A few blocks away, a sidewalk mailbox is covered with a magic-marker tribute to a young man downed in a shooting—"RIP Boo"; "We'll miss you Boo." It gives me an angle on the world not easily found in the daily paper. Last November, flat on my back with friends in a city park at 5 a.m., watching a meteor storm, I remembered holy awe under the blazing arcs made by random space dust. With our world's violence in highest relief, I find myself searching all the more for the gospel of incarnation and transcendence, in graffiti and stars, and in books, music, and even cable TV.
In Mysticism for Beginners (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Polish poet Adam Zagajewski writes of history and tree leaves, political movements and Dutch painters. With wry humor and great compassion, he seeks the transcendent in nature, art, and the human face. He neither trivializes suffering nor denies hope and beauty. Perhaps that's why the first New Yorker post-Sept. 11 had Zagajewski's "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" on its final page. His newest collection, just out, is Without End: New and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World (Touchstone), by Sarah Vowell, has quirky essays about Frank Sinatra, punk music, growing up Pentecostal, and road tripping with her twin sister to retrace the Trail of Tears their Cherokee ancestors traveled. You may have heard some of Vowell's musings—funny, with poignant touches—on Public Radio International's This American Life.
Buddy & Julie Miller (HighTone Records): He's a regular guitarist for Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle; she's a singer-songwriter with a voice that manages to growl and be little-girl sweet at the same time. Great bluesy-country tunes (melodious, but raw-edged) give due time to both Christian faith and earthly joys. Their duet on "The River's Gonna Run" reminds me why I believe.
Sounds Eclectic (Palm/KCRW) is a collection of live, previously unreleased performances from the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show on nonprofit Los Angeles radio station KCRW. Where else will you find one disc with laid-back tunes from Yo-Yo Ma, The Dandy Warhols, and Willie Nelson? All profits benefit KCRW. See www.kcrw.com or www.soundseclectic.com.
I confess it: I heart the The Crocodile Hunter (Animal Planet channel). I watch to catch Australian naturalist Steve Irwin's over-the-top anthropomorphizing—for instance, cooing "He's a gentle lovah!" as a large male crocodile moves in to mate with a female. But in the midst of the silliness, my respect and understanding of scary reptiles increases exponentially. Eccentric Australians and salt-water crocs—the Lord God made them all.
Julie Polter is associate editor of Sojourners.