They will not see me, living out of sight down the hill, the white-robed army of monks at prayer, the makers of incense and beds and meals with the smell of God about them.
They might feel me step into their pilgrimage, balancing between the jagged and the smooth stones, paying homage to the rock borders that turn me closer in, farther out, maddeningly away from the center.
This is no way to live a life. How many times have they made these very turns in their cloister, no labyrinth to guide them but only the vague inner nudge?
It is the place where tortuous and torturous merge. I take half an hour; they use half their lives. And for what? A pile of rocks in the center, a single life well lived?
The question, maybe, gives us pause. It does not stop that inexorable pull, like undertow sent to immolate a swimmer beneath the waves,
or the ineffable peace that spreads with every step.
A friend of mine has an idea for teaching youth about sex: have them view one of those graphic birthing videos that the hospital has for first-time parents, the kind that shows the crowning and the afterbirth, the agony and the joy. The kids will get the idea.
Up north, my wife, Felice, slipped away with emphysema, and my work cruised on without me—accounts balanced, mortgages afloat. My sleep done down here in Florida, I stand looking out a darkened window no one’s looking in. The morning paper never comes too soon with its rites of scandal and opinion. I finger my few stocks’ shifting fractions, consult the weather map’s puzzle,
while the percolator gurgles and sighs. I wait for the light, wait for that moment when Felice appears, pouring my cream, easing my bitterness by asking, “Where will you go today, and who will you carry?”
Glen Hansard, lead singer for the Irish band The Frames, has a long, woebegone face pebbled with a rust-colored beard; his eyes are immense, with the peeled look of billiard balls. He suggests a gangly Gaelic version of the young John Lithgow.
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).