“The Social and Spiritual Possibilities of Lent” By Okla Elliott

The Social and Spiritual Possibilities of Lent

by Okla Elliott

Editor’s Note: Our late Managing Editor, Okla Elliott, originally posted this article two years ago. It was his final post before he passed away. We are republishing this article in his memory. In the final year of his life, Okla took a deep interest in exploring spirituality, theology, and Catholic teachings. This article is a prime example of his great ability to investigate new ideas and understand their capacity for better expressing and illuminating his core values and principles.

.We do not generally conceive of Lent as a political or social matter. Its central purpose is a personal and spiritual one, but as the well-worn phrase instructs us, the personal is political. I therefore want to invite us all to think of how we might combine the personal and spiritual aspects of Lent with potential social gains.

According to a 2016 article in The Independent, the three most common things given up for Lent are chocolate, social media, and alcohol—in that order. And a 2015 TIME article offers similar findings. These are all personal sacrifices that do not have much of a social or political dimension. Giving up certain popular items such as meat does have a notable social impact. The environmental gains of giving up meat are significant, since the factory-farming livestock industry has several negative impacts on the environment, from inefficiency of food production to detrimental waste products.

I offer here a list of five options for what we might give up for Lent that can merge spiritual growth and social betterment.

1) I would strongly suggest the aforementioned meat option, since it has such a prominent place in tradition and can have such a positive social impact.

2) If possible, give up driving and use public transit instead. This will have a positive environmental impact, obviously, but it will also allow you to see the people of your city whom you might otherwise never encounter. Of course, this is perhaps an option only for those who live in certain areas, but you might be surprised how elaborate your city’s public transit is if you’ve never looked into it.

3) Give up eating out. At first this might not seem social at all, or even the opposite of a social option, but if you conceive of Lent as not only a negative notion of giving up, but also a positive notion of doing something good with what you gain by giving up things, then you will see that the several hundred dollars you save by not eating out can be used in myriad ways for social good. I would suggest donating to non-profits or your church’s efforts to help the poor. You could also use the money saved to do nice things for friends and family, which will strengthen your social community at the closest level.

4) Give up the convenience of plastic bags. Make the extra effort to bring a canvas bag with you when you shop, or if you’ve only purchased one or two items, don’t ask for a plastic bag. With an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entering our oceans every year, to say nothing of the millions of tons in our landfills, reducing unnecessary use of plastic is of paramount importance.

5) Give up self-reinforcing thought. This one is a bit more abstract, but it is no less important. What I mean here is that if you’re a staunch Democrat, make yourself read several issues of a conservative magazine not with an eye for criticism but rather an urge to understand and empathize. And do the same if you’re a diehard Republican. Read some classics of liberal thought and really try to hear the concerns mentioned. The point is to bridge divides and to prevent hatreds between humans. If we can force ourselves to develop the habits of mind that reduce prejudice and living in our echo chambers, we have a much better chance of curing the ills of the world.

What makes the above choices good ideas is that the social impact in no way reduces the spiritual impact. Giving up driving to work in favor of taking the bus, for example, is a personal sacrifice just as much as giving up social media would be, yet it helps society more broadly in addition to the spiritual gains associated with the sacrifice.

And there is no need to limit yourself to the five options I offer here. Get creative and make your own list that suits your personal and social concerns. There are many ways to improve ourselves and the world around us, and doing one does not preclude doing the other.

[This piece originally appeared at PennLive.com and was syndicated to several other venues in 2017.]

 

About the Author: Okla Elliott was the co-founder and Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be from its inception until his passing in 2017. For more about his life and work, visit our memorial page. 

 

Image Credit: “Ash Wednesday” Julian Falat (1881)

A Growing Bibliography of Okla Elliott’s Work

Co-founder Okla Elliott served as the managing editor for As It Ought To Be from its inception until his unexpected passing in 2017. We remember Okla as a brilliant writer and an intellectually generous editor who delighted in providing platforms for others to shine. Collected below is a bibliography of his writings and remembrances of his extraordinary life. This bibliography will always be accessible under “contents” on the tool bar on the top of our pages. Because he was so prolific, it is nearly impossible to catalog all of his work. This page will continue to grow as we find more of his work online. If you have a favorite Okla Elliott piece that isn’t linked below, feel free to contact us at inquiries.asitoughttobe@gmail.com

Remembrances

AS IT OUGHT TO BE MOURNS THE LOSS OF OUR FOUNDER

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH JOHN GUZLOWSKI

REMEMBERING OKLA ELLIOT WITH MICHAEL YOUNG

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH PAUL CRENSHAW

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOTT

“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory

“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven

“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal

“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life

 

