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Toni Morrison Wrote the Novel That Will Help America Heal

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One of America’s most prophetic artistic voices has left us. I am speaking, of course, of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison’s passing last week at the age of 88 years. She was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, living American writers. And she is the writer whose voice is…

Praying with the Body

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It happens only once a year, during the High Holidays: a full prostration, human body to the floor. In my congregation, the rabbi, and sometimes the guest cantor hired for the High Holidays, Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, each joined by two congregant-assistants, prostrate themselves fully on the bimah, the platform on which the holy…

How a Body Responds

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When the chicken slaughter began, I wasn’t thinking about mortality or food ethics or my fraught relationship with meat; I was concentrating on not fainting. It happens occasionally—a minor embarrassment in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and, once, a high school English class while I read about the Chinese practice of foot binding.  The summer of the…

The Anchoress Stares at Her Grave

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“There is, perhaps, no phase in the moral history of mankind of a deeper or more painful interest than this ascetic epidemic. A hideous, sordid, and emaciated maniac, without knowledge, without patriotism, without natural affection, passing his life in a long routine of useless and atrocious self-torture, and quailing before the ghastly phantoms of his…

Skin: A Redemption Story

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Men and women bearing torches chant “blood and soil” as they cross a bridge in Columbus, Ohio. One of the group’s loudest members is Bryon: head-shaved, his body cloaked in tattoos. The torch lights his face, which quickly turns from a smirk to something rabid. Clad head-to-toe in black, he leads the boot-march toward a…

Robert Cording, Simon Weil, and “Attention”

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Decades ago, when I was being drawn from atheism through agnosticism toward Christianity, somehow Simone Weil’s writings came into my hands. Literally into my hands: so struck was I by her words that I copied pages and pages of them into my journal. Weil became my spiritual director. She led my spirit to eventually embrace…

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote Brings Me Back to Life

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Deep beneath layers of digital dust in the archives of my hard drive, an angry bird is waiting, wondering if he’ll ever see me again. Somewhere around 2004, I was in my eighth year of drafting three different novels when a publisher suddenly showed interest in one of them—an epic fantasy—and the other two, both…

Weyes Blood: The Uncanny Universe of Songwriter Natalie Mering

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In Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 debut novel Wise Blood, an itinerant World War II veteran named Hazel Motes is determined to live a life without belief. He’s a preacher, but he preaches the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.”  Yet, for all Motes’s renouncing, Christ remains. He “moves from tree to tree in the back of…

Earthbound Hymn

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My daughter is the star of her first music festival: she is nine months old, pink cheeked and fat. We’ve dressed her in a cotton tank-top, a screenprint of a kitten wearing a flower crown. It’s almost too cute, but this is a strategy: I’m hoping that if she’s fussy, festival-goers will find the baby…

Our Common Memory

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The verbal dustup between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and journalist Ta-Nahesi Coates that flashed across the country’s television and computer screens last month has faded into blogospheric obscurity, with what passes for national discourse having long since moved on to fresher nodes of rancor and resentment. The occasion, you may recall, was a US…

Good Letters

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Jessica Mesman

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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 week gifted writers offer personal essays that make fresh connections between the world of faith and the world of art. We also publish interviews with artists who inspire and challenge us.

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