Sunday Morning

I don’t believe in religion, but the aesthetics of Catholicism have stuck with me. I love the way church incense coats my hair and skin. It is a safe smell, like a blanket, waiting for me to curl up in it. I love stained-glass windows and religious portraits, the colours of Mary’s clothes and the bright red drops of blood on Jesus’s face. I like the Stations of the Cross. I like pausing to run my finger along an emaciated rib and wrinkle my nose at the thought of the vinegar being offered on a sponge. I like prayer cards and medallions and rosary beads. I like advent candles and Bibles edged in gold and the way the skirt over the tabernacle matches the colour of the priest’s robes. There is so much attention to detail.

I envy the faithful. There are shrines dotted around the hillsides here in Ireland, places where saints have supposedly appeared and healed the sick. There are wells of holy water and statues in the rocks, huts filled with prayer cards and gardens filled with painted stones in memory of loved ones who have passed away. I like to visit them occasionally. I sit in the stillness and observe people crying and praying and I close my eyes and try to let some of their hope get carried on the air and through my pores. I would like to believe that everything is accounted for, that there is life after this one, and that all of our decisions hold some kind of significance or moral worth. There is weight in religion. It is an anchor of sorts.

I cannot believe in the vengeful patriarch of the Catholic Church but sometimes, in the daytime, when there’s no one around, I go into the church and light a candle. I like sitting in the quiet and sensing my own insubstantiality against such old and serious things. I am learning that there is a good kind of smallness; a smallness in the face of the universe rather than a smallness in my own body. I like the ritual of prayer and reverence, even though I can’t identify with it. I like the feeling that other people believe in something.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)


Photo Credit

Catholic, Non-Catholic. Believe. Don’t Believe. But Watch.

Of course I have sinned….
As a child, I have failed you first by not having the courage to taste of life itself.
Instead, I hid away in books, and then study.
I know now this left me empty and void of the world.

Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI in The Two Popes (Netflix, 2019)


If you’re going to make a movie about what’s holy, it had better be outstanding — and this drama rises to the occasion.” ~ Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media

Sunday Morning

“You’re going to ask if you can marry my daughter,” Nan’s father said.

“Yes,” James answered.

“Why?”

James thought: Because she is jolly and pretty and bright, like a firefly, blinking in and out of hedges and trees. Because I imagine her in the kitchen, washing dishes, looking out the window and humming to herself, her brow knit in concentration. I imagine myself coming up behind her, putting my arms around her, resting my chin on her shoulder. I imagine her face turning up to me, bright and pale and astonishing, and I imagine her lips just before I kiss her, full and parted, almost singing the words of a song. Because I think beyond kissing her, because I think about her naked and warm under clean sheets and damp from the bath. I imagine her bare ankle rubbing against my own. I imagine her hair disheveled; I imagine myself smoothing it out of her eyes. I imagine making toast with her and eating it at a round table. When I do, I am just as crazed with passion for her as I would be in bed. There is no difference between imagining her naked and imagining her with a kerchief over her hair. 

“Because I love her,” he said.

~ Cara Wall, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, August 13, 2019)


Notes:

Sunday Morning

Why is it any more ennobling for someone to claim to be a person of faith rather than a person of doubt? I like people of doubt. I like people who question what the hell is going on. St. Thomas is my favorite apostle, even if he was wrong. Galileo smelled a rat, and he was right. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters how you behave. Or as it so succinctly says in Christian scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” Believe what you like, but this is what I believe. God, if there is one, speaks and expresses Herself through a group of people who the great becardiganed philosopher Fred Rogers called “helpers.” […]

Helpers are people who try to make life more bearable for those who are suffering. They are people who try to clean up the mess, are tolerant of the weak-minded, and resist those who would exploit others for their pleasure or profit. […]

So if I have a religion it’s in appreciation of helpers, whoever they happen to be at the time. I’ve tried not believing in God, but that’s just as hard as swallowing all of the liturgical mumbo jumbo. I don’t know who or what composed our universe, but I’m not sure that matters anyway. I suspect that any real spiritual peace lies in simply being a decent human being. Or at least trying to be.