Okla’s Articles on As It Ought To Be

The Social and Spiritual Possibilities of Lent

This Train Is Bound for Glory

The Storms in Philadelphia

The New Era of Engaged Literature

Five Thoughts on Cecil the Lion—Or: How the Internet Really Botched This One

Notes toward a Writerly Education—Or: Can We Please, Please, Please Have a Different Debate

Tilting Toward Winter

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre

Existential Echoes: Toward a Genealogy of Ideas in Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus”

Incomplete Thoughts on Wisconsin and Political Enthusiasm

Sin’s Fatal Taint: the Felony Murder Rule and its Discontents

Living in the Dollar-Amount Democracy

 

Okla’s Books

The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (co-authored with Raul Clement)

The Cartographer’s Ink

From the Crooked Timber

Bernie Sanders: The Essential Guide

Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jurgen Becker (translator)

A Vulgar Geography

Lucid Bodies

The Other Chekhov (with Kyle Minor)

 

Okla’s Editorial Work

MAYDAY MAGAZINE

New American Press

 

Okla’s Poetry Online

Three Poems: “Imaginings in the Garden,” “The Dead,” and ” The Entire City” (from Masque & Spectacle)

“That the Soul Discharges Her Passions Upon False Objects” (from The Literary Review)

“Where We Are” (from Swamp Ape Review)

“The Parable of the Worm in the Apple” and 
“Shibboleth, Beginning and Ending with Lines from Kim Ch’un-Su” (from The Del Sol Review)

 

Okla’s Fiction Online

“The Earth in Its Devotion” (from Tupelo Quarterly)

“Marine Life” (from Joyland)

“Lonely Tylenol” (from Contemporary World Literature)

 

Okla’s Essays Online

“Lent is About More than What You Give Up: It’s About the Wisdom You Acquire” (from Penn Live)

“The Unseen Jury: The Ideology and Psychology of Covert Racism” (from Stir Journal)

“Is It Time for Ranked Voting Choice in National Politics?” (from The Hill)

“Measured Chaos: Form in Anthony Hecht’s “More Light! More Light!” and “The Book of Yolek” (from Modern American Poetry)

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH JOHN GUZLOWSKI

By John Guzlowski:


LISTENING TO DEATH

How do we listen to death?

We listen to the sound of death
The way we listen to the sound of the sea
To the message the waves pound against the shore
Their soft rush of foam upon the sand

We hear the things we forgot to tell the dead
The questions we forgot to ask them
The enigmatic dreams they will never explain
The useless arguments we will neither win nor lose
The mutual misunderstandings
That will never be clarified
The lies for which we forgot to ask forgiveness
The problems death defers
The unresolved quarrels with the dead

And what can we do in the face of death?

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

We will not even take
The things that have meant
The most to us, our books
The plants we have nursed
The children we have raised
Punished and praised
The clothes (the dark
Blue ties, the tweed jackets
The rakish wool caps)
That make us look
More the man
More the woman
More the hero
More the young lover
Searching for love

We can leave this house
And keep going
Never to return

And what is death?

It is the hand of God
The meal prepared with love
Flowers from the pierced breast
Of the Blessed Virgin
The shore that smells of widows
Studying the foam

And should we fear death?

No, we shouldn’t fear death
We should fear the loud man’s coming

The pain of cancer
That does this or that
To the body

That pain that is longer than sorrow
Stronger than love

The tumor that grows like
A child who then learns
To hate you

A child who will not take
The love and joy you give her

What is as difficult as death?

Nothing

Nothing

Nothing



POET’S NOTE: I met Okla on Facebook.

One day maybe 7 years ago, I got a friend request from him. I didn’t know a thing about him. He was just another fellow asking to be my friend. I said sure.

I’ve never been sorry I did.

Reading Okla’s posts, his status updates, his responses to other people has always been inspiring. What he wrote was smart and funny and engaging. Sometimes he sounded like Jean Paul Sartre, and sometimes he sounded like a kid in love with literature and life and friendship and thinking and dreaming. Both Oklas were wonderful.

And even more wonderful was the Okla I discovered when I started reading his poems and his essays and his fiction.

Okla was the real thing.

He was all the writers I ever admired, and he was right there with me on Facebook.

When I heard he was dead, I couldn’t believe it. He was too filled with life, too good, too dreaming, to be dead.

But he was dead.

But I will not let go of him.

Here [above] is a poem for Okla.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


REMEMBERING OKLA ELLIOT WITH MICHAEL YOUNG

By Michael Young:

Okla Elliott died in his sleep last night. I still haven’t fully comprehended this reality. His absence hasn’t filled the days to make me believe it. But the news is everywhere echoed through FB.

