Friday, August 8, 2014

We Go, We Return, We Fall Down, We Get Up: On Life Journeys As Spiritual Journeys

You were almost right, coolmom: though we didn't go to Minneapolis on our trip last week, it was definitely a Midwestern trek, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to Kansas City and Independence, Missouri, and on to Dyersville, Iowa. And here's Waldo proof (in part): yours truly standing in front of a window at Crystal Bridges Museum last Wednesday, before we headed on to Kansas City. I have smiled and smiled as I read your "Where's Waldo?" proposal and hrh's stone tablets comment, and all the other precious and much-appreciated responses to my last posting. (I did encounter the stone tablets on this trip, hrh. But I suspect they conked me on the head as I walked up the mountain, and so I have no memory of having seen them.)

I know we're back home now this hot August morning as I listen to the jar lids pop shut in the kitchen as fig preserves we canned this morning settle now in anticipation of winter, when we'll relish the deep summery taste of the few ripe figs we managed to salvage from the ravening squirrels and blue jays when we came back home two days ago.

We go, we come; we depart, we return: as a monk tells Patrick Leigh Fermor on one of the monastic sojourns chronicled in his book A Time to Keep Silence, the spiritual life is, I fall down. I get up. I fall down again. Every journey we undertake is a spiritual one, a story of falling down and getting up again.

This recent journey: in the exhibit of works from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection that Crystal Bridges is now staging, I stop to look at a Marsden Hartley painting of a Maine landscape in fall — "Maine Landscape, Autumn No. 13." 

The placard beside the painting says that it's apparently part of a “dark” series Hartley painted, in which he captures from memory scenes of his native New England long after he had moved away from there. I read this narrative, I look at the somber painting, and for some reason, the word "spiritual" leaps out inside me. 

So this is why I’ve been stuck with the sort-of idea, a halfway notion, of a book — the very book people on this blog have encouraged me to write — about remembered pieces of my own spiritual  journey (and therefore of family and so much more). A book that I can’t yet bring myself to write. The problem of writing a book like that is that it has to proceed from a spiritual place. From a delicate place of memory that’s about more than the mechanical act of remembering this event and that person, and then replicating what or whom I call back to mind. 

The spiritual place of remembrance is a synthesizing place in which one remembers not merely to call back to mind (to re-member pieces of the past), but also to pass on, to transmit: and what’s being transmitted is far more than the specific details of an event or a person's life. It's remembrances that use those specific details as the prismatic focal point of so much more—of wide ranges and hues of significance that go far beyond the specific act or person remembered.

So the early Christian community remembered Jesus. They remembered a set of specific events, of words and deeds, that crystallized a much broader range of meaning than the events, the words, the deeds themselves, so that the Christian community re-members and keeps on re-membering throughout history because the significance to which the remembrance points constantly exceeds the specific deeds, words, events remembered.

The bread is more than bread, the wine more than wine. 

I am called now (including by the comments of so many of you here, which I value very much) to remember in what I write. I am called to write out of remembrance—but out of remembrance as the spiritual act of capturing (better: of pointing at) meaning that goes well beyond what is specifically called to mind by memory. 

I am called to write as someone who challenges himself to be spiritually alive, writing what he writes not to please others, with a view to the success of what he writes or even the completion of what he writes. But because he must write. Because the significance to which the remembered events point needs to be captured, even if very imperfectly, in words.

And to be shared, passed on, transmitted. 

Or so I told myself as our recent journey got underway and I wondered why I find it difficult to blog these days, and why I felt such an intense need for a spiritual recouping as we tramped through museums and visited with friends and far-flung family members (of Steve, in Iowa). Running underneath the work I do here — as a kind of calling — there's that pesky book idea some of you have held before me, in which I tell the story of who I am (who we are, Steve and I) as gay Catholic theologians in a long-term committed relationship.

The story of how we got here. The story of how we got from here to there

A story that, I hope, may be prismatic for others on a similar journey, or on some other kind of spiritual journey that's all about, I fall down. I get up. I fall down again.

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