The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘church’

Rise Up

October 5, 2016 | by

Alexander Bedward’s mythical powers of flight.



Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many people amassed in August Town, Jamaica, on New Year’s Eve, 1920, to watch Alexander Bedward fly to heaven. Some eyewitnesses claimed thousands: dense clumps of people wading in the shallow waters of the Hope River, crowding the banks or perched in the branches of the surrounding trees. Most of them were unquestioning believers to whom Bedward’s words had the weight of Scripture. For thirty years he had built a vast following by healing, rejuvenating, and baptizing in this very stretch of water, helping ordinary people to know God—and themselves—in ways they’d never imagined possible. Now in his seventies, Bedward sat in a wooden throne, dressed in pristine white robes, awaiting the sweet moment of prophetic fulfillment when he, like Elijah before him, would soar into the unknowable beyond. His ascent, he promised his followers, would hasten the Rapture; before the sun had set, he would be gone and they would be free.

Some had their doubts. In fact, a great many Jamaicans dismissed him as either a charlatan or one of the island’s growing number of feebleminded unfortunates. The idea that Jamaica was suffering an epidemic of insanity had first surfaced in the 1890s, when the Gleaner newspaper ran reports about the vast overcrowding of the island’s only asylum: supposed proof that a contagion of madness was spreading out of control, especially among the black population. According to the historian Leonard Smith, in 1863/64 the Jamaican Lunatic Asylum admitted seventy-one black people and two white people; twenty-five years later, the annual white intake had stayed exactly the same, but the number of black patients had increased to 153. Read More »


November 5, 2015 | by

Albert Bierstadt, The Burning Ship, ca. 1871.

How riveted I was by the illustration entitled The Burning Ship! Is a sinking frigate not phenomenal?

If, by the way, velvet footstools and the like can be whacked free of dust and brushed on Sundays, then authorial activity must be permitted as well.

Do I not feel, when I am exercising my intellect, exactly as if I were sitting in church? Drafting a prose piece puts me in a devotional frame of mind.

How terrifying a ship on fire is. Gazing at the picture, I said to myself: The mariners find themselves faced with the necessity of fleeing the fire; but they have nowhere to escape to but the water, and soon enough they’ll be trying to escape from that as well; yet they have no choice but to take refuge in it. Beautifully spread out, the water lies there like a meadow; not the tiniest wave disturbs this mirror that conceals unfathomable depths. The mirror’s expansiveness poses a threat to the ones in peril, those desirous of rescue. Beneath the water, unknown mountain chains extend. This fact is surely known to the better educated among the mariners, and this precise knowledge makes them feel significantly more forsaken than those who enjoy perfect ignorance in this regard. Education, though reliable and helpful, is also treacherous. Read More »

Cecil Frances Alexander’s “Once in Royal David’s City”

December 12, 2013 | by


Mine is not a family given to ritual. We are too chaotic, too scatter-brained, too disorganized. Because my parents’ marriage is “interfaith” (a word I have never once heard them use, and which seems to imply more faith than was in fact mingled), religious holidays were sketchy affairs and, beyond the six-foot hero that graced our Halloween open house and the Teeny-Bean jelly beans we ate at Easter, our year was not marked by a series of traditions.

The one exception was, and is, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Saint Thomas, the gray stone Episcopal bastion on Fifth Avenue. It has been many years since anyone but me has agreed to accompany my mother to the service (my brother never fails to voice scorn based on a long-ago middle school soccer game against the Saint Thomas Boys’ Choir School) but maybe that is as it should be: she likes to claim that I, in fetus form, first kicked during the service. The New York iteration takes place the Sunday before Christmas, but it is of course based on the King’s College Choir service which the BBC has broadcast on Christmas Eve from Cambridge since 1928. Read More »


Other People’s Churches

October 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Nick Viola.

“Close your eyes,” the man told us, and we did. “If you died today, do you know for sure if you would go to heaven? If you don’t, raise your hand.” When my hand curled slowly into the air, two strangers rushed over to me, kneeling one on either side of my metal folding chair, as if I’d just been struck down on a busy street. They greeted me in warm, soft tones. One opened a small leather-bound book and ran her fingers along the close-set type, then inclined the page towards me. She underlined a passage with her fingernail and commanded me to read it.

For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord, and believe in your own heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation.

At my feet, the two strangers blinked up at me expectantly. “I think I misunderstood the question,” I lied, because I hadn’t. Read More »