September 5, 2011

"BECOMING KEYS":

Hive of Nerves: To be alive spiritually is to feel the ultimate anxiety of existence within the trivial anxieties of everyday life (Christian Wiman, American Scholar)

IT IS A STRANGE THING how sometimes merely to talk honestly of God, even if it is only to articulate our feelings of separation and confusion, can bring peace to our spirits. You thought you were unhappy because this or that was off in your relationship, this or that was wrong in your job, but the reality is that your sadness stemmed from your aversion to, your stalwart avoidance of, God. The other problems may very well be true, and you will have to address them, but what you feel when releasing yourself to speak of the deepest needs of your spirit is the fact that no other needs could be spoken of outside of that context. You cannot work on the structure of your life if the ground of your being is unsure.

THE FIRST STEP in the life of the spirit is learning to let yourself experience those moments when life and time seem at once suspended and concentrated, that paradox of attentive oblivion out of which any sustaining faith grows. These moments may not be--and at first almost certainly will not be--"meditative." They are more likely to break into your awareness, or into what you thought was awareness ("inbreaking" is the theological term for Christ's appearance in the world and in our lives--there is no coaxing it, no way to earn it, no way to prepare except to hone your capacity to respond, which is, finally, your capacity to experience life, and death). This is why we cannot separate one part of our existence, or one aspect of our awareness, from another, for there is a seed of peace in the most savage clamor. There is a kind of seeing that, fusing attention and submission, becomes a kind of being, wherein you may burrow into the very chaos that buries you, and even the most binding ties can become a means of release.

Commute (2)

There is a dreamer
all good conductors

know to look for
when the last stop is made

and the train is ticking cool,
some lover, loner, or fool

who has lived so hard
he jerks awake

in the graveyard,
where he sees

coming down the aisle
a beam of light

whose end he is,
and what he thinks are chains

becoming keys . . .

KEYS TO WHAT, though? For I can't end with that flourish of poetry and privacy. Art, like religious devotion, either adds life or steals it; it is never neutral; either it impels one back toward life or is merely one more means of keeping life at arm's length. (The subject matter and tone of art have less to do with this than many people think: nothing palls the soul like a forced epiphany, and one can be elated and energized by a freshly articulate despair.) Keys to what? In this poem, the keys are, on one level, to the constraints felt in the earlier section (the miserable commute, the crush of others, the "screech and heat and hate"), which prove to be their own means of release ("what he thought were chains / becoming keys"). On another level, the keys are to the mysteries of death; or, rather, the key is to the blunt, immutable, physical fact of death (the train "graveyard"), which opens, if only for a moment, to reveal a mystery.

And now it's over. Now the man on the train--like the man who imagined him (me!), like Paul God-struck outside of Damascus (alas, it wasn't quite like that for me)--must move. Now the revelation either becomes part of his life or is altogether lost to it. Either his actions acquire a deeper purpose, and begin to echo and counterpoint each other, or the moment and the man slip back into unfeeling frenzy, and the screech and heat and hate of his days lock metallically around him again.



Posted by at September 5, 2011 8:20 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« WHAT IF WHAT'S WRITTEN ON THE PAGE MATTERED?: | Main | REBUILDING THE TOWER OF BABEL: »