There are a few people on FB that I know almost exclusively through FB or met only a few times and yet I consider them friends and not just acquaintances. There is a kindship of mind and conscience that binds us. Okla was such a person. There was a mutual admiration and respect for …each other’s work. He was always welcoming of my work for As It Ought To Be and encouraging of my writing. And I had the pleasure of interviewing him and reviewing his collection The Cartographer’s Ink. The diversity, quantity, and quality of his literary output was amazing. I was so looking forward to reading his next poetry collection, which will now, sadly, not be coming. I enjoyed just hearing what he was teaching his classes. It was a pleasure to hear him take such joy in teaching, sparking conversation among his students, or just rhapsodize about the deliciousness of tacos. He was a brilliant and kind person. In online conversations, he strove always for fairness and inclusion that never compromised intellectual honesty. He seemed to face setback with determination and optimism. I saw this most clearly in the recent election outcome, always advising people to focus on state and local elections, and clear actions to take, rather than falling into doubt and bitterness. His intelligence and voice will be terribly missed. The silence it leaves will fill the coming days with something embodied in certain winter landscapes, a kind of waiting that isn’t answered but fades like an echo. But if you haven’t read any of his work, buy some: his poetry, his translation, the novel he co-authored with his good friend, Raul Clement.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOT WITH PAUL CRENSHAW

Photo Credit: Brandon Pierce

By Paul Crenshaw:

FOR OKLA

All that late-night talk of light, and life,
all those words, which became like worlds.
Which we both know were.
If you even need words anymore,
wherever you are, what world
you find yourself in.

Let me just say I hope there’s light.
Let me say I want to send this to you
so you know all the poetry was enough.
That the porch light is still on
in my mind. That the windows are open,
and the songs from inside the house still play.
You are still sitting in the overstuffed chair.
You are still smiling. Let me say
the lighting of a cigarette or
clink of ice in a glass is as much poetry
as anything we ever said.
Let me remind myself I remember all the words,
even if I’ve forgotten how to say them.



ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE
As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing in Okla’s memory. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


SATURDAY POETRY SERIES REMEMBERS OKLA ELLIOTT

A version of this post was featured on this series in December of 2010. It is being shared here today as As It Ought To Be mourns the loss of our founder.


By Okla Elliott:

THE IDIOT’S FAITH

Three lanterns floated in the dream she told him, but he didn’t want to hear about lanterns. He wanted factories unbuilt, windows smashed open. He wanted libertine wailings. She denied being a builder of factories, but he knew her reputation. A wind blew in from Montreal, or she said it was from Montreal, said she could smell the bars of Rue St Laurent. He was skeptical but didn’t want to argue. What good are arguments on a Saturday night? What good are arguments at all? She told him again about her love of the French language, and he thought maybe they were getting somewhere. The modern sunset outside her window was spilled wine tinged with pollution. They went down the mountain to town, found the trouble she had decided they wanted. She called a homeless man a fallen Chinese god, and they mourned his sad descent, forgetting (almost) their own. That is the power of generosity, one use of our idiot faith in human love.

 

THE LIGHT HERE

It sets a mood
of clownish tragedy,
of ecstatic failure waiting to happen.

It is not a static blue light
nor the throb of a strobe.

It is not a light to read by
nor to be naked in,
unless you are desperate
or barbarously horny.

I would use it to look for you
in a cave or catacomb
or an ossuary crowded by the famous dead–
that is, if you were in such a place,
I would use this light to find you.

It is a light that yellows the periphery.
It is not a light that brightens the center.

It is mixed from an overcast morning
and the electric urban dusk.

It is a light I could live in
if I came to terms with certain failings
in my character
and the character of others.

I know you have light where you are,
better light even,
but I wanted you to know
about the light here.

 
Okla Elliott (1977 – 2017) passed away in his sleep last weekend. The Misicordia University professor, a prolific novelist, poet, short fiction writer, and translator, would have turned 40 this year. Those of us who knew him – and his circle of acquaintance and friendship was very wide indeed – are in shock from this wholly unanticipated death. He was kind, generous with his time, and indefatigable in his writing. He was much loved.

