I have felt kind of quiet as of late. Not moved much, in this culture of VERY LOUD voices, to speak.
That is not because I don’t have opinions. Oh do I have opinions! The quietness is partly because first, who can fathom the seasons and shifts and alternate storms and calms of the human heart.
It’s also partly because I figured out my “stand” toward existence, my mission on earth, the “issues” of the day, and how I want to move and have my being in the midst of all of that, many years ago. As horrible as things seem, and often are, they have more or less always been that way. Read the Psalms.
Of course I’m always called to grow. I’m always called to examine my hardness of heart, cowardice, self-righteousness and all kinds of other unsavory traits with which I’m saturated from top to bottom, and to do better.
But lately I seem to have come to grips maybe a teeny bit more with what has actually always been one of my central conflicts: the desire to be holy and my utter inability, under my own steam, to move one iota in that direction.
It’s true: I have always wanted to be a saint. I don’t think that’s pathetic or melodramatic. I think it’s a very legitimate desire. In fact, it may be the only truly sane desire, given the human condition, the battle of good against evil, and of course Christ.
I’m sure it’s in one sense why I became a Catholic–because I’m drawn to extremes and the saint is an extreme practitioner of love. i think I’ve always known this about myself. Never have I been drawn to ‘normal’ life. Always, even as a child, I have felt myself to be and to some extent have been an outsider.
To follow Christ I reflected later is, in some way, always to be marked for slow extermination. Or I guess sometimes fast. But for most of us it’s slow, and constant. There are no two ways around it. Death is death. In a worldly way, there is no way to undergo a crucifixion looking like or coming off as a winner.
The other day I was at a gathering where several people around the room vented the usual virulent slurs against Catholicism. One woman who had been to Catholic school and surprise, hated and despised the nuns, had been forced to go to (said in a sing-songy, condescending baby tone) “cha-pel, or whatever they called it.”
I grieve over the fact that so many people had such a gruesome time at Catholic school.
Later that day I went to five o’clock Mass at St. Andrew. What with Lent, and Sunday afternoon existential sorrow, and the fact that no man, ever, has truly loved me or ever will, I was feeling kind of weepy anyway.
And halfway through the Creed, along to the pew in front of me comes this poor, poor burn victim guy whose face had just been decimated. Decimated. White bandage over nose hole and the rest…of course I could hardly wait for the Kiss of Peace so I could touch him.
Always, always, I feel I should be doing more. All my life I’ve felt I should be doing more, or other. Should be “speaking out,” should be an “activist,” should be committing acts of civil disobedience and going to prison. Should be feeding the poor in a soup line, should be a special ed teacher, a hospice nurse, a mother. At the very least a wife. A girlfriend anyway… “Popular,” then. A companion to all!…
Should at any rate, for sure, be writing more. Working on another book, or promoting the books I have. Should be explaining why MY WORK IS IMPORTANT. MY WORK IS ESSENTIAL. MY WORK…
Underneath it all throbs my central wound, and maybe it is everyone’s central wound: the inability to form a true partnership with another human being. Whether I push everyone away ultimately because of my wounds, or whether I’ve been somehow weirdly marked out for the cell, the cloister, the inner mental ward, the effect is the same. Celibacy, coupled with a prickly personality, a giant dose of narcissism, and an ocean of self-centered fear, is a lot of tension to carry–and sometimes I carry it better than other times.
Lately, though, the thought has come to me: What if I really were doing enough–even to be a saint? (Which I’m sure I read somewhere actually means “friend of Jesus”–so all right then!) I do so want to help out. But what if it were enough to write a weekly arts and culture column for my archdiocesan newspaper and a monthly column in Magnificat and to put up an occasional post that maybe a hundred people read?
What if it were enough to lift my soul to the birds and work in the garden? (Aside: Seriously, I have got to write a book about this garden and its daily adventures–for there are NEIGHBORS, wouldn’t you know–that bring to the fore my worst and most weaselly character defects).
What if it were enough to pray every morning and carry my little cross and give thanks at the end of the day?
“As illness wears out the covering of the body, the soul shines forth. As this woman came to trust me, I discovered that she had not really talked to anyone in thirty years. Early on in her marriage, something had broken down irreparably between herself and her husband. She simply lost what she had with him and could not get it back. There she was inside this home, the mother and the heart of it. She learned to go through all the external motions and she became an utterly convincing domestic actress. But inside she was lost. Gradually she began to accept that there was no path outwards. Then she made the decision to live her intimate life inwardly. She undertook the journey. She went inwards as far as she could and over the years she managed to build some kind of hermit cell within her own heart. And that was really where she dwelt. When she began to talk about herself, it was clear that she spoke from a refined interiority. In a sense, she was not a mother living in a suburban house with husband and children. She was someone who had long since departed to an interior monastery that nobody had discovered. And when death began to focus more clearly around her, she was not afraid. Death was no stranger to her. Having had to build a sanctuary where no-one ever visited, she had come to know the mind of death. She was not thrown by the cold clarity of death’s stare or the unravelling force of its singular eye. Nor was there any bitterness in her. She had allowed as much transfiguration as she could. Against the hidden pathos of her life’s distance, she had no resistance. She had garnered a fragile beauty from isolation.”
–John O’Donohue, Beauty, from the chapter “The Beauty of the Flaw”
|I AM GOING TO CALL IT “THE HERMIT-CELL-OF-THE-HEART GARDEN!”
COME ON OVER AND NAB A THIRD-CLASS RELIC!
NEXT UP: MY SEEDPOD AND SEASHELL MOBILES
WHICH ARE SAVING THE WORLD.