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Illustration by Anna Schuleit Haber

Holding

This is how it is with my mind, heading out over the ocean, tipping one way so I see only water, shades of blue and green and cloud-shadow slate; tipping the other, all sky and complication of cloud. Ruckus of glinting refracted light. Some days, just empty gray, in both directions.

The Guardy and the Shame

June 13, 2015

Kwame Dawes confronts the legacy of homophobia and the shame in Jamaica's largely Christian culture.

Oliver Barrett

Reformed [private]

Like other children, I was fascinated by old Lucifer, by his horns and tail, which simultaneously made him sinister and gave him an animal’s grace, by his fire-​engine hide, his flame that no fire engine can put out, and above all by his barbed fork, which strikes a boy as so much more interesting than a shepherd’s crook or a prophet’s staff.

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013. 182p. HB, $24.

Faithful Grieving: On Christian Wiman

The trick in producing a spiritual memoir spurred by disease is circumventing the fact that you have become a cliché: Of course you discovered or rediscovered your god during a grievous bout with cancer—doesn’t everyone?

Passover in the West Bank

May 16, 2010

[caption id="attachment_938" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Samaritans perform their traditional slaughter of the Passover sacrifice ceremony at Mount Gerizim, north of the West Bank town of Nablus."] Samaritans perform their traditional slaughter of the Passover sacrifice ceremony at Mount Gerizim, north of the West Bank town of Nablus.[/caption]

Photographs by Ammar Awad / Corbis

The Samaritans have thirteen names for Mount Gerizim, which rises four hundred meters above Nablus, on the West Bank, including the House of God, Mountain of the East, the Chosen Place, Gate of Heaven, the Everlasting Hill, Bethel, One of the Mountains, and The Lord Will Provide. And it is on the ridge below this sacred mountain, in the village of Kiryat Luzah, that they celebrate Passover, a ceremony that each year draws thousands of spectators, Israeli and Palestinian—always without incident, according to the elderly priest who invited me to witness it. He was of the opinion that the Samaritans, the world’s smallest religious-ethnic group, could build a bridge of peace between Israelis and Palestinians—the first constructive idea that I had heard on the subject in my travels through the region—and so one day in late April I arranged to drive from Jerusalem to Kiryat Luzah with a young Palestinian named Maath, who took an interest in the Samaritans. Summer was coming on—hay was baled in the fields—and as we cruised along a winding road built to connect the settlements Maath told me some of his story.

He had returned to his homeland after completing a degree in information technology in Dubai, and what he discovered was that Palestinians fell into one of three camps concerning the occupation: those who were so frustrated that they resorted to violence; those who would give up anything for a peace agreement; and those, like him, who kept pushing for their rights. An Israeli police van sped past, its lights flashing. Maath admitted that this third group was lost.

“If they resist, they’ll be confused with the fanatics,” he said. “And if they go into politics they’ll be confused with the Palestinian Authority, who will give everything away. So they do nothing and wait for magic, like the Americans stepping in to throw the Serbs out of Kosovo.”

The soldiers manning the watchtower and checkpoint at the base of Mount Gerizim eyed the cars approaching the roundabout, stopping some, waving us through, and as we started up the mountain, toward the settlement of Har Brakha, Maath said that he and his friends liked to debate what was permissible in resisting the occupation—whether, for example, it was just to kill soldiers (yes, they agreed), civilians (no), and settlers (yes, if they were armed). The wounded presented a dilemma. Those who vowed to finish them off might not be able to pull the trigger, if it came to that, Maath believed. It was easy to speculate about right and wrong until you were in the heat of battle, when all bets were off. Nevertheless he could understand the frustration that led some of his friends to contemplate killing the wounded.

