The modest Irish picture The Eclipse has slipped below almost everyone’s radar; it’s moving quietly across the country in brief art-house engagements. This contemporary ghost story about loneliness and connection is worthy of attention.
From South and East, from West and North they gather, on foot, by car, in rickshaw, tram, and bus, health, in wheelchair, in joy, in sorrow, relaxed, uptight, disheveled, and fastidious. They come, O Christ, to you, to taste the body that once for all was slain, to sing and pray and take a cup whose balm brings life from dying— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The words they hear when they have come together are chanted, lisped, intoned, or simply said and tell in myriad tongues with every accent of body broken and of life’s blood shed. Mere words convey a gift of perfect freedom, a debt of love that no one can repay, a yoke of new and welcomed obligation— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The spaces where they meet are huge, resplendent, or huts and hovels all but falling down, on Sundays jammed but often solitary, both nowhere and on squares of world renown. Yet all are hewn from just one Rock unbroken in whose protection no one is betrayed, which lets itself be smashed to bits for sinners— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The hands that tender host and cup are youthful, emaciated, worn, and manicured. They take so little time, they bring so little, to do a work by which so much is cured. These hands that bring the Savior near are icons of hands once torn in order to display with lines of blood the names who come receiving— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
I like to compare notes with him, to count the shades of blue on a kingfisher’s back . . . —Robert Cording
“Come see this creature before I cut it loose,” my husband calls to me from the garage, something large and winged thrashing on a spider’s thread dangling down from the opened garage door— no holy ghost but a moth, caught there by a wing until he lifts the silk rigging down with a broom. The flailing insect twirls like an acrobat till he lays it, freed, in the grass. Tired, it doesn’t move. We admire and leave it, go about the business of our days. May it recover . . . may it not become prey for the neighbor’s cat . . . Later, when I remember to look again, it’s flown. (Like your souls, I want to take up the old healing grief metaphor, speaking to my lost father, my mother, my nephew, my grandmother . . . Flown like your souls, to some heaven we can’t— or can—imagine, or map . . .) That night, having lost our chance if not the means to identify it surely, we puzzle over the moth book, pointing: this? Or this? Or this?—(some type of sphinx)—joined in spirit as in body in our human need to capture and release meaning, feel the touch of beloved skin: and keep safe all the facts and fancies of our world, with their attendant terrors and grace, the mystery of the present moment and the escaping future, heart to hand.
Tiny, almost an anti-weight, if it blew off my palm in the wind I might not even notice. Dashing against the back porch glass, the bird fell onto logs I’d stacked there, or rather heaped. I loaded our wood more neatly out in the shed but this jumble of lumber reminded me my life lacked grace.
Wind didn’t kill the bird but misprision. My oldest daughter had just given birth to twins, and I was thinking of them of course when I saw the sparrow. We’re in a hopeful season. I’d like to imagine new beginnings, not ponder for instance the self-styled Christian Warriors I heard about lately, devoted to killing police,
to launching Armageddon. They claim these are days of Antichrist, and I could almost agree—for other reasons. Thou shalt not murder is among the Commandments, I’d remind the warriors, all nine of whom live in Michigan, a place near hell in this near Depression.
Days are bad worldwide, though in gospel God’s eye takes in the smallest sparrow. Vile hooligans among us storm over having a president who’s other than white. We’re all human, and none of us saved, and—as the old Greek said— it might have been best if we’d never been born.
And yet to imagine a world devoid of hope is too easy and lazy, I decide. Outside the odors of spring fly in on the wind: damp mulch, old ice, wet mud and sap. The sugar-makers hope for a few more gallons, hope for a few more years, to be with my children. I open the stove, sweep the bird in.
Here’s your Ash Wednesday story. A mother carries her tiny daughter With her as she gets ashed and the Girl, curious and wriggly, squirms Into the path of the priest’s thumb Just as the finger is about to arrive On the mother’s forehead, and the Ashes go right in the kid’s left eye. She starts to cry, and there’s a split Second as the priest and the mother Gawk, and then they both burst out Laughing. The kid is too little to be Offended, and the line moves along, But this stays with me; not the ashy Eye as much as the instant when all Could have been pain and awkward But instead it led to mutual giggling. We are born of dust and star-scatter And unto this we shall return, this is The Law, but meantime, by God, we Can laugh our asses off. What a gift, You know? Let us snicker while we Can, brothers and sisters. Let us use That which makes dark things quail.
Between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 churches. The numbers reflect migration from rural to urban areas and the fewer number of people who identify with a faith community. The decline in churches is having a direct effect on the social fabric of the state. According to research at Iowa State University, nine out of ten rural people said they rely less on their neighbors than they once did. Surviving churches have gone back to older patterns to find leadership, engaging itinerant pastors or lay leaders. Some are surviving through cooperation with other denominations or with ethnic Christian groups (Pacific Standard, January 20).