And now for some staff selections in a more secular vein:
Advent is the great season of preparation for the greatest of all gifts: Christ Himself. But as our culture makes all too obvious, this is also a season of high commercialism. As Fr. George Rutler from Our Saviour Parish in New York City reminds us:
The season of Advent is lyrically beautiful if one is willing to engage the realities it teaches: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The alternative is to create a parallel universe partying in a faux Christmas confection of jingle bells, dancing elves, and self-conscious bonhomie, avoiding the Incarnation of God.
Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—the themes of the four Sundays in Advent don’t exactly seemed filled with Christmas cheer. Instead, they are sobering, encouraging a state of wakefulness from the distractions of frivolity. Advent has become something truly countercultural–at a time when holiday parties and merry making are at a fever pitch, Advent calls us to remember the passing nature of this world and the eternity that awaits.
Be sure to read the rest of Fr. Rutler’s column here.
First Things is pleased to announce our next event: renowned poet Christian Wiman will be giving a reading here at our editorial offices in Manhattan on October 29, at 6 p.m. Wiman is editor of Poetry magazine. His most recent collection, Every Riven Thing, is just out from Farrar Straus Giroux publishers. “Art is like Christianity in this way: At its greatest, it can give you access to the deepest suffering you imagine,” he wrote, “the suffering of which you must be conscious to fulfill your nature—and at the same time provide a peace that is equal to that suffering.” On the intersection of art and life Wiman wrote, “Poetry, for me, has always been bound up with (this) unease, fueled by contingency toward forms that will transcend it, as involved with silence as it is with sound.”
As a preview to Wiman’s reading, here is his poem “From a Window,” from the July/August 2008 issue of Atlantic magazine:
When I was training my golden retriever, one command I impressed upon him above all others: the essential “come!” command. That no matter what the circumstances, no matter how enticing a particular plant, person, or fellow canine might appear to be, when I gave the command to come, he would immediately return to me. Now, dogs are not perfect, though they do seem to have the unconditional love part down, and this took a good bit of work and practice, but eventually, we could walk anywhere without a leash, and he could be counted on to obey me. I didn’t expect him to understand that this training was as much for his safety as anything else; the important thing is that he learned obedience. The second important command was “stay.” Sometimes walking beside me he would look up at me with earnest eyes, his whole body shivering with the urge to break free, but if I said, “stay,” he would not leave my side. Often this was while passing another dog and walker, the walker struggling at one end of a straining leash, a barking leaping dog on the other.
I was thinking about all this this morning, watching dogs in the park, missing my own, who passed away this year, how those two commands also came from Christ and shape the experience of being a Christian. The most important is “come,” from whatever station in life, whatever our age, race, gender, all that, Christ calls us to come to Him. And the next is to stay, to abide with Him.
A friend recently sent me a link about a parallel in our relationships with God and our dogs. It’s overly simplistic, of course, but in fact neither willfully leaves us; it is we who leave them. And they are always waiting, happy to see us, missing us when we are gone, not holding our absence against us, just glad that we return.
The Catholic World Report has an important look at the complex situation in China in this exclusive interview with Cardinal Joseph Zen.