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David Nolan

St. Aelred of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship has been getting a great deal of attention recently, and justifiably so. Friendship—close, intimate friendship—always deserves our time and attention. A few things stood out to me as I read this short treatise.

First, Aelred’s insistence that friendship is eternal: “Friendship is indeed everlasting. Hence a friend loves always.” Friendship’s aim extends beyond this world to heaven, for “the true and eternal friendship that begins here is perfected there.”

Second, because unity in God should be the aim of friends, the ways in which friends live towards this unity matter. Every time I read the Rule of St. Benedict, I’m astonished by the practical wisdom on display. Wondering how to maintain unity in a community of flawed humans? Benedict gives a pretty decent roadmap. What Benedict provides for communities, Aelred provides for friendships: a guide to growth in unity through bearing each other’s burdens, fostering mutual affection, sharing a common purse and common possessions, “agreement in things divine and human,” and most of all through praying for each other. For in prayer to Christ for a friend “we focus on Christ with love and longing . . . and somehow touching the sweetness of Christ nearby, one begins to taste how dear he is.”

Matthew Schmitz

I’ve been reading Tim Lawrence’s Love Saves the Dayperhaps the definitive history of disco. While other volumes focus on the sex and celebrity that defined disco’s public image, this book spends more time exploring the underground that preceded and supported the excess of Studio 54. Lawrence lavishes attention on the musical and economic aspects of 1970s dance culture—but he sees the main economy as a spiritual one. 

The story begins with the 1970 Valentine’s Day party at the invitation-only NoHo venue the Loft. Its owner, David Mancuso, decided to advance the communal ideals he’d brought from the ’60s by turning his living space into a private but inclusive invitation-only venue where people would dance who’d never otherwise mix.

Mancuso’s experiment inspired DJs and spawned imitators. The early DJs were overwhelmingly Italian boys from the outer boroughs. Lapsed Catholics spinning gospel queens: disco was an ecumenical liberation.

Running through the book is talk of the DJ booth as the altar, of all night dances as new liturgies (the enthusiasm of the Church’s own liturgical reformers made this closer to the truth than it ought to have been).

If disco’s aspirations were better represented by deconsecrated churches turned dance clubs like Sanctuary than by the grand stage of Studio 54, we can dispense with the usual accusations of frivolity and instead ask whether disco’s spiritual tenor tended more to praise or blasphemy.

However one answers the question, a certain wistfulness is hard to avoid. The elevation of sex as the sole sacrament continues to this day. Gone is disco’s reach for love and mad bid for joy, the (barely) sublimated sublime. Of course, the music remains. Here is a playlist I’ve assembled of all the songs mentioned in this rich book.

Bianca Czaderna

I was recently introduced to the poetry of Kay Ryan—who, after years of outsider-status in the poetry world, was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2008—and was immediately transfixed by its unusual rhythmic density and philosophical bent. The funny thing is that her poetry seems to defy all of the rules of writing that I learned in school.  “Show, don’t tell,” my teachers told me for years on end.  And then there is Ryan, who says flatly that her poems do not start with any imagery or sound, but rather develop “the way an oyster does, with an aggravation.” Critic Meghan O’Rourke has written of her work, “Each poem twists around and back upon its argument like a river retracing its path; they are didactic in spirit, but a bedrock wit supports them.” “Sharks’ Teeth” displays that meandering approach to her subject matter, which, Ryan says, “gives my poems a coolness. I can touch things that are very hot because I’ve given them some distance.”  Strange that coolness and distance and decentralization of imagery should yield something that would have any power over me, and yet. Some good ones so far: “All Your Horses,” “Cut Out For It,” Still Start,” “New Rooms,” “Cloud,” and “Salvations.” 

R. R. Reno

I’m just finishing Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann.



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