God's Glue

I've been feeling pretty hacked of with what is going on in the Catholic church this week and it hasn't escaped my notice that the readings and the gospel for this Sunday talk about themes of division and reconciliation. 

I haven't posted much this week because I felt bad about the church and although I could have sounded off I didn't want to get into a bad place of tussling and feeding rancour. If my faith means anything surely it means trying to find a better way than bitter words. I want something better and yes,  something beautiful.

So I get to Sunday's First Reading and home in on :

"If you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand."

And my response is to stretch ............but is it to fire OR to water- ?

I've found myself betwixt and between, you'll know that feeling. So I look to poetry and visual ways of bridging the gap...

The cartoon below, the Walt Whitman poem and the Czeslaw Milosz poem get somewhere near to the cognitive dissonance that describe contradictory thoughts and mutually inconsistent beliefs. 

I believe in God. I am a Catholic. I believe in an apostolic succession but I don't think my church is right on loads of issues. I find it very difficult to talk about these issues in a current climate where dialogue seems to be full of point scoring and triumphalism- all alien ways of living in a Christian way or so it seems to me. I want to live a compassionate life but I get angry .......On an on and on and on.

So I took time out. I came across quotes that helped. I prayed , not formal prayers that use words like beseech - I don't use that language with people I meet so how does it make any sense to use archaic words for a God that I love and who loves me too?
It's not lack of reverence -it's because it does not bring me nearer to God to use language that is remote from my experience. I don't mind living with ineffable mystery and humble awe but beseech is a word that just doesn't work !
Ernest Hemingway in a Farewell To Arms says
"The world breaks everyone and then some can become strong at the broken places."
(Fine fine fine but "only for some" I mumble, and some never get fixed...more mumbling...)

Then I find this which comforts me, where the weight of a burden becomes the lightness of a caress....

"Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue."

These are powerful words from a great man of letters, Eugene O’Neill

So when life breaks dreams and I spend time trying to mend them with the sparse and puny wisdom and limited tools of my human nature I realise that this is the way of the quick fix;  this is my way, not God's way. 

I realise yet again that the only thing that can hold my life together and everything it can throw at me is the grace of God .


Walt Whitman
Stanza 51

The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

How It Was by Czeslaw Milosz 

  Stalking a deer I wandered deep into the mountains and from there I saw.

Or perhaps it was for some other reason that I rose above the setting sun.

Above the hills of blackwood and a slab of ocean and the steps of a glacier, carmine-colored in the dusk.

I saw absence; the mighty power of counter-fulfillment; the penalty of a promise lost forever.

If, in tepees of plywood, tire shreds, and grimy sheet iron, ancient inhabitants of this land shook their rattles, it was all in vain.

No eagle-creator circled in the air from which the thunderbolt of its glory had been cast out.

Protective spirits hid themselves in subterranean beds of bubbling ore, jolting the surface from time to time so that the fabric of freeways was bursting asunder.

God the Father didn’t walk about any longer tending the new shoots of a cedar, no longer did man hear his rushing spirit.  

His son did not know his sonship and turned his eyes away when passing by a neon cross flat as a movie screen showing a striptease.  

This time it was really the end of the Old and the New Testament.  

No one implored, everyone picked up a nodule of agate or diorite to whisper in loneliness: I cannot live any longer.  

Bearded messengers in bead necklaces founded clandestine communes in imperial cities and in ports overseas.  

But none of them announced the birth of a child-savior.  

Soldiers from expeditions sent to punish nations would go disguised and masked to take part in forbidden rites, not looking for any hope.  

They inhaled smoke soothing all memory and, rocking from side to side, shared with each other a word of nameless union.  

Carved in black wood the Wheel of Eternal Return stood before the tents of wandering monastic orders.  

And those who longed for the Kingdom took refuge like me in the mountains to become the last heirs of a dishonored myth.  

Berkeley, 1968

Then finally I return to the Sunday readings and the parts that speak to me :
This from the psalm 119:

"Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe your law
and keep it with all my heart."
and all of Reading Two :

"Brothers and sisters:
We speak a wisdom to those who are mature,
not a wisdom of this age,
nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.
Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden,
which God predetermined before the ages for our glory,
and which none of the rulers of this age knew;
for, if they had known it,
they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,

and what has not entered the human heart,

what God has prepared for those who love him,

this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God."
 So I open myself up to the scrutiny of God ....

When I was at school we performed  Thornton Wilder’s famous play Our Town. As it was an all girls school I played the part of George who is the husband of  Emily who dies in childbirth and enters an afterlife in which dead souls sit and stare blankly into nothingness, indifferent to earthly events. 
I always imagine that Emily was actually in limbo, rather than heaven but to continue the story; - Emily wants to relive one more day of her earthly life before permanently taking her seat in this detached afterlife.

She is granted her wish and, as she relives this day, she realizes the beauty of each moment and she sees how blind humans are to the wonder that is all around them. 

She finally can’t bear it anymore and says, “I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” 

Then she looks at the Stage Manager and asks him, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager answers, “No- the saints and poets, maybe—they do some. ” 
Then Emily says, “I’m ready to go back.” And then she takes her seat permanently in the afterlife, where she will grow more and more indifferent to the things that she once loved. I suspect the word indifference means something different in heaven than it does here on earth-  Holy indifference.

Wilder’s play is effective because it challenges us to be present and to realize life while we live it, because most people don’t. 
The saints and poets, maybe—they do some. They had learnt to see the holy blessedness of every moment,  realized life while they lived it—every, every minute
So as I get to the end of this awful week I am beginning to reclaim the simplicity of the secret;  that the way forward for me and the way out of this chasm of bad feeling this week is simple enough : to realise my own life while I live it and to know that as it says in The First Reading :

"If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live."....

In Sunday's Gospel, maybe that is what Jesus means when He says:

Our Town image from here


Anonymous said...

I can't help but think that when Jesus came - God in a man's body - he lived among the people, spoke the language of the people. God eternal lived in time and within all of the cultures and customs of the time. These changes in words concern me as well, Phil. I just posted on 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and I can't help thinking that that applies here.

Philomena Ewing said...

Hi Andie. Apologies: I am way behind on following up comments and also your own blog posts which I have to revisit and comment on in the next couple of days - yes I agree with you on this. Fr. Ruff's blog has also got more since his original post which would suggest that a lot of people who are supporting it are just following the party line which is really sad and his integrity shines through this.