Thursday, March 1, 2012

ECSTATIC TRUTH


After having written all week on the difficult subject of abortion, a piece by Anthony Esolen called “The Paradise of Sexual Revolution" rang especially true:

“Visit a prison," he notes, "and ask the men in the cell blocks to recount their sexual histories, and those of their mothers and fathers. Visit a hospital, and see the faces of women who have determined to violate their inmost natures as the givers of life. Visit a neighborhood—if you can find one; for your paradise has placed transience and infidelity at the heart of the most intimate of human relations.”

I think the whole human fabric is ordered around family: mother, father, children. It's no accident Christ came into the world as a baby, that the whole story of Christianity begins with a set of parents: poverty-stricken, in exile, looking for a place to rest and bring a baby into the world...

To me the teachings of the Church on sex don't separate me from that family, as promiscuity did: they allow me, and everyone else, to participate. They invite us all to contribute: our purity, our talents, our brokenness. They invite everyone to sit at the table around which the Holy Family, which is to say the human family, is gathered: all those who for whatever reason cannot, or are not moved to, raise a family; the old, the unattractive, the disabled and poor; the misfits and malcontents and die-hard solitaries, the temperamentally unsuited and vocationally unavailable; the sexually, emotionally and physically damaged, wounded, and disordered.

Because we are all disordered, in our ways, and we are all responsible for what we do as adults, and we all fail in our duty to the children of the world. We all want the person with whom our children comes in contact to be pure, but we don’t want to be pure ourselves. We want the priest to be pure, and we want to plaster our city streets with billboards of soft-core porn lesbians getting it on in Guess bras. The guy who is always trying to get you into bed is often also the first one who will tell you he screens his daughter’s dates and if anything ever happened to her, he’d kill the guy. I’m someone’s daughter, too. We’re all someone’s daughter or son. So the teachings of the Church strike me as beautifully reflective of the fact that everybody—married, single, straight, gay, young, old—has a part to play. Everyone is invited to welcome, rejoice in, marvel at, and support new life and all life. Everyone is invited to contribute toward the healing of the festering sexual wound at the heart of mankind.


I don't think priests become pederasts because the teachings of the Church are repressive; the Church, after all, hardly has a corner on the sexual abuse of children or any other kind of sexual misconduct/pathology. I think they become pederasts because they are dying for love, for connection, and they have deep psycho-sexual-emotional-spiritual wounds, and I think the reason this seems and in fact is so monstrous, such a hideous betrayal of innocence and trust, is that for it to take place within the context of the Church, of faith, falls so far short of Christ; is so egregious an example of the child who comes asking for an egg and is instead handed a scorpion. ["Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” [Luke 11: 11-12]].

To be a child, molested by a priest, is thus literally almost the worst thing you can imagine. And so you hang your head in sorrow, in shame, in grief; you feel utter compassion for the child, and I think you also have to feel utter compassion for the priest, and then you ask: How can I help? How can I be part of the solution? How can I not finger-point, but in a sense do penance?  I have pondered this deeply, and at length, and have come to conclude that I can't be sleeping around, and watching porn, and using people as objects, sexually or otherwise, and claim to be any much better than a pederast priest. And at any rate, if I am doing those things, I am certainly not helping. Sober alcoholics sometimes say you're always moving either toward or away from a drink. You're always moving either toward or away from helping the pederast priest, and the children he's molesting or may molest in the future.

The Church has also produced some of the most sublime human beings the world has known. And those human beings, their spirits, their souls, their hearts, their character, their willingness to lay down their lives, did not arise in a vacuum. They were formed by years and years of the very kind of hidden, seemingly irrelevant sacrifice I am talking about...

Let me tell of an experience I had just last week. It was a Saturday afternoon, around 5, and I'd just been to Confession.

On the way home (I was walking), I ran across a kid on a back street/alley who was practicing on his skateboard. He’d found a mangy strip of sidewalk and he was practicing, he was learning, he was completely absorbed with his skateboard. He made his way down, teetering a bit, but he stayed on the board, and when he hit a bump, he made a small tentative jump. And as soon as he got to the end of whatever he’d decreed was his strip, he hopped off, turned the board around, and proceeded to start in the other direction. You just knew he’d been up and down this little strip hundreds of times already, determined, absorbed, dreaming. He had a beautiful face, he’d grow up and break hearts, but right now he was maybe 10, a kid with a mission: learning to skate. And it was just one of those moments that are unexpected, that you can’t plan for, that happen so fast you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention, but you know, I got a little pang. This kid on his skateboard, it will keep going on, none of us are here forever, but may there always be a springtime and a kid in a T-shirt and his hair hanging in his eyes learning to skate.