His work appeared in Harvard Review, The Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Prairie Schooner, A Public Space, Cincinnati Review, Indiana Review, Subtropics, and elsewhere, as well as being included as a “notable essay” in Best American Essays 2015. His books included From the Crooked Timber (short fiction), The Cartographer’s Ink (poetry), The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (a novel), Blackbirds in September: Selected Shorter Poems of Jürgen Becker (translation), Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction), and Pope Francis: The Essential Guide (nonfiction, forthcoming). — David Bowen, The Book Haven (with edits)


Editor’s Note: Today I am honored to present to you the work of As It Ought To Be‘s managing editor. His work speaks for itself, as does the significant body of publications in which his work has appeared. Okla is an impressive scholar, a fearless leader, and a wonderful person to know in the writing world. He believes strongly in the idea of building and sustaining a community of writers, and I am honored to be a member of that community. Regarding today’s pieces I will say that Mr. Elliott effortlessly combines vignettes of straightforward narrative with crisp images and moments of simple yet brilliant language such as “What good are arguments on a Saturday night? What good are arguments at all,” “if you were in such a place, I would use this light to find you,” and this kicker of an ending, “It is a light I could live in / if I came to terms with certain failings / in my character / and the character of others. / I know you have light where you are, / better light even, / but I wanted you to know / about the light here.” Simple. Elegant. Stunning.

UPDATE: “The Light Here” appeared on the back cover of Okla’s memorial liturgy booklet at his funeral held at Misicordia University on Friday March 24, 2017.


ONLINE MEMORIALS AND TRIBUTES
As It Ought To Be Mourns the Loss of Our Founder
“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life

AS IT OUGHT TO BE MOURNS THE LOSS OF OUR FOUNDER

“O Captain! My Captain!”

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. Okla Elliot, longtime managing editor, champion, and co-founder of As It Ought To Be died unexpectedly this past weekend. He was far too young, and the depth of this loss is incalculable. The contributions he made while on this earth were of superheroic proportions, and the contributions this ambitious, talented, exceedingly capable man would have made had he lived to a ripe old age are beyond our wildest dreams.

Remembrances are pouring out from the many communities Okla inspired, alongside unimaginable grief from the countless individuals whose lives he changed for the better. From an obituary by David Bowen: “The Misicordia University professor, a prolific novelist, poet, short fiction writer, and translator, would have turned 40 this year. Those of us who knew him – and his circle of acquaintance and friendship was very wide indeed – are in shock from this wholly unanticipated death. He was kind, generous with his time, and indefatigable in his writing. He was much loved.”

He was much loved. Indeed. He was many, many things, and should have had the chance to be so many more. But not least among them, this exceedingly generous, one-of-a-kind human being was much loved.

Below are a few ways the world is remembering him.


VIA HIS POETRY

Entrances and Exits

When I was a younger man, a boy,
the intrigue of washing machine doors

trunks, windows, manholes–secret passages
of all sorts–possessed me. I spent hours

passing through and back through
a simple hole in the wall of a condemned house

careful to step with the other foot
or at a new angle each time,

conducting experiments that might foretell
how the world would receive me

and how I would leave.


Tilting Toward Winter

The air is gray and quiet as the sea’s
wet-dying warmth. A blackbird
screams out from memory and, pleased
with its sour chirping, keeps at it undeterred
by the browning season. I have everything
I could wish for —this air, this sea, this night.
We tilt toward winter, though the sand is spring
sand, erotic and youthful. Spirits are light
as May lasciviousness. But blood swells
to shore in cool disintegrating waves—
gone summer and gone winter aren’t real.
I walk into the unwarm froth, say farewell
to my selves that have died and pray for those still
to die — their wet wombs, their thick-salt graves.


WITH THE SONG HE WANTED PLAYED IN HIS MEMORY



WITH THE WORDS OF ONE OF HIS HEROES



WITH ONLINE TRIBUTES AND MEMORIALS

“Some testimonies to Okla Elliott, 1 May 1977 – 19 March 2017” – Days and Memory
“Requiescat in pace: poet, novelist, translator Okla Elliott, 1977-2017” – Book Haven
“Go Read Okla Elliott’s Stuff, Please. (A Remembrance)” – Great Writers Steal
“Remembering Okla Elliott” – Mildred Barya’s House of Life


BY WRITING POEMS IN MEMORIUM

“Okla’s Last Emails” by Lynn Houston
“For Okla Elliot” by Jay Sizemore


REMEMBER OKLA WITH AS IT OUGHT TO BE

As It Ought To Be welcomes art and writing that remembers, eulogizes, and celebrates Okla. We would also love to include any additional tributes and memorial pieces that have been published elsewhere here in this memorial post. Please email sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com with your submissions.


MEMORIAL SERVICES

A service to remember Okla Elliott will be held at 11:00am this coming Friday, March 24, in the chapel located in Mercy Hall of Misericordia University:

301 Lake Street
Dallas, PA 18612
(570) 674-6400

There will also be a memorial at 2:00 pm on Friday, March 31, in the Lucy Ellis Lounge, FLB, UIUC campus, Urbana, IL.