Faith in Literature: Contemporary Writers of the Spirit


This past weekend was one that was filled with gratitude and inspiration: gratitude for friends in my life and inspiration from listening to writers who use the written word as a way to express spirituality.

My friend Rick Chess is a poet and professor at University of North Carolina in Asheville, and he was one of the organizers of the Faith in Literature festival. He graciously invited my wife and me to attend some amazing sessions, including two conversations hosted by Krista Tippett that were recorded for possible broadcast on her “On Being” radio show, as well as an intimate luncheon with Krista and other distinguished guests. I am extremely grateful to Rick and thankful that he is a part of our lives.

The first conversation occurred on Friday evening, between Krista and poet Marilyn Nelson. One of the themes of the discussion that resonated with me was about the connection between poetry and silence. Marilyn explained that poetry taps into the silence within us, that it comes from silence and evokes silence. This strengthens the importance of poetry in an age where people are increasingly afraid of their inner silence and attempt to escape that silence through technology. Marilyn and Krista also discussed poetry as a form of contemplation and how poetry can help individuals rediscover reality.

On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I attended a luncheon at the chancellor’s house where Ms. Tippett and the other writers were in attendance. The food was delicious, and it felt nice to be included with such talented and spiritual individuals.

After lunch, we attended a conversation between several writers, which was very inspiring and prompted us to purchase several books and get them signed.

Finally, the closing event on Saturday evening was a conversation between Krista Tippett and Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, discussing Wilkerson’s book The Warmth of Other Suns, which details the Great Migration through the lives of three protagonists. This was such a powerful conversation, particularly in regard to current racial tensions, the ongoing refugee crisis, and the need for “radical empathy.” I loved the way they described empathy as “not pity or sympathy, but the ability to get inside another person and understand how they feel.” I think if we all started practicing radical empathy, the world would be a different place.

Needless to say, my pile of books to be read has increased over the weekend. Here is the list of books I bought, all of which were signed by the authors. I hope to share my thoughts on these in the near future.

  • Tekiah by Rick Chess
  • The Beautiful Possible by Amy Gottlieb
  • Kohl & Chalk by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson


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The X-Files Origins #1


I’ve been reading the X-Files graphic series for a while now, and as much as I love the X-Files, it was starting to feel a little bland, like they had run out of ideas and were struggling just to keep things going. But when I heard about the Origins series, my interest was rekindled. I felt that the idea of a graphic series exploring the formative years of Mulder and Scully when they were kids had potential.

Anyway, I finally got around to reading the first installment and I was very happy with it. The issue is actually comprised of two stories—one about Mulder when he was a teenager dealing with the abduction of Samantha, and the other about Scully after her family moves to San Diego. The issue has two covers, which I like. You start on one side, read that storyline, then flip the comic over and start reading the other one. Structurally, that really worked for me.

Both stories captured my interest right from the start. There is a great balance of new material combined with characters and references to the original television series. The result is something that is fresh yet familiar. The artwork is good and the panels work well in helping drive the storyline.

On a personal level, I related to this tale because, like a lot of kids, when I was younger I was fascinated with mystery and detective stories, and my friends and I would go around the neighborhood in search of “cases” to solve. And that is the real strength of this graphic series—it taps in to the feeling we had growing up, learning to navigate a world full of mystery and danger. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.


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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 3: Saintly Sancho Panza, a Christ Symbol


Sancho Panza is a very complex character. At first, I envisioned him as a manifestation of the fool archetype. He reminded me a lot of the fool in King Lear, cloaking wise perspective amid jokes, puns, and antics. But as I read on, the image of Sancho broadened and he appeared more and more as a saint. It could even be argued that he is a symbol of Christ himself.

First, consider that Sancho rides an ass and not a horse. When we remember that Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, we have an initial parallel between the two.

Sancho describes himself as a man of peace, embodying saintly and Christ-like attributes. He also emphasizes his capacity to forgive others unconditionally, just as Christ was able to forgive.