~ Craig Ferguson, from “The Helpers” in Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)


Portrait: AT&T Performance Arts Center

The still, quiet voice


“I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times during the ten years I was writing The Incendiaries. I love that song and its powers; I can’t tell you its name, lest it stop helping me. By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing. Even now, months after I last edited The Incendiaries, to play the song I can’t name is to be pulled back toward my novel, into my made-up town of Noxhurst. The still, quiet voice. That’s what I used to listen for, back when I was deeply religious: the still, quiet voice of God. I’ve lost that kind of faith, but I do believe in fiction’s voice, and in spending the rest of my life, or so I hope, listening for it.”

— R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries: A Novel in Poets & Writers, July 26, 2018


From a book Review of The Incendiaries by Ron Charles in The Washington Post on July 23, 2018: ‘The Incendiaries’ is the most buzzed-about debut of the summer, as it should be. “…Kwon, who was raised Roman Catholic and has said that she lost her faith in her teens, seems to understand with extraordinary sympathy just what that loss entails. And as her debut novel catches fire and burns toward its feverish conclusion, she offers a strikingly clear articulation of the fanatic’s mind-set: It’s not an excess of belief that drives some believers to violence; it’s a maddening lack of belief, which requires that radical action be substituted for faith. In a nation still so haunted by the divine promise, on the cusp of ever-more contentious debates about abortion and other intrinsically spiritual issues, ‘The Incendiaries’ arrives at precisely the right moment.”

Are you religious?

Easter, Passover, spring break, holiday weekend. Let us unfurrow the brow and look at something elevated. It’s a small thing, a half-hour television interview from 60 years ago, but it struck me this week as a kind of master class in how to be a public figure and how to talk about what matters…

Is he religious? Here Hammerstein told a story. A year ago he was rushing to work and jaywalked. A policeman called out; Hammerstein braced for a dressing down. But the officer recognized him and poured out his appreciation for his work. Hammerstein thanked him and moved to leave, but the policeman had a question. “He said, ‘Are you religious?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t belong to any church,’ and then he patted me on the back and he said, ‘Ah, you’re religious all right.’ And I went on feeling as if I’d been caught, and feeling that I was religious. He had discovered from the words of my songs that I had faith—faith in mankind, faith that there was something more powerful than mankind behind it all, and faith that in the long run good triumphs over evil. If that’s religion, I’m religious, and it is my definition of religion.”

~ Peggy Noonan, excerpts from The Wisdom of Oscar Hammerstein II (wsj.com, March 29, 2018)

Sunday Morning

Except for Aunt Maria. Unlike her father, my grandfather, she belonged not among the Enlightenment’s disciples, but with the deeply religious, the deeply silent. I know she read serious works on theology, I would guess that she knew how to pray (an ability far rarer than it seems), but she was a quiet person, like all in my family…Aunt Maria’s silence, it seems to me, grew from her religion—I sensed her conviction that things linked to faith must be left unexpressed, that they’re lost when spoken, they become banalities. I admired her for being different, for the deep devotion that she wouldn’t, couldn’t share with us—she was the opposite of those pious hypocrites who place their religious fervor on public display…Maria kept silent for different reasons. Perhaps those who pray truly and deeply inevitably watch their words around others.

~ Adam Zagajewski, Slight Exaggeration: An Essay (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 4, 2017)


Notes: Image – Farm Hands, via Mennyfox55

Lightly child, lightly.

balloon-upside-down

“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. there is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”

~ Henry Miller, Sexus: The Rosy Crucifixion I

 


Notes:

  • Photo: Paul Apal’kin via Newthom. Quote: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Faith…is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words

boyana-petkova-art

In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _______. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith— only, say, a gesture, or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active, and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Winter Hours” in Upstream: Selected Essays

 


Watercolor: Boyana Petkova (Bulgaria)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

bryan-cranston-a-life-in-parts

But it’s not odd to me. Actors are storytellers. And storytelling is the essential human art. It’s how we understand who we are. I don’t mean to make it sound high-flown. It’s not. It’s discipline and repetition and failure and perseverance and dumb luck and blind faith and devotion. It’s showing up when you don’t feel like it, when you’re exhausted and you think you can’t go on. Transcendent moments come when you’ve laid the groundwork and you’re open to the moment. They happen when you do the work. In the end, it’s about the work.

~ Bryan Cranston, A Life in Parts


Related Post: Bryan Cranston – Breaking Good

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