Saturday, December 10, 2005

In the Beauty of the Lilies

Saturday mornings there is this lovely little program called BookTV on C-SPAN. Very rarely am I awake enough to concentrate on the wide array of guests, but this morning I was up unusually early and have had the privilege of watching John Updike.

A friend of mine has trouble distinguishing between John Updike and John Irving, almost as much trouble as I have remembering the works of James Fenimore Cooper, but for me there is one thing that sticks out about Updike that keeps him in my mind separate from Irving and his contemporaries-- "in the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea..." Updike admits to having an obsession with this phrase from the beautiful and moving "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe. It is the title of one of his many novels and appears in many short stories.

For me I understand this obsession clearly. I have from the first time I ever heard "Battle Hymn of the Republic" been engrossed in the idea behind another of Howe's key phrases: "As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free." I think of the phrase often in times of great leadership and crisis. I think of the phrase always during state funerals and especially while watching the funerals of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and William H. Rehnquist.

Even on a Saturday morning when I had wished to be sleeping, I can appreciate the talent and beauty of John Updike's work. In the Beauty of the Lilies... go find it. It is worth your time.

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