“Senor, I am a man of peace, meek and quiet, and I can put up with any affront because I have a wife and children to support and bring up; so let it be likewise a hint to your worship, as it cannot be a mandate, that on no account will I draw sword either against clown or against knight, and that here before God I forgive the insults that have been offered me, whether they have been, are, or shall be offered me by high or low, rich or poor, noble or commoner, not excepting any rank or condition whatsoever.”

(p. 109)

Shortly afterwards, Sancho describes to Don Quixote how he was given the sign of the cross on his back, and how he endured the suffering with the same acceptance as Christ and other saintly martyrs.

“They gave me no time to see that much,” answered Sancho, “for hardly had I laid hand on my tizona when they signed the cross on my shoulders with their sticks in such a style that they took the sight out of my eyes and the strength out of my feet, stretching me where I now lie, and where thinking of whether all those stake-strokes were an indignity or not gives me no uneasiness, which the pain of the blow does, for they will remain as deeply impressed on my memory as on my shoulders.”

(p. 111)

At the wedding in Cana, Christ famously turned water into wine. In this text, Sancho Panza also exchanges water for wine, strengthening the correlation between him and Christ.

… but as at the first sup he perceived it was water he did not care to go with it, and begged Maritornes to fetch him some wine, which she did with right good will, and paid for it with her own money; for indeed they say of her that, though she was in that line of life, there was some faint and distant resemblance to a Christian about her.

(p. 131)

It is also worth noting the similarity here between Maritornes and Mary Magdalene. Both were women of “ill repute” who exhibited true spiritual values of compassion and caring.

So far, I find Sancho Panza a much more interesting and multifaceted character that Don Quixote, but I still have a way to go in the book. Thanks for stopping by, and as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.


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Haunted Horror Tribute #22


I picked this up recently, figuring it would be fun to read and get me in the Halloween mood. It looked like something that was inspired by the old horror comics I read as a kid, but I was surprised to discover that it is actually a compilation of vignettes scanned and reprinted from the classic 1950’s horror comics. So this is NOT just an attempt to recapture the essence of the genre, this contains actual reprints of the original 1950’s tales. It’s all here—the vintage artwork, the cheesy narration, everything that I remember about these publications.

The collection is a nice size, containing eight tales of terror.

  • Robot Woman: The opening tale reminded me of “The Stepford Wives.” It explores the dark side of our culture’s obsession with physical beauty, while at the same time offering a critique of the 1950’s view of what a “perfect woman” is supposed to be.
  • Chef’s Delight: This is a story that addresses domestic violence, an issue that sadly still plagues our society today. In the end, though, the wife gets her revenge on her abusive husband.
  • Shadows of the Tomb: This is a story about a man who murders his wife to claim her inheritance. But in a twist reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, the wife is not really dead and exacts her revenge.
  • Guest of the Ghouls: This tale uses ghouls as a metaphor for individuals who violate the dead, who are like vultures feeding off the losses of the deceased. There is a great quote that warrants sharing: “We unburied the dead while we were living and stole what we wanted! You have robbed the dead of their only identity after death — their tombstones!”
  • I Killed Mary: Interesting vignette about a nerdy, dorky outcast. There was a scene about what was considered to be appropriate dinner table talk which I found to be a critique of the overly structured family life of the 50’s.
  • The Haunter: A piece about a greedy man who tries to scare his uncle to death in order to get his money.
  • The Choker: Probably my favorite in the collection. This is a very creative tale about a con job where a woman marries a man to get his money, then she and her lover kill the husband and stage it as a suicide. The brilliance of this piece is that it is written from the perspective of a necklace that the husband had given to the wife.
  • Night of Terror: The final story is about a man who stages a scenario intended to scare his wife so that he can prove himself to be brave in the face of danger, but as you can imagine, things go awry.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I am seriously considering getting more issues in the future. It is more than just a nostalgia piece; it’s a preservation of an artistic and literary genre that was a reflection of the anxiety, fear, and growing social tension that would later erupt into revolution in the 1960s. Highly recommended, even if you are not a horror buff.

