Saturday, September 01, 2012


I had a church anxiety dream last night.

I had returned to churchgoing and I was vested and in the altar party. My role was unclear. The rector was there, welcoming me and encouraging me. The location was a large, hangar-like space with pews that was (somehow) also the old shadowy, intimate church of my recent sojourn. I had strayed from the center-aisle procession, and was making my way down a side aisle past a crowd of small boys with 1950's haircuts wearing matching short-sleeved plaid shirts, a gaggle (come to free-associate to it) of living Howdy Doody puppets.

"Odd choir," I thought, and woke up.

The dream seems to have created the ecclesiastic love-child of an anglophilic lefty Episcopal parish and an evangelical megachurch. It suggests that beneath the cool and reserved aesthetic of surplice and cassock and the interstellar cerebral expanses of liturgy and lovely prayerbook diction there lurk madras-sporting, Good Book waving, come-home-to-Jesus-braying Elmer Gantrys.

I wondered, lately, whether my recent sojourn (forgive my over-delicate circumlocution, this is a painful topic) was to establish a legitimate cover for my desire for hermitage. One becomes, or so it seems, a legitimate hermit only after establishing oneself within a community. Otherwise it's simply a question of a wild-haired loner for whom it's only a matter of time before the grainy Evening News mugshot and the astonished neighbors saying, "She always seemed to keep to herself." The community gives the hermit legitimacy and, who am I kidding to say otherwise, community. If only (and most blessedly) at a distance. The idea of community, much like Glenn Gould's idea of North -- an intellectual lodestone, a guiding metaphor, not a dangerous reality -- the icy rail, the stuck tongue, the approaching train.

There was a book published recently called "Introverts In The Church," by a self-professed introverted pastor, Adam McHugh. It seemed somewhat germane to my situation, and I was pleased to see that the plight of the ungregarious churchgoer was being acknowledged, but it made me realize that within the category of "introvert" there are subsets, a veritable balkanization of the Quiet, complete with folks who will pointedly insist that "I am an introvert -- not shy ! Not a loner ! THOSE are the creepy maladjusted ones over there, DSM-V material !"

So those of us at the bell-curve's antipodal extremes are not much comforted by Pastor McHugh's well-intentioned acknowledgments and ideas for accommodation. Or perhaps it was, in my case, a rather moot point. Parallel to my ongoing neuralgic collisions (think funny bone) with structured, fellowshipping churchgoing, was the increasing realization that my "faith" was a precarious house of cards of language and metaphor, or, to quote scripture as filtered through the Coen Brothers' brilliant "Raising Arizona," that, with respect to Jesus, I was a

a rocky place where (his) seed could find no purchase.

And I can't begin to tell you what a relief it is to be speaking, again, in my native tongue, and to stop using the words "God" or "Christ" for what Albert Einstein described without recourse to either word --

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms- this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.

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