Good Letters

Is Poetry Prayer?


At a recent retreat that I was leading on meditating with poetry, a participant came up to me at break and said “but you’re going to distinguish poetry from prayer, aren’t you?—talk about how poetry is not the same as prayer?” I thought about this during the break, and flipped through the notebook I carry…

The Sturgeon’s Leap


I was stacking wood Saturday when my plumber, Bud, stopped by. He was checking on the work of Loquacious Hank, his new subcontractor, who had replaced my kitchen ceiling. This related to the resolution of what Bud tactfully refers to as my plumbing “dilemmas,” which came with the house and never end. We talked about…

Ars Poetica


At the beginning of the score of his Valses nobles et sentimentales, composer Maurice Ravel placed a dedication based a quote from Henri de Régnier: “le plaisir délicieux et toujours nouveau d’une occupation inutile” (to the delightful and always novel pleasure of a useless occupation). Ravel’s sly and somewhat dandyish acknowledgment of the apparent uselessness…

The Sight of Silence


In a film without words (or more precisely, with only two minutes of them), it’s a tautology to say that the visual experience overwhelms all other cinematic considerations. If the cinematographer doesn’t do his job here, then the experience is no better than thumbing through a very long coffee table book. But after the first…

Upper Room Productions


It was time to incorporate. Given the tax incentives to do so as a screenwriter, it was time to become a company of one. To be sure, the spiritual correlatives were not lost on me either, for which reason I had decided well in advance that when the time came to make it official, I…

Beauty in the Cube


My last Good Letters post lamented the surreal appetites and remedies of the bureaucratic hive, as well as that world’s great need for beauty. I may have left you wondering: if life in the L’Enfant Plaza Canyon is so dire, then why don’t I just ditch it? Aside from my lot as the family breadwinner,…



When my mother-in-law was a bride in 1968, she discovered that one of her new responsibilities was to iron my father-in-law’s army uniform. First she dipped the freshly-washed pants and shirt in a solution of water and starch. Not a can of Niagara, but the powdered kind in a box. She’d squeeze it, then roll…

Why Reading Arthur C. Clarke is like Going to Church


I think Reihan Salam is correct in dubbing the novels of the late Arthur C. Clarke “devotionals,” and his characters are indeed “wooden,” though that doesn’t take anything away from Clarke’s beguiling and seemingly unbounded imagination. This past summer, on whim, I picked up Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and thought it an impressive feat that…

Further Thoughts on Paul Scofield


All will be judged. Master of nuance and scruple, Pray for me and for all writers, living or dead: Because there are many whose works Are in better taste than their lives, because there is no end To the vanity of our calling, make intercession For the treason of all clerks.” —W. H. Auden, “At…

Truth and Memory


O my love, where are they, where are they going The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles. I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder. — From “Encounter,” by Czeslaw Milosz Recently, there has been some interesting and important discussion in this blog about the latest creative nonfiction debacle concerning“Margaret…

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For the humanists of the Renaissance, literature mattered because it was concrete and experiential—it grounded ideas in people’s lives. Their name for this kind of writing was bonae litterae, a phrase we’ve borrowed as the title for our blog. Every weekday, one of the gifted writers on our blogging team will offer a personal essay that makes a fresh connection between the world of faith and the world of daily life, spanning the gap between theology and experience and giving language a human shape.

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