Hanging On By A Thread

If you know anything about my story, you know my affection for amaryllis flowers – ever since I had one that bloomed in the shape of a beautiful, blazing cross in the middle of a shadowed season of doubt.

That same friend has continued to gift me with amaryllis bulbs every year, and even in spite of my brown thumb, I’ve learned to love tending to them and watching them grow. I don’t know what it is about these mysterious plants, but they always seem to whisper secrets as they quietly and unobtrusively unfold little by little over the passing days. Not in any weird pantheistic way; in the way any beautiful work of art whispers to us about the “More” that is brimming underneath the surface of everything.

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The Teacher in the Turban: The Year I Discovered the Realists

My junior year in high school (1967-68) was, perhaps like all years, a crazy time to be 16 years old. Those nine months included starvation in the Biafran region of Nigeria; the deaths of three astronauts in a test launch at Cape Kennedy; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. We went to see movies like “The Graduate,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “In the Heat of the Night,” and the Beatles were upended their own music and rock music in general with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

This was the high school year for American history and American literature. American history included a mandatory six-week section on communism; the required text was Masters of Deceit by J. Edgar Hoover. My history teacher was a maverick; rather than read what others said communism was, somehow she got grudging approval for my class to read a large chunk of Das Kapital by Karl Marx. It was actually a brilliant move; we learned that, if Marx was any indication, communism was flat-out boring. Who wanted that?

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Back Into His Narrative

This morning, my 3-year-old daughter Eden and I were having a conversation about fire (she tried to turn on the stove) and somehow we got to the story of Moses and the burning bush. She said, “I wanna hear that story!” I asked where she had put her Jesus Storybook Bible and she replied, “No, I want to read it from Daddy’s Bible!” My heart melted knowing how she observes her Daddy starting his day with the Lord right in the spot where we were sitting at the table. So, we turned to Exodus 3 and she patiently listened as I read it word for word.

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December’s Literary Life


In Henry IV Shakespeare wrote “Farewell, thou latter spring; farewell, All-hallown summer!” referring to these summer-like days in late autumn following a killing frost. Today we call it Indian Summer and it is altogether wonderful. Autumn is quickly drawing to a close and winter is soon to set in deep with its shorter days and longer nights, yet for just a moment, we have the brief remembrance of summer days that remind us of what was, and what is to come again.

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Daily Prayer

Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is the devil’s masterpiece.

Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.


November’s Literary Life

Literature isn’t kind to November.  As Tom Nissley reminds us in his Reader’s Book of Days when Ishmael leaves Manhattan for New Bedford and the sea in Moby-Dick, it may be December on the calendar, but he’s driven there, to the openness of oceans, by “a damp, drizzly November in my soul.” And where else could Dickens’s Bleak House begin but, bleakly, in “implacable November,” with dogs and horses mired in mud, pedestrians “jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper” (not unlike Ishmael “deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off”), and, of course, the English fog. Jane Eyre begins on a “drear November day,” with a “pale blank of mist and cloud” and “ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.” And it’s on a “dreary night in November,” as “rain pattered dismally against the panes,” that Victor Frankenstein, blindly engrossed in his profane labors as the seasons have passed by outside, first sees the spark of life in the watery eyes of his creation. Is it any wonder that Meg in Little Women thinks that “November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year”?

Here on Literary Life, we have a more cheerful view.  The month before Advent is a beautiful occasion to give thanks as we look forward to the annual gatherings of family and friends to commence the holiday season.  Literary Life is a nod to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria which poet and priest Malcolm Guite describes as “…an eclectic mix of autobiography, philosophical history, literary criticism, rambling anecdote, and radical new theology, all held together and threaded through with a constant witness to the power of the Logos, to the great analogy of language. At its heart is the idea that the cosmos is spoken into being by Mind, that nature is itself a kind of language, and that our own use of language is, therefore, a series of clues as to the meaning of both mind and cosmos. So the literary criticism and the theology are not separate and disparate parts of the book; they are the same thing.”

In this gathering of readers from around the world, thanks will indeed be given. In addition to this site, our closest friends from over 130 countries meet in our Facebook discussion group, which you can join by clicking HERE.

Come.  Read with us as you live your Literary Life.





However little he may be fitted to teach others, he wishes to share his thoughts with those whom he feels congenial, but who are scattered far and wide in the world. By this means, he wishes to reestablish his relation with his old friends, to continue it with new ones, and to gain in the younger generation still others for the remainder of his life. He wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself went astray, and while observing and utilizing the advantages of the present, to maintain the memory of his praiseworthy earlier efforts.
With this serious view, a small society has been brought together; may cheerfulness attend our undertakings, and time may show whither we are bound.

Look With Compassion

In this portion of her prayer, Jane asks God to “look with compassion” on those who are “afflicted,” experiencing the “pangs of disease,” or who are “broken in spirit.” In Jane’s novels, when someone is ill or distressed, their friends and family provide tangible help and comfort. In the same way, Jane and Cassandra frequently nursed family members when they were ill.

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