Category Archives: Essays

Sweet Heaven When I Die by Jeff Sharlet

Sweet Heaven When I Die by Jeff Sharlet

W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library.

I first heard of Jeff Sharlet when he published a fine article in Harper’s titled Jesus plus nothing.   Five years later that article morphed into a book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.  I have been a fan ever since.

With the subtitle Faith, Faithlessness and the Country in Between  Sharlet’s newest book is a collection essays that shines a blinding light on how we, as Americans, find, lose and regain faith.  How we sometimes blindly accept faith with nothing more than a song and a bottle of whiskey to guide us.  There is always a song.

Often compared to writers focusing on life in America, from Mark Twain to Joan Didion,  Sharlet searches along the borders where  our culture and our religion meet,  he is willing to look deep into the mix of religion and politics.   Often driven to the edge he finds himself looking over, into the depths of the American heart.

     …We hope when the odds, no matter how good, are still that: odds, chance, a gamble in which the rules may change at any time,  for any reason, with or without our acquiescence.  We hope when we understand that circumstances are beyond our control, when will is not equal to effect, when we are not the subjects of the story but its objects.  Hope isn’t optimistic;  it’s the face of despair.  My grandmother taught me that, not long before she died.  “Despair,” she said, was her favorite word.  “It’s not a bad thing.  It’s a gift.  A recognition.”  It is the opposite of dread.  Perception, not speculation. You accept the facts of your fate rather than reading them as evidence of a judgement or a moral.  Some people might call that quitting.  From page 249.

I find Jeff  Sharlet’s writing fearless, his honesty inspiring and often his words strike my heart.  I read two blogs that he helped start, The Revealer and Killing the Buddha,  regularly.

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Filed under Culture, Essays, Religion, Review

The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier

The Hopes of Snakes & Other Tales from the Urban Landscape by Lisa Couturier

Beacon Press, Boston, 2005

Borrowed from my public library.

This is one of those books I discovered while browsing the shelves.  This collection of  essays written about Couturier’s time spent in New York City and the Washington, DC area, reminds me that the city is, in fact, part of nature and that our ideas of nature are human constructs.  I know this, but it is easy to forget in my day-to-day living.

In essays that range from searching for Canada goose nests on an island in the Arthur Kill to hunting for Coyotes along the Potomac River through Washington D.C., Couturier drew me into her world and reintroduced me to the snakes and crows and foxes that live beside us in our urban habitats.

Her words convey deep respect for the “natural” world, they are filled with hard truths about human behavior.   I found these essays speaking to me, summing up my spiritual philosophy, my personal religion. I loved this wonderful collection.

What if God is the hawk, is the fish in the ocean, the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth?  What if God is the grass the hawk sat in and the breeze the hawk flew through?  from page 17.

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Filed under Animals, Essays, Nature, Nonfiction, Review