An essayist muses on faith and fatherhood.
As the title suggests, Smith (Beasts and Men, 2013) writes often of communion, though in an expansive sense that is not specifically religious nor narrowly Christian. Of hiking with his son, he writes, “[h]ere is my communion, the intersection of this beauty and the pulse and awareness that is mine alone. Here waits a brand of grace I seldom achieve in the workaday world—the sublime recognition of a moment’s happiness.” Neither the style nor the tone varies much within these essays, with diction that is straightforward and precise and a placidity that rarely expresses torment or achieves transcendence. Most of the pieces concern a father’s relationship with his son—never named (nor is his wife, generally a bit player)—and they read like secular sermons. The author writes often of faith but is not a believer; he experiences value from prayer without knowing to whom or what he prays; he reads the Bible as literature and because so many others find inspiration in it. He teaches troubled students at a secondary school, where he sees colleagues retire or die, and he ponders his own mortality and the inevitability that the bond he feels with his son will loosen. In preparing to speak at a close friend’s funeral, he writes, “I am not a poet, but this morning I feel the poet’s burden of weighing each word before committing it to the final draft.” As plainspoken as the writing is, it seems to share that burden, of the dutiful, decent man who has revised any spontaneity or unreflective emotion out of his work. Of another hike with his son, he writes, “[w]e will talk about anything he wants, and when he asks his questions, I will answer honestly. I will provide a mirror in which he can see himself clearly. I will do my best to be a good human for him.”
Other good humans may find inspiration in these humanist homilies.