So I smiled at this kid and gave him the sidewalk and a hundred yards or so on, I stopped dead in my tracks. Because I suddenly realized I was in total solidarity with this kid. There was no separation. I had a life that was private, as we all do and should, but I did not have a life that was secret, that I felt conflicted about, that I had a reason to hide from the world. I had the experience of an adult, an adult who’d taken many wrong turns along the way, but I was also in total solidarity with this kid. I used to pass kids and I’d think, Enjoy it while you can, baby, because there is HELL in store…I’d think, You have NO IDEA. I’d think, Oh the world is a cruel, harsh place.


In one way it is harsh and cruel, but mainly because we make it that way. I don’t mean innocent. A kid of ten knows all about good and evil, about suffering, about loneliness. A kid of ten totally knows the score. But you can know the score and still be lost in wonder. You can know the score and still want to devote a few thousand hours to learning how to skateboard or watch birds or write—in fact, that you do know the score is exactly WHY you want to do those things. Because you know those things are an antidote somehow. Those things are your turf, the ground you stake out, your way of saying I will not be defeated. I will not hold back. I will not be afraid to fail, trip, stumble, lose my way, fall. I will give everything I have to the world, to God.

I had the heart of a child. The Church had given me back the heart of a child.

So those are just some of my thoughts, and they are all about the beating pulse, the warmth, the love of mankind. They are all about saying yes, not about saying no. They are about having life and having it abundantly. They are toward freedom and away from bondage. They are toward the hope and the promise that our joy will be complete.

If I have anything to offer the world, it may be that I have tried life both ways and I have experienced the truth--the "ecstatic truth," as (semi-insane film-maker) Werner Herzog would say--of a strange and unlikely rebirth. If you’re looking for what you can get, the teachings of the Church don’t make any sense at all; but if you’re longing to give all you have, they’re the only thing that makes sense.

They will mean—they have meant for me—great loneliness, long deserts, dark nights of the soul that would be unbearable if not for the shepherd who knows his lambs and guides us, always, home.

We show our love, such as it is, by living it out, and in the end all I can say is that I have had an experience of Christ. I love him, I believe in him, I live my life knowing it is a preparation, however fully lived here, for the world to come.



That will conclude Abortion Week and the launch of my little e-book: POOR BABY (see sidebar).

Maybe I can sleep again.

Next up: Lent in very great and very weird Palm Springs.

17 comments:

  1. Heather, magnificent, magnanimous soul --

    If the previous post was (as I said elsewhere) among the most powerful you had ever written, then this post is among the most beautiful you have ever written.

    To be sure, you speak here of some un-beautiful things -- but one notices only the charity, the delicacy, the wonder, behind your writing.

    Very much like The Little Flower of Lisieux, the notion that we -- that I! -- should do penance for the sins of some (some) priests. Didn't Thérèse often pray for murderers to be converted at the scaffold? (And didn't it, in at least one instance, "work"?)

    I do begin to run out of superlatives! (And, incidentally, the photographs! Amazing.)

    And, also incidentally, Dr Esolen's piece diagnosing "High Windows" and getting at that unutterable "something" that has always vexed and bothered me about Philip Larkin: also excellent!

    But your words here. Suffice it to say that I am most grateful that you're in the Church, that you're in the blogosphere, and that you're in the world. I should be quiet now, I should pacify my tumult, and go back and read this post again. Merci beaucoup --

    dylan

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  2. What a wonderful experience, Heather, to be struck by the new you - a fully formed child, aware, as only an adult can be, of so much more, and yet aware that the new birth is real, has taken place in you.

    I always love your writing; Dylan sums up these recent thoughts so well - the charity, the delicacy, the wonder. And the realism (there being no contradiction at all between these four). Perhaps you have read the quote of Thomas Hardy, "If a way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst".

    Sometimes I am also reminded in your writing of the image CS Lewis gives of what Christianity is, of what Christ does; how a diver dives down deep to the ocean floor, where colours are murky and grey, and scoops up some obscure thing, and carries it up and holds it above the sea, and we see it beautiful, sparkling, and colourful. Your writing's a bit like this.

