R. R. Reno
Delightful People by Stephen Schmalhofer has provided me with refuge in the present storm of political contestation. The volume collects a dozen pen portraits of figures from American life during the Gilded Age, the time before income taxes when talent, eccentricity, and leisure made for some uniquely interesting lives.
I’ve been walking to work book in hand, reading Brian Doyle’s A Book of Uncommon Prayer between street crossings. Doyle’s prayers are written in the spirit of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Glory be to God for dappled things.” A sampling of titles will demonstrate what I mean: “Prayer of Thanks for All Birds, Herons in Particular,” “Prayer in Thanks for (Small) Pains,” “Prayer for the Men & Women Who Huddle Inside Vast Rain Slickers All Day Holding Up STOP Signs at Construction Sites & Never Appear to Shriek in Despair & Exhaustion,” “Prayer for Opossums, You Poor Ugly Disdained Perfect Creatures,” “Prayer of Thanks for Good Bishops, as Opposed to Meatheads Who Think They Are Important.” Each one makes my chest expand a little bit in gratitude for creation and humans and the Church. They are good-humored, and take God, evil, and religion seriously without succumbing to vapid piety. I am tempted to make a habit of imitating them as a spiritual exercise.
I acquired A Book of Uncommon Prayer from the library after discovering Brian Doyle in our archives. And I have to say, as much as I am enjoying his short-form prose, I prefer the longer essays he wrote for First Things before he died. Of those, I would start with “My First Ordination.”
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