A great interview of me that author Thomas A. Fowler conducted. I talk about zombies, fiction, publishing, Patreon, and not being an ass. Come read it!
When I am finished with editing a draft and no longer need the physical pages I’ve been working with, I hand them over to my oldest daughter, River, who proceeds to use them as raw materials for her own art:
Sometimes she asks me to help, as in this case: “Draw a tree. And River and Inara are on a swing. And Daddy and Mommy are in the grass reading a book. And Mommy wants cake. And there’s a house in the grass.” Shown here, River is adding her friends from preschool to the left of the house Daddy drew. Because it is a big house, clearly, and we all live there together. She looks very happy.
Sometimes, we get out paint, and River paints on the drafts instead. It’s a gooey mess, but tremendous fun.
That is actually an old, old, old draft of Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, which I had no idea was still hanging around in River’s box of coloring papers and art supplies. She’s been drawing shapes and squiggles and swingsets on old drafts of No Lasting Burial all year…
It makes me happy, seeing the drafts put to this use.
While you’re on the page, here’s a gratuitous photo of me and baby Inara during our last hospital trip:
May your week be beautiful and full of hope, dear readers.
Mine is. Inara is doing much better. And as for her mother and me, this is the first month since last year that we don’t feel immediate and crushing financial pressure. Huge thanks to my readers (for buying my books and sharing word of them!) and to my patrons on Patreon, who are making an enormous difference. (And thank you to many in my church who helped my family through our rough winter.) I can actually breathe, plan the next few months of publishing, commission the services I need, and begin planning to move my family to a new, safer place. I am grateful. Those of you who are reading my books, I wish you hours of great reading. Those of you who are supporting me on Patreon, thank you. I couldn’t do this without you.
My daughter Inara — who is doing better by the week — has feistiness and attitude enough for twenty children.
Here she is practicing her teenager look:
Here she is practicing her summer look:
Here she is practicing her philosopher look:
Here she is practicing her I am a puppy look:
And here she is, just happy. Also in the photo, her OT (occupational therapist):
If you’ve read my series The Zombie Bible, you know that I’m deeply interested in how language shapes (and is shaped by) religion. In No Lasting Burial, I made much of the difference between the Latin and Greek words for peace; pax connotes order, discipline, and the absence of violence, whereas eirene connotes being “woven together”; the Hebrew shalom connotes wholeness and rightness, the way things ought to be. Very different concepts! In fact, striving for pax and striving for eirene might lead you to opposite places.
In my current work in progress, By a Slender Thread, I’m concerned, among other things, with the idea of the sacred. Here, too, the language makes a big difference.
Roman religion begins at the hearth, and the most sacred places are the shrine within the house and the tomb of one’s ancestors, connected to or adjacent to the house. The Roman villa has windows facing inward on an interior garden, not outward; outward-facing is the wall. And the Romans used the word sacra, which means “inviolate.” In the days of the Roman Republic, rituals were to be sacra; they might be intricate and involved, and if a priest so much as stuttered one syllable, you had to start over. The Vestal Virgins were to be inviolate; a Vestal caught with a lover was buried alive. That which is sacra must be preserved intact, virginal, unchanging, set apart, and walled off from the mundane or the profane. Even the sound of the word, while beautiful, has a latent violence to it: sacra! “If you touch my hearth without my permission, I will cut you.”
The religions of ancient Greece often found the holy site to be outside the home, even outside the city. Where a Roman looks to the hearth, the Greeks head out to the forest for a bacchanal or undertake a pilgrimage to an oracle. Hagios means “other,” “different,” “set apart.” Though the Greeks often anthropomorphized their gods, like many cultures of the Near East they were impressed by the profound otherness of the gods. Where Romans worship deities that are ultimately apotheoses of the hearth and of family values and virtues, Greeks found the holy in the lighting bolt that shocks open a tree, in the surge of waves on the shore, in the mad gallop of a great horse across the sand. The religions of the Near East repeat, again and again, that the gods’ ways are not our ways, that the gods are not at all like us. They are other, they are different, and that which is holy is that which is profoundly different from our daily lives or our daily knowledge and uniquely worthy of respect. That is hagios. Even the sound of the word has a breathless quality, a sense of awe at the unexpected: “ah, wow, that is ha -gi – os.” The New Testament word that we translate “saints” is hoi hagioi, those who are “other,” those who are different, those who are in the world but not of it.
