Compelling Essays Contemplate Faith

Article excerpt

"Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography,"

by Richard Rodriguez.

Viking. 257 pages. $26.95.

Richard Rodriguez's elliptical writing style irritates me at times. His stream of consciousness pirouettes from one obscure image to another in search of a point. But then he explodes upward in some grand jete holding aloft a startling jewel. He wants us to imagine, for example, that we are the young men at a Days Inn cleansing ourselves to hijack the planes that will bring down the World Trade Center towers - "Imagine the leaky bowels, the frequent swallowings, the swollen tongues, the reflexive yawns ... the prayers whispered into the palms of your hands ... "

In his most recent collection of autobiographical essays, Rodriguez contemplates the "God who happened upon Abraham," the father of three desert religions: Judaism produced Christianity, which birthed Islam, whose radicals turned on all three in the name of their one God on Sept. 11, 2001.

Yearning to return to the roots of these faiths, Rodriguez goes to the desert and finds lyrical images, mostly male, like the old man who climbs the mosque's tower under the "flicker and sizzle" of a green neon light and "picks up the microphone to rend our dreams asunder" with the 4 a.m. call to prayer.

In the dark church of a Greek Orthodox monastery that dates from A.D. 532, he gazes through glass at the shrunken corpse of Saint Saba, the founder. …

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