11 November 2012

The Pilgrimage

My Dad picked me up from the waist so that my feet rested on the pew in front of us. It was a crowded church. I don't remember what was going on in the Mass, but the choir started singing and the organ swelled and the voices raised above the rafters and I started crying, but not in the same way a toddler cries for want of something. I remember crying and my Dad leaning to my ear asking what was wrong and I said, nothing's wrong. He asked, why are you crying? I said, because it's so beautiful. That was the earliest memory of my life.

Last night I sat on a hard pew with some friends who gathered to say goodbye to a professor who taught us all some philosophy and who taught us how to be passionate about it, about the human person. He taught us that philosophy ought not be relegated to the abstract and constructed; that the earliest philosophers were ultimately concerned with the human being and what he believed, desired and suffered. His class was a hot air balloon ride above so much contemporary philosophical dust-kicking.

I returned yesterday from a pilgrimage with ten of my senior boys who were all searching for something. We had a few discussions and a number of silent hours. I fixated on the trees. The red and white oaks were starting to shirk their wares and I slowed down as I trampled their remnants. The sky was a piercing, eye-colored blue; the lake next to me was as still as any body of water I ever saw. We walked away from that, along country roads toward some organized destination that only represented, at best, a kind of symbol for what we all were seeking. Imperceptibly, of course, the chorus emerged: Inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te. Our hearts are restless - our entire and past and future selves - until we rest in you.

The homilist knew the dead professor since both were teenagers. He talked over a packed place of grace and intellect and accomplishment. He talked of memories and regret and hope. I sat there, clinging to the pew before me, riddled with an intense refusal to let the tears fall, the tears that had so easily surfaced in my early childhood. I wanted to rationalize it all, make sense of it all. I proceeded through the Communion line, kissed my hand and touched the coffin.The tears fell.

My life has been a nonstop effort of abandoning faith for the sake of some market option, some intellectual prowess that remains isolated and hopeless. It is, of course, completely and entirely counter to my earliest memory, before I knew what faith meant, what friendship meant. Last night, and in the two days preceding, there crept into the depth of my cold heart a remembrance of what was and what is.

The hound of heaven is, in the end, the love of my life. All other attempts have been met with nothing but futility and a desire, from childhood, to escape the lofty reaches of the pew ahead of me.

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