And so I left my therapist's office, after attempting to explain to her a bit of how Buddhism and yoga were very helpful for you to realize your true feelings about things, about how, predictably, most things aren't quite what they are crunched up to be, often enough, but that how you needed some kind of faith, something additional to a philosophical perspective, a redeeming faith, a real believable divine fatherly love coming up the realization of all the sins of your life as you know it. Grace, forgiveness, acceptance, commitment. I showed her a book of my father's his lady had sent along in a timely fashion to a little minor health crisis, handing it over to her so that she could hold it in her own hands, as if I wanted her too to see. A dark blue hard bound old-library-smelling copy of Alan Watts Behold The Spirit, A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion, Pantheon Press, third printing, 1951. I'd picked it up over the weekend, and it felt like the first truly interesting thing to my mind's eye I'd looked into for a long time. It felt like headway, of some sort, and it felt like having been reminded of the true legacy that a being has as best as you can ever know, like, 'this is the meaning of my life here.'
And so I crossed, feeling stiff, Connecticut Avenue at N Street, and went down the blacktop alley next to a parking garage and some dumpsters and backs of office buildings to the solid colored pinkish red brick form of rising St. Matthew's Cathedral, roundabout noon, and in through the side door, the door Madam Korbonski showed me as her preference, to sit in the side chapel where we sat one Good Friday, after self-consciously crossing myself and bowing quickly and sliding into a pew and taking my courier bag down off my shoulder and pulling down the padded board for kneeling and praying.
I said to myself, okay, well, here you are, you can do this. They're not going to kick you out if you don't know the right responses. They're hear to accept strangers here too, and I can listen to the songs they sing before I too learn them. I took a few deep breaths and looked around. Then there was the smell of incense. And the Mass began.
What is shyness but arrogance, an important teacher of mine once said, a sign of something egotistical, that had kept me away from the beauty of the experience of a Catholic Mass... Was it arrogance that had prevented me from joining in. Why the bad habit of not being sold on such ceremony, the attitude that in extreme was pushing away the light of God and making it the flames of Hell? And I, in my arrogance and pride, had kept an arm's distance, and when I thought about it I had indeed turned down love and opportunity and the power to make good choices, because in life you have to make choices.
And Lo, it turns out to be The Feast of St. Matthew's, and here I am in the cathedral so named for him, one important building in Washington where they let me in. Jesus looks at Matthew the tax collector publican and Jesus tells him, follow me. And follow he does. A sinner, an outsider, called to be a follower, as if grace had fallen on him through no particular thing but having open eyes.
I reflected on my own job, that wine is just wine. It is spiritual, it comes from the sun. Yes, there is good wine, and wine less so, but to get carried away with it into big egotistical sommelier-dom and fancy fine dining is unnecessary and eventually tiresome. Splitting hairs while missing the main point, which is God's Love, love for sinners, that love made incarnate in Jesus the doer of the First Miracle, at the Wedding at Cana. Yes, the leader of the banquet did comment, you have brought out the good wine, not first, but now, when people, you know, have already begun to enjoy the effects...
Where have I been, all this time, all these semi-adult years of wandering, turning away from the light of goodness and love.
But the all-knowing all-present Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son, there's good reason for it, makes use of your confusion and your wanderings and your doubts for the higher purposes. And so must I be made account of it, for it, for making plain my confusion, even in literary form and a "depressing" roman a clef about confusion, spiritual seeking, human missteps and sinful behavior.
Well, I screwed up my courage to take communion, standing up, moving along in line, taking the little wafer a plainclothesman offered to me, I remembered to cross myself inconspicuously, I went back to my pew, there was at some point the peace be unto you, before that, and then, something like, the older guy in the white robe said, the Mass has ended now go and peace and take your duties out into the world to perform.
I lingered, looking round the church, and spending some time at the chapel of St. Francis its very beautiful mosaic of green hill towns touched with gold and creatures and birds, and I remembered my father and Madam Korbonski, and everyone else.
I bought some vitamins at GNC on the way home. Step by step I told myself.
And maybe when I went to work there could be to some small degree a touch of Jesus coming to the worldly vocation of Peter the Fisherman and putting it into higher use, higher use than just pouring wine and taking dinner orders and hoping everyone behaves and being friendly as one can be but sort of hiding that I, a sinner, never having solidly intended to be one, quite the contrary, was looking for deeper meaning in my little duties. As you do indeed need faith and reason and meaning in that which you do however God gives you to humbly go and do it, even after all your foolishness.
"Go moan for man," writes Kerouac in one of his great tender long sentences somewhere in On the Road, given to a sort of Shakespearean mood of freedom with the old language and all its word-bits. Maybe that's what a writer does, moaning for man, putting upon his self-based narrative the basic sins of the world and then with hope a better way, as if indeed the voice had come and said, not just 'follow,' but 'go, and sin no more.' And Kerouac with his childlike temperament would have been one of those whose faith garners protection from the higher.
Reflecting on the first mosaic panel of the Life of St. Francis, in which he is sitting on the ground and the wolf has come to him gently, I too felt a bit sick, clammy or lightly feverish, stiff in my back and behind the knees. I reheated the Trader Joe lamb kebabs I had enjoyed cooking on the stove two nights before in the toaster over and I got ready for work. The Feast of St. Matthew, yes, off to a bit of the Feast of St. Matthew, serving, of course.
"You always feel tired after therapy," my mom says.
The only way for a book, an extended literary exploration of account for life, to make sense is by a higher meaning. It is not the specifics, but rather the basic attitude, depicted in a story, toward the spiritual that makes for long-term insight and meaning. For me a book captures the dance between having faith and not having faith, in being open to belief and the practice of prayer and spirituality and in being spiritually asleep or ignorant. I'd thought for long enough how it was about the particulars, the young persons depicted in it, as if those particulars could be analyzed and resolved. I might have wanted those matters to be revisited and resolved.
But the deeper meanings kept their shine, kept poking out from the text, revealing the basic quest for a real spiritual life, real faith, real belief in the divine, love, forgiveness of sin. It took going to sit in church to see that, and it took, itself, the faith to believe enough in that divine forgiveness to find that life did have its meanings.
Faith is not easy to carry in the world, and yet it is itself that which makes life bearable. That is the part of any real story told in a real and true way. The story must show the lackings of faith (that themselves are true tokens of the human condition.) Perhaps the story is left uncompleted for a long time, even as the story might go far to fairly connect the dots and suggest the meaningful search for that final achievement of real and lasting faith.
The story can ask, pose the question, of what the possibilities might be. The story can point to what will happen after shame is overcome by faith. That fictional realm is difficult to summon and realize, to which one has to turn to the gospels to find and lend shape to. Traditionally, this is done gently, like the quiet "hurrah for Karamazov" at the end of a long work, that it might succeed. The riches and possibilities are hard to comprehend in the normal discerning mind.
As would only be appropriate. Faith is mystery, of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. In certain arenas faith does not garner much support. Faith comes to one perhaps in darker hours, known only to the deeper mind all along but only then revealed to the consciousness, at which point all things become part of the larger story. Without the "natural shocks that flesh is heir to" the thinking that needs to be done doesn't come through; the conversation is never prompted. Realizing your own lack of faith is itself a shock, a cause for great dissatisfaction. In that pain one reaches out for soothing. It's a matter of finding the true balm for it, not just the false and the pain-numbing. It is the faith within wine, not the alcohol, the kindness with which it is served and taken, not the rarity of the pleasure.
For this we have to support each other.