Israel: Kadosh and Kavod
The ancient Hebrews raised their Tent of Meeting, their tabernacle, outside and apart from the tents of the people, for fear that their uncleanness would arouse the wrath of God, provoking fire to rage among the tents. Best to have distance. Best to have veils between the people and God. Best if a priest went through seven days of purification ritual before approaching that which is holy. Kadosh means set apart, “separate.” God is separate, and the Hebrew people were to be separate. In the prophetic texts, we find kadosh linked with kavod, which we usually translate “glory” but which actually means “heavy.” The presence of God is immense, heavy, weighty; it might fill and overwhelm a space; it might crush you beneath it. What is kavod and kadosh must be approached with fear and trembling; you must take off your sandals in its presence, and not walk shod on holy ground. The divine may be so separate and so weighty that you should not speak its name lightly nor write it; it is entirely set apart.
Old English: Halig
A scholar friend of mine parsed our own word “holy” as coming from halig, which means “whole,” “wholesome, “healthy.” Sacred rituals and sites are tied to the body and the health of the body; it is the body, specifically, that must be inviolate, that must be kept whole and strong. When the gospels are translated into Old English, we find a version of Christ who is halig, who stands strong by the cross, unburdens himself of his clothing (symbolically disarming himself), and then leaps onto the cross like a warrior leaping to battle. The holy site, pre-Christianity, might be a mighty and healthy tree, growing strong.
Words Have Power
The words we use shape the directions in which we can think. Are our own holy texts and rites sacra, hagia, kadosh, or halig? They may be some combination of the above — but where we place priority matters. Sacra, taken to an extreme, takes you to complex and intricate ritual that cannot be altered. It leads you to a reading of the text as inerrant, inviolate, and resistant to alternate interpretation. Hagios/hagia, taken to an extreme, leads to the ecstatic and individual religious experience, speaking in tongues, dancing naked before the Ark. Something that is sacra must be preserved and protected, and every encounter with it is an encounter with the ancient and unchanged; something that is hagia must be witnessed and experienced in ecstasy and bewildered reverence, and every encounter with it is a new experience; something that is kadosh must be bowed to, humbly, revered and feared, and one must be cautious in speaking of it or naming it.
When we say that a text or a ritual or a place is “holy” or “sacred,” what do we actually mean? And where does that meaning take us? How does it shape our experience of and response to the holy, and the manner in which we share that experience communally?
It is good to think about this.
I am thinking a lot about this.
…and that is, itself, a thing worth celebrating.
This was mine:
Leaving the office, I took a few moments to watch rabbits eating beneath the hedge — it was peaceful. Then my wife picked me up at work, I came home and bought her a couple of hours to rest. First I read The Lord of the Rings to Inara while feeding her through her G tube. Then I built castles out of blocks with River. Then the toy chest turned into a starving monster and River had to feed it all the blocks, laughing the whole time, cleaning up while the toy chest roared happily, “Om nom nom nom nom!” Then I put River and Inara to bed. I took 45 minutes to polish a scene in the next Zombie Bible novel, and then took dinner and an evening of gaming with my wife. Finally, before bed, I checked on the girls and found River awake and staring out the window at a full moon. “Daddy, it’s a big moon! Can I see it closer?” She made binoculars with her hands, watched the moon, and pronounced solemnly, “Astronauts go to the moon.”
Yes, River. Yes they do.
I am thankful for my girls.