Aug. 11, 2010

New Religion

by Bill Holm

This morning no sound but the loud
breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.
We caught the wrong metaphor.
Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.
The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.
Heaven's not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.

"New Religion" by Bill Holm, from The Chain Letter of the Soul: New & Selected Poems. © Milkweed Editions, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today begins the holy month of Ramadan, Islam's most sacred time of year. It celebrates when Muhammad went to the desert, encountered Allah in the form of the archangel Gabriel, and received the scriptures that form the Qur'an.

There are about 1 billion Muslims around the world observing Ramadan. Muslims past the age of puberty are required to fast from sunrise to sundown this month. It is a strict fast — no food or water is allowed during daylight hours, and neither is smoking. Elderly people and sick people are exempt from fasting.

The point of the sacrifice is to become closer to God, to practice self-discipline, and to aid in self-purification. Each evening of Ramadan, the fast is broken after the sunset call to prayer with a meal called the iftar.

In many parts of the world, Ramadan is the most festive time of the year as well as the most solemn time. In places like Cairo, fancy restaurants serve all-you-can eat gourmet iftar buffets, and the city packs a month full of Ramadan nightlife into the calendar — concerts and theater and open-air dancehalls. All of this happens without alcohol, of course.

Ramadan ends exactly one lunar month after it begins, with the sighting of the new moon. It's followed by a three-day feast called Eid al-Fitr, the Celebration of the Breaking of the Fast. People travel to be with their families or take a vacation from work. And everyone eats plenty.

Edith Wharton (books by this author) died on this day in 1937 at the age of 75, at her 18th-century house in Île-de-France, on the outskirts of Paris.

At the time of her death, she was working on a novel called The Buccaneers.It's about five wealthy American girls who set out to marry landed (but poor) Englishmen, so that they might assume English feudal titles to their names, such as "baroness" or "duchess" or "lady of the manor."

Although Wharton didn't complete the manuscript for The Buccaneers, she continued writing right up until she died. She lay in bed and worked on the novel, and each page that she completed she dropped onto the floor so that it could be collected later, when she was done. An unfinished version was published the year after her death, in 1938. In the 1990s, scholar Marion Mainwaring compiled and studied Edith Wharton's plot summary and notes about The Buccaneers and completed the story. Her version was published in 1993.

It's the birthday of Marilyn vos Savant (books by this author) born in St. Louis, Missouri (1946). She writes the Parade Magazine column "Ask Marilyn."

In 1986, the Guinness Book of World Records listed her under "Highest IQ." Parade magazine then ran a profile of Ms. Vos Savant, including some questions from Parade readers along with her answers. At was going to be a one-time thing, but the reader questions kept coming in. And so "Ask Marilyn" became a weekly Sunday column, where readers could write the high-IQ woman with their logic conundrums or mathematical or vocabulary dilemmas.

She held the "Highest IQ" record through 1989, and then the Guinness Book quit listing the category — IQ tests are not an exact science, and they're also controversial. But Marilyn vos Savant has continued to write the "Ask Marilyn"Sunday Parade magazine column for the past two decades.

She's the author of several books, including The Power of Logical Thinking: Easy Lessons in the Art of Reasoning ... and Hard Facts about Its Absence in Our Lives (1996), and Growing Up: A Classic American Childhood (2002).

She once said, "If your head tells you one thing and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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