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Dylan Wins Nobel Prize for Literature


As a musician and poet, I’ve always understood the connection between song lyrics and poetry, and now this seems to have been validated by the Swedish Academy. Few could argue the impact that Dylan’s words have had on the world. I have to say, I am grateful to have lived at the same time as Bob Dylan, and even more grateful that I was able to see him perform multiple times. He truly deserves this award. Congratulations to one of the great living wordsmiths.

Click here to read CNN article.

Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen
And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a’ changin’!


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The X-Files – Issue 4 (Ishmael Pt 1): People on Pedestals


I’ve had this in my pile to read for a while, but have been busy so just got to it. It’s the first installment on a story that explores Dana Scully’s past and her relationship with her father. It’s pretty good, and the artwork is nice, and I love stories that have a connection to Melville’s great novel. But what I wanted to write about is a passage that struck a nerve for me, about putting people on pedestals.

We place people on pedestals and, sometimes, rightly so—but when they reveal themselves to be human we tend to just build a bigger pedestal… instead of allowing for everything they might be at once…

(p. 12)

Dana is expressing her feelings on what happened when she discovered a secret about her father’s past, but this taps into something more universal that I see in society today. We place people on pedestals all the time: sports stars, politicians, writers, musicians, etc. And when these people fail to live up to the expectations we set for them while on the pedestal, there is a tendency to react with anger at what is seen as a personal betrayal. Another thing I see happening is that if anyone challenges or threatens those that are placed on pedestals, people also react with anger, as if it is an attack on them.

I have learned not to place expectations on people. When I do, I am often disappointed. The important lesson here is that no one is perfect and everyone has flaws; but just because someone has flaws, that does not make that person bad or evil, it just makes them human. I think this is something that we should all keep in mind this election season, or before we react to someone’s Facebook post.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and thinking.

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“Haunted” by Siegfried Sassoon

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré

Evening was in the wood, louring with storm.
A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool
And baked the channels; birds had done with song.
Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon,
Or willow-music blown across the water
Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.

Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding,
His face a little whiter than the dusk.
A drone of sultry wings flicker’d in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro’ the boughs
Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours
Cumber’d, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.

He thought: ‘Somewhere there’s thunder,’ as he strove
To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him,
But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.

He blunder’d down a path, trampling on thistles,
In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees.
And: ‘Soon I’ll be in open fields,’ he thought,
And half remembered starlight on the meadows,
Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men,
Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep
And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves,
And far off the long churring night-jar’s note.

But something in the wood, trying to daunt him,
Led him confused in circles through the thicket.
He was forgetting his old wretched folly,
And freedom was his need; his throat was choking.
Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs,
And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps.
Mumbling: ‘I will get out! I must get out!’
Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom,
Pausing to listen in a space ’twixt thorns,
He peers around with peering, frantic eyes.

An evil creature in the twilight looping,
Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off,
He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered
Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double,
To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.

Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls
With roaring brain—agony—the snap’t spark—
And blots of green and purple in his eyes.
Then the slow fingers groping on his neck,
And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.

I wanted to find a good “horror” poem that was not written by Edgar Allan Poe, so I did a web search and found this one. I was totally unfamiliar with Sassoon, so I did not have any expectations. I have to say, I really found this poem powerful, haunting, and well-written.

I see this as symbolic of someone who is haunted by memories of his past, most likely something deeply traumatic. He has kept his pain locked inside, and this pain is represented by the forest in which he wanders. He keeps thinking that he will eventually find a clearing, a place of reprieve from his inner torment, which is symbolized by the “open fields” and “meadows.” But it never happens. The vines and brambles of his memory snag him and hold him in the past. Demons that haunt his psyche swoop down on him. Eventually, he dies, carrying with him the burden of his suffering.

While this is certainly a grim poem, it should be looked at as a warning. We all carry guilt, pain, and suffering. But what is important is that we do not keep that pain hidden inside us. When we do, it grows and morphs into nightmares which haunt us psychologically, and the longer we keep those secrets hidden inside us, the sicker we become, until they ultimately consume us.


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