Dish literary editor Matthew Sitman writes:

This fall I had the pleasure of sitting down with the poet and priest Spencer Reece to record a long interview about his work teaching English, by way of poetry, to the girls who live at the Our Little Roses orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras – a place also known as the murder capital of the world. You can read the entire interview in Deep Dish, which now is out from behind our paywall, and which includes my brief introduction to Spencer’s own poetry and the projects – a selection of the girls’ verse published in Poetry last month and a forthcoming documentary about Our Little Roses especially – that emerged from his time there. For those interested in Spencer’s background you can read a short biographical sketch about him here. The Dish featured his poetry last year here, here, and here. The interview itself tells the story of how Spencer found himself in Honduras and what he experienced there.

Below is an excerpt from “A Memorable Form of Love: An Interview with Spencer Reece,” in which he explains why it was while living in Honduras that he truly became a priest:

I don’t think I understood what it meant. I don’t think I understood what it meant to be a Christian. I don’t think I understood what the Eucharist meant. I don’t think I really understood any of it. I could repeat it intellectually, or write something on an exam. I had studied all of it. But it was all book knowledge, it wasn’t heart knowledge. I knew I was moving in the right direction, but I really didn’t know what it meant. But when I was with them, as time went on it, I began to understand all of it.

The Eucharist is a moment of intimacy, eating together, looking at each other. Like on the Road to Emmaus. And when I put the wafers in the mouths of all those girls lined up, I think I began to understand it.

Also, they have nobody, so they belong to God. There’s just no other way to explain it.

Read On

Intelligent Design 2.0? Ctd

Feb 1 2015 @ 5:55pm


Earlier this month we featured a number of critiques of Eric Metaxas’ assertion that recent developments in our scientific understanding of the universe points to the existence of God. Theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss lays into Metaxas as well, asserting that his arguments about the improbability of any planet meeting all the criteria for supporting life makes the “familiar mistake of elaborating all the factors responsible for some specific event and calculating all the probabilities as if they were independent”:

In order for me to be writing this piece at this precise instant on this airplane, having done all the things I’ve done today, consider all the factors that had to be “just right”: I had to find myself in San Francisco, among all the cities in the world; the sequence of stoplights that my taxi had to traverse had to be just right, in order to get me to the airport when I did; the airport security screener had to experience a similar set of coincidences in order to be there when I needed her; same goes for the pilot. It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing.

This approach, of course, involves many fallacies. It is clear that many routes could have led to the same result. Similarly, when we consider the evolution of life on Earth, we have to ask what factors could have been different and still allowed for intelligent life. Consider a wild example, involving the asteroid that hit Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and a host of other species, and probably allowing an evolutionary niche for mammals to begin to flourish. This was a bad thing for life in general, but a good thing for us. Had that not happened, however, maybe giant intelligent reptiles would be arguing about the existence of God today.

(Photo by Paul Williams)

Mental Health Break

Feb 1 2015 @ 4:20pm

Facing it all:

Burke Across The Pond

Feb 1 2015 @ 3:37pm

Reviewing Drew Maciag’s Edmund Burke in America, Bradley Baranowski details the complicated reception of the British statesman’s ideas on this side of the Atlantic:

While the goal is to say something about the national visions Americans have held, Maciag does illuminate much about how Burke’s ideas fared in the new world. Today most of us know Burke through his reaction to the French Revolution. That emphasis, however, is recent. Nineteenth century American Whigs such as Rufus Choate and Joseph Story downplayed the importance of Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), largely ignoring the text. Other figures such as the historian George Bancroft followed the same pattern. While Burke’s cautious attitude toward social change and his call for prudent reforms were palatable to many, even conservative Americans knew better than to defend views that could undercut their nation’s own revolutionary founding.

Maciag’s approach also reveals a tradition of thought that does not easily fit within the contemporary liberal/conservative dichotomy.

Read On

Quote For The Day II

Feb 1 2015 @ 2:31pm


“For many folks, what’s most terrifying about death is the ending of their own being. Each of us is, naturally, at the center of a remarkably vivid life. We’re center stage in our own dramas of love and hardship, victory and defeat. The idea that it could just end, that we could just end, evokes nothing short of horror for many people. As Woody Allen famously put it: ‘Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.’

