24 11 2019

I have been an inconstant seeker of the transcendent. Part of this is due to vague childhood memories of beauty. There were my grandmother’s peacocks. There was the idyllic countryside where I grew up. And there was the church. The Catholic rites were updated over a decade before my birth, but old practices and vessels take a while to get rid of. The devotions of the elderly women never left. My grandmother continued to veil her weary and withered head with a mantilla. There was that old priest or two who chanted a chunk of the Mass in Latin. But most of all, there was the building itself. I grew up in old churches, and no matter how much they wanted to alter everything right away, renovations are costly and can’t be done overnight. In my childhood parish, it took a massive earthquake for them to finally get around to gutting the sanctuary. The actual damage, however, had already been done. The shadows of the past were already cast in my mind.

Then there were the windows. The stain glass windows beamed in light from another place, a place far away from the trailer in the country where I lived with ten other people, the poverty, and the tumultuous family life. Other than habit and solid faith, this may have brought us back to church Sunday after Sunday. If we didn’t see that one glimmer of another life shining a ray or two into our own, what would have been the point? I didn’t understand half the things in those stain glass windows, and some things I still don’t understand. I could give you a synopsis of the lives of each saint now that I am adult and pursued knowledge of Catholicism for two score years. Other images were strange to me: a pelican in a nest, pierced hearts, various floral designs weaved into each other, geometric patterns, etc. As a youth I would sit in the church and listen to the creaking of the walls, the wood expanding and settling, and I would wonder how the church had been not too long before I had been born. I would stand in the back during the early Sunday morning Mass, either in Spanish or English, and emerge afterwards into the early morning rural silence.

It is these things I consider when I ponder the reasons why I am an idealist, not in the colloquial sense, but in the strict philosophical sense. I have had little interest in the practical in my life, to the frustration of loved ones and friends. I don’t really care how any of the things around me work. They are clues, little shafts of light from elsewhere. It is hard for me to take them seriously. I have tried my hand at it, and for the most part, I muddle my way through material existence. In many ways, I am just as entwined in it as everyone else. Maybe more so due to frustration or bitterness. I would like to say along with Plotinus that I am ashamed to be seen in a body, but unlike the Alexandrian philosopher, part of my shame may come entirely from circumstance. I am ashamed that you see me in this situation, perhaps if things were otherwise I would be more comfortable in this skin.

I know that is a lie, of course, or rather, the idea that I would be happier if I were this or had that is false. I have never been happy here. I have always wanted to be on the other side of the church window, the side which is the source of the light. I don’t want to be here in the nave just seeing a veiled vestige of the sun. I want to see the whole thing, to be in it, emerging into it as into the open air of early Sunday morning.

Yet I stay here. I have no way to get out. Honestly,  I had a decent go at moderate realism, the ideas of the Dumb Ox and his beloved Philosopher. The soul is the form of the body, or of the person. All of that spirit is here, contained in objects, and makes them what they are. They have no real identity outside of their function, not really. But the light still peaks into the cracks of material fragility, beckoning elsewhere.

I did my best to look into what those windows meant. At first, I searched the depths and heights of Catholicism, and later Christianity in general, but I came to the conclusion some time ago that the entirety of the light wasn’t there. I have rejected the light in radical and stupid ways. I still reject it, I am still scared of it on some level. Like a rudderless ship, I drift in material desire and attachments. Really, I want this situation, if this were not the case I would have chosen otherwise. Maybe one day I will pursue it again. Lord, make me holy, but not yet.

Or as an old Vaisnava sang a couple of centuries ago:

“Gopinath [Krishna] I am so sinful that although all the demons attained Your lotus feet, Bhaktivinoda has remained in worldly existence.”



One response

25 11 2019

Mexican Catholicism + Quakerism + Vedanta = ???

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