Hope

When I was in the fourth grade my teacher, Mr. VanNostran, asked us to write our own definition of the word “hope.” I don’t remember the occasion or the context for the assignment; I don’t even remember what I wrote. But I do remember that a few days later, Mr. Van (as we called him) read aloud another student’s definition. The boy, whose name was Paul, was absent that day, and Mr. Van took the opportunity, I think, to teach the rest of us something about ourselves, something about the world, and something about the word “hope.” Read more

Bit Parts

Luke 2:22-40

Mary and Joseph, following the Law of Moses, bring their son to the temple in Jerusalem offering a sacrifice of two pigeons. The birds themselves were of little consequence, yet necessary, the material fulfillment of the Torah. As Luke’s Jesus later puts it, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:6)

As the new parents go about their business, Simeon (usually pictured as quite old, an extrapolation from his exclamation “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace,” the words of the nunc dimittis prayer traditionally chanted at Compline) wanders in, takes the baby in his hands, and says some alarming things, not the standard small talk made over a newborn. Read more

Choosing the Evil of Two Lessers

Months ago, at the beginning of the presidential rutting season, I reflected here on the comment of a Jewish friend of mine, who said he never felt more alien in the United States than at Christmas. I’m nearly with him on that, seeing how far the consumer capitalist Winter Holiday runs from the appalling mystery of the Incarnation. Yet it’s hard to blame this culture and economy from avoiding that unprofitable Jesus business which, in the words of the late great British sitcom, Blackadder, “always spoils the Xmas atmos.” We may still call it Christ-mas, but Yuletide in America makes us all anonymous pagans. Read more

When Eight Days Were Fulfilled

“When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21

Back in grade school, I flipped through a highly modernized version of Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, and came across this definition of “Sunday”: “In Christian countries, the day of the football game.” While I imagine my sons and I will take in a few downs together some time today, observing Christmas season its full duration is a virtue, brimming with goods “internal to the practice.” Read more