This kind of existential terror never made a lot of sense to me. To explain why, I need you to know that when I was 9, my older brother was killed in an automobile accident. I saw him that afternoon, and he waved to me from across a field. Then I never saw him again. I was already an astronomically inclined kid, and that event, the most significant of my entire life, propelled me even deeper to questions about existence and time. Through all the grief and the questioning, one thought about death has always stayed with me:

I’m not concerned about the many years of my nonexistence before birth. Why then should I be concerned about the many years of my nonexistence that will follow death?

In other words, even though none of us existed 1,000 years ago, you don’t find many people worrying about their nonexistence during the Dark Ages. Our not-being in the past doesn’t worry us. So, why does our not-being in the future freak us out so much?

I am on record as being militantly agnostic about consciousness and death. I tend toward the ‘it’s all over when it’s over’ camp, but that, for me, is more of a hunch than a scientific position. Still, no matter how the universe is constructed with regard to death and its aftermath, empirically I think we can conclude that dread in any form is an unnecessary response. When it comes to our impending nonexistence, all we need do is let the past be our guide,” – Adam Frank, “What If Heaven Is Not For Real?

(Photo: Sequoia rings by Gabriel Rodríguez)

Thomas Merton At 100

Feb 1 2015 @ 1:22pm

Yesterday marked the Trappist monk and author’s centenary birthday. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, describes Merton’s spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, as a revelation to his younger self:

First published in 1948, Merton’s beautifully wrought story of a rather sad childhood, lonely adolescence and wild young adulthood, all of which led to a dramatic conversion to Catholicism and then a swift entrance into a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, was a surprise bestseller. Merton, a talented writer (and poet), spoke movingly about being lost and slowly finding his way to his vocation as a monk.

It’s hard to put a finger on why his most popular book continues to speak to people. Perhaps it’s the gorgeous prose. Perhaps it’s his transparency. Or perhaps it’s because so many people still feel lost. I know I did when I first read it at age 25. Stuck in a job I didn’t like, I needed someone to tell me it was okay to begin searching. In time, I ended up leaving General Electric and entering the Jesuit Order. His book changed my life.

Phil Cox Rose, however, reminds us that The Seven Storey Mountain ends with Merton still “an enthusiastic new monk” – but that later writings showed the complexities of his life at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky:

Merton kept writing throughout his life, though, including a second memoir just five years later in 1953, The Signs of Jonas, which far less enthusiastically relates the struggles of monastic life, especially Merton’s conflicts with authority. Merton spent much of his time as a monk wrestling with abbots over his desire to travel to attend conferences and meet with some of the many important friends he’d made through his work, and paradoxically over his desire to retreat into a more hermetic life to focus on his own writing and contemplation rather than having to engage in the daily activity of the monastery. These conflicts can be seen either as bureaucrats denying the world the gift of more engagement with Merton, or as a conceited young monk who didn’t have appropriate respect for his vow of obedience or his role in a communal order. Most likely it was some of both.

Read On

A Poem For Sunday

Feb 1 2015 @ 12:59pm


“Then Abraham” by Jean Valentine:

Then an old man came down out of the thicket,
with an axe on his shoulder, and with him

two people made out of light
–one a blameless son,

the other like a Vermeer girl,
on their way back down with the old man.

Still, all the history of the world
happens at once: In the rain, a young man

holds out a blue cloth
to caress her head

at the landing pier
of the new bride.

You can’t get beauty. (Still,
in its longing it flies to you.)

(From Break the Glass © 2010 by Jean Valentine. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Sigurdur Bjarnason)

Face Of The Day

Feb 1 2015 @ 12:15pm

Tough Guy Challenge

A competitor wades through the water during the Tough Guy Challenge at South Perton Farm in Wolverhampton, England on February 1, 2015. By Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

Malkin Award Nominee

Feb 1 2015 @ 11:29am

“I’m no theologian. But I suspect Jesus would tell that God-fearing, red-blooded American sniper [Chris Kyle], ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant for dispatching another Godless jihadist to the lake of fire,'” – Todd Starnes, Fox radio host.

The View From Your Window

Feb 1 2015 @ 10:47am


Paris, France, 4 pm