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Shadows in Amsterdam

From the May 2009 Print Edition

Years ago, I lived in an old brown house that had been converted into apartments. Next door lived a Dutchman, older than I was and divorced, with a son who visited him on weekends. One winter night, for his fiftieth birthday, he invited me in for a bowl of soup with Madeira in it. I remember . . . . Continue Reading »

Planting a Faith Garden

From First Thoughts

There’s something irresistible about plant names. I don’t mean formal botanical nomenclature, though that can tell its own fascinating stories, but the folk terms, the little nicknames, that get given to plants because someone happened to look down and notice a confection of foliage . . . . Continue Reading »

And Glory Shone Around

From First Thoughts

Lately I’ve run across some items not marketed with religious purposes in mind, which nevertheless seem full of possibilities. Take this, for example: That’s right: Glow-in-the-Dark Body Cream from American Science and Surplus. They suggest using it as “the ultimate bike-safety . . . . Continue Reading »

Sacred Art: Sarah Hempel Irani

From First Thoughts

Many thanks to Judy for pointing me to Hempel Studios. The Virgin Annunciate, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, Potomac, MDHere is a sculptor in conversation with the classical and High Renaissance tradition in Western art, treating sacred subjects without subverting their sacredness or . . . . Continue Reading »

Icon vs. Curiosity

From First Thoughts

This is not an icon. It is a curiosity. Why is it a curiosity? It is a curiosity because it purports to be an icon, yet its subjects are dogs. Oh, and a cat. Now, the cat will tell you that icons depict holy personages, and dogs are not holy personages. The dogs will ask you what’s for dinner. . . . . Continue Reading »

Heroes and Holy Places

From First Thoughts

Recently some friends of mine were discussing the misapplication of the word “heroic” to denote efforts which people ought to make simply as a matter of course. Staying married, for example, is not an act of heroism, at least in most cases, yet you read in the tabloids — that is, . . . . Continue Reading »

Through a Glass Darkly

From First Thoughts

You have to wish that all our imperfect human vision were as nearly sublime as this.The market for religion’s material culture is a strange place indeed. It’s full of things which make you ask: Why is this for sale? Who buys it? There are things, for instance, packaged as manifestations . . . . Continue Reading »

This Isn’t a Barbie How?

From First Thoughts

My friend Nathaniel comments that he’d like to see a “Jael With Her Tent Peg,” but I think that’s expecting a level of biblical literalism, to coin a phrase which was already in existence and didn’t really need coining . . . Anyway, you tell me. Barbie: Sarah, from the . . . . Continue Reading »

Playing Fantasy, History and Faith

From First Thoughts

Kevin Heekin, of Heekin Pewter, is the popular guy at any crafts fair. While their mothers are off buying candles, boys line up at Heekin’s booth not only to admire his pewter figurines, but to buy them — at three to five dollars each, his unpainted figures are maybe the only thing at . . . . Continue Reading »