many roads that leads to (or from) the travertine city. Note the passive voice, which permits the speaker to omit any specific notion of what is actually solved by walking. But perhaps that’s the point […]

The Church and the Whorehouse: What’s the Difference?

“The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness […]

What I Stand On: Wendell Berry’s Collected Catechisms

The closer he got to Henry County, Kentucky, the more nervous he became. He had been invited by Wendell Berry to visit his home — the Wendell Berry. When his rental car pulled up outside their house, the late Nobel-Prize-winning Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, thought, “This man is too good for me, and it’s going […]

Hopelessly Devoted: Romans Chapter Eight Verses Thirty-One and Thirty-Two (Devotion #2 – Larry Parsley)

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, NIV)

The next video from our annual gathering in NYC features conference chaplain and writer Larry Parsley. In this six-minute devotion, Larry discusses the gracious gifts of God and a short story by the brilliant William Trevor. For anyone with a case of the Mondays, the following will serve as a beautiful reminder. Volume up, press play:

Devotion #2 – Larry Parsley from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

The Improbable Persistence of Calling

In one of his final stories for The New Yorker, “The Long Black Line,” former Jesuit John L’Heureux offers a funny and heart-rending tale of a Jesuit novice who leaves the order. [If you have the time, check out a beautiful reading and commentary on the story by one of his former students, and don’t […]

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

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 (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

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

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 […]