[caption id="attachment_938" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="A Samaritan boy pets a sheep before it is to be slaughtered."] A Samaritan boy pets a sheep before it is to be slaughtered.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_938" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Onlookers crowd the stands surrounding the traditional Passover site."] Onlookers crowd the stands surrounding the traditional Passover site.[/caption]

Har Brakha occupies the ridge leading to Kiryat Luzah, and from the frame of a doorway in a long one-story building under construction a boy watched us pass. Buses were parked at the edge of town, tourists and settlers milled among the soldiers on the main street, and the air was thick with the smell of lambs grazing in a nearby sheepfold. The Samaritans, all 742 of them, had brought lambs to celebrate the account, in Exodus, of the freeing of the ancient Israelites from the slavery of the Egyptians. Passover is a story of survival, which carries particular meaning for a community that in Samaritan lore once numbered in the millions. Persecuted by Jews, Romans, Christians, and Muslims, massacred and assimilated and exiled, by 1901 the Samaritans were down to 152 people, genetic disease was on the rise, and it is a miracle that they survived at all; their five-fold increase in population is a testament to the decision taken to allow men to marry outside the community, providing that the women—Jews, Turks, Russians, and Ukrainians, who answered newspaper ads to move here—convert to the faith. On my first trip to Kiryat Luzah, in March, I was amused to see a bulky blonde-haired woman walking down the street.

“A mail-order bride,” a Palestinian friend explained.

The Samaritans live in two places—on the outskirts of Holon, south of Tel Aviv, and in Kiryat Luzah, the Nablus branch of the community having moved here during the first intifada, in 1987—navigating carefully between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israeli government offers them the same right of return as other Jews, since they descend from the original tribes of Israel, and Palestinians claim them as part of their culture, since they hail from Samaria. One day a year they are the objects of fascination for their warring neighbors, and as we walked by the Center of Forgiveness the talk of a third intifada seemed a distant possibility. It was said that the next battle would begin in East Jerusalem, where plans to build new settlements on Palestinian land continued in spite of Obama administration entreaties to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze construction. Seven soldiers were marching a man in plastic handcuffs down the center of the street, under the reproachful eye of a settler with an M-16 slung over his shoulder. Three teenagers had been detained by a Humvee parked at the entrance to the Passover site—because they lacked permits, said a man who worked for a cell phone company. Maath pointed to the Israeli flag hoisted above the stands built for the tourists.

“I don’t care how the Israelis define it,” he muttered. “This is the West Bank.”

 

New Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky

The whole year of 1878 Dostoevsky spent in writing "The Brothers Karamasov." The serial publication of the novel and continuous work on it took him another two years, 1879 and 1880.

"The Brothers Karamasov" was published in the Russky Vestnik (NN. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of 1879; NN. 1, 4, 7, 9,10 and 11 of 1880). These hitherto unpublished letters were written during the years 1879-1881 to N. A. Lin-bimov, the associate editor of the Russky Vestnik.

Staraia Roussa, May 10, 1879.

 . . . This book, "Pro and Contra," is in my view the culminating point of the novel, and it must be finished with particular care. Its idea, as you will see from the text I have sent you, is the presentation of extreme blasphemy and of the seeds of the idea of destruction at present in Russia among the young generation that has torn itself away from reality. 

Personality and Demonic Possession

For modern blasphemy is merely a department of bad form: and just as, in countries which still possess a Crown, people are usually (and quite rightly) shocked by any public impertinence concerning any member of their Royal Family, they are still shocked by any public impertinence towards a Deity for whom they feel privately no respect at all; and both feelings are supported by the conservatism of those who have anything to lose by social changes.

The Hinnom Valley, looking west from the Jerusalem’s Old City. (Ian W. Scott / CC BY-SA 2.0).

Looking for Judas

We had been looking for Hakeldama for close to an hour, wandering through deep, desertic, geological gouges stubbled with little merkins of shrubbery and low gray trees that look squashed and drained of chlorophyll. The sun did strange things to the landscape here, vivifying the dominating grays and sands, weakening the greens, and walling off thousands of hilltop and hillside houses behind shimmering heat-haze force fields. 

August

The first one to rise on a Sunday morning,
I enter the white bathroom
trying not to think of Christ or Wallace Stevens.

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