September 23, 2015

Book review: “When God Was a Little Girl” by David R. Weiss, illustrated by Joan Hernandez Lindeman

David R. Weiss tells a sweet story about a father and a young daughter in When God Was a Little Girl, playfully and joyfully illustrated by Joan Hernandez Lindeman. Yet, the power of this 32-page children’s book isn’t that it’s another finely produced work to entertain and inspire young people. This book takes the radical approach of imagining God as a child, not an adult; as a Supreme Being of giggles, not a thundering blame-leveler; and, most significantly as a female, not a male. God transcends time and space, transcends physical characteristics such as gender. You might just as well assert that God has brown skin or red hair or blue eyes. Still, as human beings, we like to picture God as one of us. Jesus, of course, was one of us — is one of us. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that we are required to think of the Creator as an old guy with a long white beard. Or of the Holy Spirit as a little white bird. As human beings, we use our imaginations to fit abstract concepts into physical images. Or maybe it’s better to say that we look at our physical world and develop abstract concepts. […]
September 22, 2015

Poem: “Just one of those things”

Baubles, bangles and beads lay jangled together on the kitchen table. The boy gazed at the flash of color and then out into the night sky at the blue moon. The mother did dishes and sang in a joyful voice, “Willow, weep for me.” For the boy, she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Later, he was a priest in the tavern where he said, “I won’t dance,” and they all laughed and beat him body and soul. Later, in the still of the night, he whispered, “Let’s fall in love.” She said, “I like the sunrise,” and looked past the breakwater, out to the horizon beyond the sea. Later, frail and failing, he watched each morning for that lucky old sun and said to Doreen, the worker, “I’m waiting until the real thing comes along.” Doreen wasn’t listening, her mind caught in a loop of the question: “What’ll I do?” Patrick T. Reardon 9.22.2015   Photo by Magic4walls
September 21, 2015

The secret life of cemeteries

We’re entering the season of cemeteries, autumn when the leaves turn brown and fall from the trees like so many souls giving up the ghost. With Halloween, we’ll see a lot of comic graves on napkins, balloons and other party frills as well as in the spooky holiday decorations on homes. For more than 1,000 years, Halloween has been part of a three-day set of Christian holy days along with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. (Hallow is an archaic word for Saint.) While All Saints’ Day was a time to honor those who had lived righteous lives, All Souls’ Day was a time to remember all who had died, particularly relatives and friends. As such it was a day when many families would go to cemeteries to visit the graves of loved ones. Veterans Day (November 11) has also been a popular time to bring flowers and say prayers at the burial places of men and women who had served in the military.   Cemetery picnics A century ago, people felt fairly comfortable in graveyards, comfortable enough to bring a blanket and a food basket to have a bit of a picnic. Now, though, on most days, you […]
September 18, 2015

Book review: “The Shepherd’s Crown” by Terry Pratchett

Granny Weatherwax returned home from her work as a witch, the most powerful witch on the Discworld. She took a very short nap — “Granny Weatherwax allowed herself not forty winks but just one” — and then went out and cleaned the privy, scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. Then, looking into the privy’s shimmering water, she realized she could also see her face. And she sighed and said, “Drat, and tomorrow was going to be a much better day.” The next few pages, early as they are in The Shepherd’s Crown, are the core of the novel, the last of Terry Pratchett’s dozens of books about the fantastic flat planet of Discworld where the dwarfs, vampires, humans, goblins, elves, wizards, werewolves, trolls, witches and other odd living being are, well, pretty much like us.     Pure Pratchett But, before I discuss those few pages, let me get a few things out of the way. In December, 2007, Pratchett announced that he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In the face of this dread diagnosis, he redoubled his efforts to get the stories bouncing around in his head onto the pages of his books, producing five and, now posthumously, […]
September 10, 2015

Poem: “Magnificat”

Magnificat By Patrick T. Reardon My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. — Luke 1: 46-55 I am God’s magnifying glass. My heart thrills. I am a worm and no man, but blessed. God of might, God of holiness, God of mercy. The proud scattered. The high brought low, sent empty away. The poor on the cliff at the chasm, looking down into the flames. The poor, fed.                       Patrick T. Reardon 9.10.15
September 9, 2015

Book review: “Hild” by Nicola Griffith

The Catholic Church is big on books about the Lives of the Saints. There’s even a term for it: “hagiography.” Nicola Griffith’s 2013 novel Hild is the first of a planned trilogy about the life of St. Hilda of Whitby, a major figure in medieval Britain. But it’s definitely not hagiography — at least, hagiography in its traditional Catholic form. The Church uses the lives of saints as tools for teaching morality, ethics and spirituality. There are two general types of traditional lives: (1) relatively simplistic and pious accounts, emphasizing miracles and a kind of religious sweetness, and (2) more rigorous, historically based narratives that grapple with the real-world existence of the saint and his or her theological insights.   Not pious Griffith’s novel, which is peopled almost entirely with characters who are found in the historical record, is certainly not pious. And there is much in it, including words that almost certainly have never appeared before in a written Life of a Saint, to offend or scandalize believers with expectations of what a saint is and isn’t. For one thing, Griffith’s Hild is bisexual, and the novel is spiced with full-blooded sex scenes, including one that follows a rough-and-tumble […]
September 8, 2015

A writing life

Richard M. Daley, the mayor of Chicago and the son of a Chicago mayor, is chatting in his private office on the 5th floor of City Hall with Robert Caro and me. I should be asking myself: What am I doing here? I’m just a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, and here at the head of the conference table is Daley, one of the most powerful mayors in the nation. Seated at his right hand is Caro, the author of the best book ever written about an American city (The Power Broker, about Robert Moses and New York City) and of the monumental multi-volume examination of the life and times of Lyndon Johnson. Yet, I’m the one who arranged the meeting.   A sheet of mayoral stationery It was May of 2002, and Caro had come to Chicago to promote the third volume of his LBJ biography (Master of the Senate). As part of my interview with him, I thought that it might be fun to see him and Daley together so I called the mayor’s press aide. And — voila! — now, while colorful fish flitter random paths in the large aquarium along one wall, Daley and Caro are […]