Tuesday, August 23, 2011


The act of finding out what will suffice : Wallace Stevens said this about poetry, and it is equally applicable to religious life.

This, I understand, is a rather heterodox and relativistic view of such matters which are often said to involve indisputable Truth, revealed Truth inscribed in stone, not provisional near-sufficiencies written in light on water.

What will suffice is, by definition, relative. Sufficient unto what ? Unto what need, what desire, what question, what lack, what state, what thing ? Then doubly relative: what might suffice for you, could well, for me, fall drastically short.

For me the unto what is this: that there is something rather than nothing, the ultimate mise-en-scene of metaphysical inquiry. And, more to the point, that within this something there is embedded that which is aware, and that which inquires, otherwise known as I .

This embedded something is not a simple something. It is a marvelous welter of membranes and ionic fluxes -- receptors and processors and storage devices and read-outs and projectors -- and it navigates what it calls "the world" and "history" by means of symbols, the currency of its complicated transactions with its fellow embedded membranic welters.

So, for me, the inspiring datum is the "that I am," which carries within it everything else that is. The datum is object of interrogation, not why, only partially how, more precisely what, as in WTF !

So how does Christianity -- the country of my recent sojourns -- approach this ? And does it "suffice" ?

I was in a church meeting awhile back and the priest made a comment that has remained with me: she said, lamenting the crowding, multitudinous demands of clerical life, that sometimes she wished she could just stop and sit still and simply "love Jesus."

It brought me down to earth.

I have never, ever wanted to stop and sit still and "love Jesus." I cannot picture myself wanting to do so. I cannot even fathom, precisely, what that means. To be honest, I have been most content when able to stow Jesus away within the unfathomable perichoresis of the Trinity as "the place where divine and human meet" and regard the whole contraption as "God," AKA Infinite-And-Unfathomable-Ground-Of-Being, innards best left uninspected. Or, at the very most, cling to In principio erat Verbum as a declaration that it's all a big poem, a cosmic language game, and, as such, Mr Stevens, does it suffice ?

No, Mr Stevens, with respect to the question, the elemental what I am afraid it does not.

It comes at the question from the wrong angle, wearing Jesus colored glasses. And, with respect to how to be with one another in the world, it lands at quite a useful stance: love, justice, compassion. But how ? By putting on the mind of Christ, by becoming the Body of Christ in the Eucharist; by participating in the transaction of the Cross -- between Christ the spotless victim and ourselves, the forgiven victimizers. Lovely, but, forgive me, Rube-Goldbergesque and imposed from without, requiring all sorts of sacramental accoutrments and interlocutors.

Not to mention the words, the texts, the stories, the narratives -- oh the endless, endless stories ! -- draped in the seaweed of ancient, outdated mores and attitudes.

How does one have any chance whatsoever at "standing on ones own feet" (as Merton advised on the day of his death) so overladen with text and tradition, dogma and doctrine, laws and lenses ?

Heartsick, I have come to realize my recent sojourn may be drawing to a close. My visa has expired. I am an illegal, and no longer have the energy or the will to try to pass as a citizen.

The nights lengthen, fall is muttering somewhere over the horizon, and someone, somewhere is humming the old, old refrain --

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
Will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

("Autumn Day," Rilke, trans S. Mitchell)