    And as another commenter said, one of the reasons we love your writing is that it evokes a passionate, deep response. I can't tell you the times I've read your blog and realised how much more there is to ... Life, God, Jesus Christ - the whole thing! - and how much it inspires me to plunge deeper, and love God more.

    Now, I loved the picture of the flower! Its delicacy and its ... well, the context in which we "read" it - I think someone else once said - "Cheeky"! Bless you, Heather.

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  3. Amen. A glimpse of what JPII calls the "drama that is every life." [Pardon me, I just happen to be still reading his bio]. What contrasts! Pain. Wonder. Loss. Gain. Sadness. Joy. Darkness. Light. Broken. Completed. Death. Rebirth. The world. Calvary. Truth. Integrity. Now, whole, or getting there. Beauty seen, and captured.

    John W. White
    Purcellville, VA

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  4. Heather...wonderful elaboration of an already profound piece. After having been created to live "in Paradise"...and then losing it with our rebelliousness, we spend our lives looking for that joy...in everything that can't possibly bring us back to it.

    Just as Jesus reached out to the unwanted and unwashed in his public life, he's there now whenever we reach our personal bottom. Finally, just like Screwtape's target, we realize He's been there all along for us too, we just didn't have the eyes to see.

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  5. Oh bless you, Dylan and Jane!! Every once in awhile I go through a period where I think, You have GOT to get a day job. You have GOT to apply at Starbucks...

    Yesterday, when I discovered that my car is leaking oil, was one such day. The blog, and my writing in general keep me alive, and yet they give rise to tremendous tension: creative tension, "good" tension, mostly--but still tension, of various kinds. I'm never quite sure whether I'm truly doing God's work, or simply trying to avoid "real life." Though on my better days I am pretty sure what I do IS real life...

    Anyway, you are both generous and kind beyond measure and your taking the time to write, and what you wrote, will sustain me throughout the day and beyond...

    Dawn is breaking here in Palm Springs...7:30 Mass, then Kelly's Motors...maybe I should get myself a skateboard...

    Love to you both and blessings on your own respective days--

    Heather

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  6. moments of grace...beautiful text after text...and Jane named the pictured...so lovely...thank you Heather!

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  7. HEATHER: Please post this not the other comment (I misspell homophones, but this might have been a nice pun if I were talking about two of us!):

    I love your photo of the cactus. "The Spirit dances 'round the prickly pear, the prickly pear, the prickly pear." That's ME, from a tender age!

    A beautiful essay, Heather. I didn't and don't know anything about Philip Larkin. I wonder if Esolen rightly credits his poem with the ruefulness that seems to be there? (Likely the three most liberating words in the world have always been: "I was wrong.") 

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  8. Dear Heather---Please do not EVER doubt that you are "doing God's work"! My Dad, who passed away last July 17th (feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiènge), loved Our Lady of Solitude. Will you say a prayer for him when you go to Mass? You have blessed my life in a way I'll probably never be able to express.

    Love, Victoria

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  9. Yes, Victoria! Of course I will hold your father in prayer...I was at Adoration from 10 to 11 this morning at Our Lady of Solitude, really a beautiful little church, and of course 7:30 Mass...thank you, blessings to you and may your father rest in peace...

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  10. Heather, Thank you so much for this gorgeous post. After a grueling day at work your exquisite prose restores my soul. God Bless You! Sincerely Yours in Christ, Christine

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  11. Holy Cow, (or maybe Holy Spirit) did I need to read this tonight. Bless you and if I could hug you I would. It will have to wait till Heaven.-Cindy

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  12. Skateboarding to heaven!

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  13. Your words read and feel they come straight from the heart. Because they come straight from the heart, they convey the sense of fearlessness. Thank you for sharing the fruit of your contemplation.

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  14. Thank you so much, everyone...I cut this down by almost half at the last minute, and now I'm glad...welcome, Jackie!...

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  15. PLEASE don't get a day job.. At least not just for the sake of getting a day job; youd leave a lot of broken hearts I think. This POST was sublime.

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  16. I finally had a chance to read this.
    I absolutely love the way you quietly write about your solitude with the skateboarder. His concentration drew you in. Wonderful.

    With the state of my mind lately, this piece was poetry. It was love.

    Thank you, Heather.

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