Nathaniel Martin sailed with his friend and fellow-naturalist Stephen Maturin on two long sea voyages in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, first as the ship's chaplain and later as Maturin's assistant surgeon. Never much of a fist at sermonizing, Martin took to writing and publishing impolitic tracts that offended the Royal Navy Board and prevented him from returning as a chaplain.
Martin lost an eye to an owl, and, as long as Martin's eye was single, O'Brian let him rival Captain Jack Aubrey for Maturin's time and friendship. Martin married between voyages, however, and his newfound obsession with providing for his family began to make him tedious company for Maturin. (Banality is the worst symptom a character can present with in these novels.) Martin's overheated conscience led him to an end straight out of Hawthorne, with whom he shared his first name.
These are the sermons he never wrote.
A real devotional book is one that you can live with year after year and that never stales or never fails to speak to some needs in your life. Douglas V. Steere wrote those words near the end of Prayer and Worship, one of a handful of devotional books he authored. By Steere’s definition, Prayer and Worship […]
Paul describes knowledge as a scent. God “uses us to spread abroad the fragrance of the knowledge of himself,” he says. (2 Cor. 2:14, REB) I understand that the sense of smell brings back memory and emotion more viscerally than does any other sense. I remember smelling my grandmother’s apartment in some strange place six […]
“Death, thou shalt die.” My tenth graders are busy emulating conceits such as John Donne’s by writing their own Metaphysical poetry. Some of their poems examine life’s common paradoxes well. My students’ relative success makes me wonder if there’s room for Metaphysical poetry’s drama, argumentation, idealism, and tough artificiality today. Eliot learned a good deal from these poets. And many modern poets have been (maybe unknowingly) returning to their concision, uneven meter, and irony for decades.
My friends are having a difficult time with their new god, so they will visit a monastery. It is unclear whether the god will come, too, since the point of the visit is to straighten out my friends’ heads. God training is really people training, my friends like to say, and in truth, it’s never the god’s fault. I guess a god with the finest pedigree can be misshapen by abuse, inattention, or overindulgence.
The chief strength of Merton’s book may be its seeming ability to just get out of the way. Of course, we find Merton’s Fathers hospitable, charitable, and nonjudgmental. But we also meet grouchy Fathers, bizarre Fathers, and seemingly legalistic Fathers. Their stories make us wonder at the sandblasting these souls took to earn their few words.