Monday, May 17, 2010


Looking up at last from the tasks at hand, I feel the old bracing dislocation of coming to -- to what ? A self that has been so engrossed in those tasks that it has forgotten itself, and seems for a second newborn, blank and strange. What to call that ? Depersonalization ? A touch of the divine ? Or simply a neurological frisson, a whiff of vertigo ?

Cue the old bit of Neruda -- a veces me canso de ser hombre. And yes, there is a bit of weariness at being human, as if there were anything else to be, that afflicts me these days. An ennui, a jadedness, a luxury of which I should, by rights, be ashamed. I have spent too little time in the woods this spring. I have spent too little time alone. If there is a thing one can call a "spiritual life," mine is in vast and comic disarray. Or is that cosmic disarray ?

Exhibit A: I am driving to work, listening to a lecture about faith. The speaker, an Australian nun and academic, says God loves you ! God is crazy about you ! I wince, sigh: this concept is the heart of the whole Christian project, and yet it makes no sense to me, exasperates me; I want to take the phrase and scramble the letters and sprinkle them like compost over a field of wheat and weeds. I want to seize the nun by her wimple and exclaim, "Be more apophatic !"

Except that she was probably not wearing a wimple, being a modern, academic nun downloaded from iTunes into my iPod. She was likely a nun fluent in the language of strategic planning, mission and vision statements, rhetoric even more exasperating than the anthropomorphic excesses provoked by the Godhead.

In such Novembers of the soul, Ishmael took to sea; I push the hefty catechisms, histories and theologies under the bed, and take to the woods with my camera, a small volume of Zen poems in my back pocket. Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Hiems Erat

Every spring, as faithfully as a Saint's Day on the liturgical Kalendar, it recurs: my impulse to cling to winter, to the season of cold, dark, snow and skeletal branches. So, needless to say, my ears perked up at last week's Gospel reading:

It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

I gazed past the candles, Eastertide's abundance of them, and past the altar and baptistry flowers, toward Jesus walking in the wintry temple. Back to the time before. We are celebrating the time after, the time of feasting, the time of alleluia with eggs, lambs, children, buds, blossoms, Mass without confession, baptism, crafts fair, confirmation, joy, joy, joy.

And natural world is in the throes of its own resurrection, the cold, bracing yellow of the forsythia giving way to nuptial white and nursery pink.

Thank you, anonymous compilers of the lectionary, for this small grace, even icier in Latin -- ...hiems erat. Et ambulabat Jesus in templo, in porticu Salomonis -- dropped like surreptitious crumbs under the table where we hibernophilics and vernophobics hide.

The curve of the world is skewed toward light and heat, toward sunny dispositions and warm hearts, toward conviviality, life together, toward people who simply cannot understand how one could be otherwise inclined. In the standard Biblical lists of charisms and gifts nowhere does one find affinity for cold, darkness and solitude.

Such a disposition is characterological, aesthetic and existential; it thrives on the minor and the modal, chafes at sunny major keys.

It thrives on liturgy, the more formal the better, as a space in which the irritable self can sink away and relationship is choreographed, almost mimeographed, a massive, collective glyph signifying awe.

The return to the world is inevitable, of course, the world of relationship and the language and grammar of process which, even in churchly matters, seems more managerial than ecclesiastic. Little wonder that I have obtained a Latin Missal: I inhale it like bottled oxygen in my Mount Everest Project of Churchgoing.

It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.

And he goes on to say

My sheep hear my voice.

To my ear, that voice sounds so much more clearly and carries so much farther in the cold winter air.