Sunday, April 06, 2014

In Todesbanden

I was riding bus 70 to Central Square last night, as penitential an experience as I've had so far this Lent. Loud, ceaseless, squealing conversations assailed my ears, the inhumanly molded plastic seats transmitted every unabsorbed pothole shock to my ischial tuberosities and spinous processes, and, every time the bus idled, an eardrum-busting grinding and ratcheting rattle surged like machine-gun fire from the back of the bus. 

I was thinking about invisibility. I'd written about it, yes, but in a half-baked manner. Was it a good thing ? A bad thing ? A neutral state ? Something to be cultivated ? Something to be resisted ? Something intrinsic and immutable ?

Suddenly I remembered the movie The Invisible Man. The hero wraps himself in bandages to make himself seen. There was something in that that has applied to my own lived invisibility: the things I've done in community that call attention to myself function precisely to undo invisibility. Is that their intent ? To be constituted, to be realized in the eyes of the other or of the group ? To be given substance, or, at least, an outline ?

But visibility is dangerous. Without being seen one is not vulnerable. On the other hand, being seen invites a sense performance and an expectation of -- what ? -- appreciation ? Applause ? Reward ? Or, conversely, for all the myriad failures and fallings-short, scorn and rejection. On the one hand, the ego swells, and, as it feeds, grows hungrier and hungrier. Nothing satisfies it short of the impossible: triumph over everything and universal adulation. Becoming, in other words, God. On the other hand the ego fasts, rejects everything, supreme hunger artist, wallows in its own self-loathing crapulence.

The lectionary readings today -- Ezekiel's dry bones putting on flesh, St Paul's rejection of flesh over spirit, and Lazarus emerging, Todesbanden-wrapped from his tomb -- further complicated my reflections on invisibility. If it's the community that unwraps the resurrected one, what of its wrapping of the invisible one ? A wrapping unto death ? The death of the deepest, truest, most invisible self ? Or a wrapping into a life which can only be lived with others ? Our homilist, today, interpreted St Paul's rejected flesh as ego. Are death's strong bands, somehow, the ego ? The carefully cultivated self ? The self of selfies and blog posts, that self takes great pains to cultivate its  brand, its personal style, its ticket to celebrity however local ? The self that strides along, easily, visibly, affably, with its brothers and sisters ? The self which, if it cannot be loved, can at least be admired ? The self that, if it cannot love, can, at least, covet ? The self that wants to be the apple of everyone's eye and yet is, itself, blind ?

The reflections coil inward toward an intimate vanishing point. I drag myself -- despite myself -- into the light, the light that makes visible, resisting the eternally upswelling  I would prefer not to, detecting somewhere within the fume of the communion wine on my tongue a strange whisper of don't be afraid.

I began Lent with re-reading TS Eliot  -- Because I do not hope to turn again -- and, as this ragged Lent draws to a close, the vine-tangled wastes of my favorite landscapes evoke Father Hopkins' --

Not untwist -- slack as they may be -- these last strands of man /  In me --

and even, maybe especially, a bit of Walt Whitman:

A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour, O soul,
thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from Art,
the day erased, the lesson done.
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing
pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

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