Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Balm of Gilead

In the northwest of current day Jordan, lies a place once known as Gilead. It was a land divided between Israel’s tribes, and native to this country was a bush that produced a gummy pitch from which a healing balm was made. Thus, the scriptures come to talk about the balm of Gilead.

Marilynne Robinson is an author hallowed in some eternal sense. This novel of hers is the very balm of healing. Set in the rural Midwestern town of Gilead, it is voiced by John Ames, a third generation preacher who has been diagnosed with a terminal heart condition. The book is one long letter, his “begats” as he calls them, to his very young son bound to never really know his dad, except by the accounts of others and this epistle.

I feel I will do this book injustice by offering a synopsis of its contents, however well-intended. I wonder what my feeling of this novel would be if I were not a Christian, but I realize that sort of speculation is useless. All I can say is how I felt when reading it, which is full of awe, and love, and happiness, and sorrow, and forgiveness, and compassion. Perhaps all these emotions are compounded by the fact that I have a brand new baby boy, and that I couldn’t help but think about what I would say to him, were I consigned to a similar fate. I can’t recommend this one enough. Gilead is full of that rare wisdom that takes a life of joy and loss to acquire, and is dulled not by time.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


My cousin-in-law Jen has tagged me. Haven't been tagged since elementary school, really, so this is new.

What do you like most about where you live?

Purple mountain majesty (I look but don’t touch). Proximity to friends. A fearless Bishop. An overabundance of teetotalers.

If I’m to be completely truthful, something for which I strive, location isn’t that big of a deal to me.

What is one of your all-time favorite music albums and why?

Oh no. My heroine of choice. There are several albums that, for me, are complete masterpieces. All of these are ten out of ten, and get played constantly at my house.

Elliott Smith – Figure 8. Genius songwriting. No doubt one of the best songwriters of the last few decades.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds. Can’t say enough about these songs. Brian Wilson is the touchstone for all arrangers and producers. Where would we be without this album? God only knows.
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow. Trendy perhaps now, to like the Shins, but forget all that. This band kills. Their lyrics are king, and those melodies….those beautiful complex melodies.
Joanna Newsom – Milk-Eyed Mender. Girl + Harp + Poetry + Wacky Voice = Greatness. It’s simple mathematics really. I wish Christy liked her.
The Beatles – Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Such a “duh” choice, I know, but this is the band doing what they do best.

Perhaps my favorite all-time, and when I say “all-time,” I’m stretching forth from the Beatles, to that forgotten violinist in Cold Mountain, to Bach, to David and his chorusmaster Asaph (most of these had no ability to make an album…Rubber Soul started that, so it’s kind of new) is Sufjan Stevens – Illinois. I’ve raved about this album enough on this blog, but not only is he a wonderful writer of fiction (another soft spot of mine) but he made this album. All cumbersome song titles aside, when Carl Sandburg visits him in his dream it goes like this:

I cried myself to sleep last night
And the ghost of Carl, he approached my window
I was hypnotized, I was asked to improvise
On the attitude, the regret, of a thousand centuries of death

Even with the heart of terror and the superstitious wearer
I am riding all alone, I am writing all alone
Even in my best condition, counting all the superstition
I am riding all alone, I am running all alone

And we laughed at the beatitudes of a thousand lines
We were asked at the attitudes, they reminded us of death

Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?
Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
Are you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?

And I cried myself to sleep last night, for the Earth and materials,
They may sound just right to me.

That burning question sneaks around in that shadow behind my brain…“Are you writing from the heart?” Because I know that if the answer is “No,” then I am really not doing much good here in this life then.

(Come back for my end-of-year, best albums of 2006)

Did you have a passion for something as a kid that you still have now?

Few passions have come and gone, so I can safely say reading, music, wrestling (tights and shoes, not tights and boots). I also tried to get to know Jesus then, and still pursue that arduously.

What do you like most about having a blog?

My blog, as you can see, is not a place where I journal my life. I have a journal for that. I finished a volume just last week, in fact. Those are precious books for me. What I like about my blog though, is that it is a creative outlet. When I’m not creatively reading, or creatively writing, or creatively composing, or creatively loving my wife and child, I try to creatively blog. I do all of these things with mixed results.

Who's next? The only other person who has a blog that I know of is my sister-in-law Alicen. You're it. Colby, you have a website, so you're it too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Slipping Away

The last thing I did before retiring for bed last night was listen to the new Decemberists album, The Crane Wife. I’m not sure if this was or wasn’t the cause of my fitful sleep, but shortly before 4 A.M. I’d had enough of the tossing and turning, and the strange half-realized dreams that could never quite get off the ground. I decided to turn on the light and read myself into something deeper. The lyric going through my head at this time was “…you’ve been slipping, been slipping away.” I know this is from Her Majesty, but this is all my mind could catch hold of. I’ve been munching my way through Marilynne Robinson’s delicious Gilead. This is a novel I will read three or four times before I die. I put it down on page 100, went in and checked on Gus. He was sleeping on his side and I knelt down and touched his chest so I could feel him breathe. He is such a beautiful boy. There is so much I want for him.