When the Anchoress asks, "Why do you stay Catholic," depressing Pew studies be damned...you attempt to formulate an answer.
And when you can't manage anything coherent, you make a poem.
Why do I stay Catholic?
Well, why do I stay in my body?
It is simply who I am, for all its scars, fat, and iniquities,
and is the only one I’ve ever known.
Apart from it, I would be—
My cross would have no corpus—
More tasteful, perhaps, but so empty and alone.
So I want to stay in the body.
I want to smell my God, touch Him,
Eat and drink Him,
Feast my eyes on His face and
my ears on his voice
in all the faces and voices of the earth.
I want a body that lives in time,
in its thick inexorable stream.
I want to feel its flow, those twenty centuries,
straight back through Rome to the Jordan,
time-lapse to the beautiful young man
who stood up, drenched, before his cousin John.
I want a body bathed in that stream,
polluted since, diverted since,
no stranger to drought and flood.
But never run completely dry,
never cut off completely from the source—
Unbroken stream of souls,
Drowner of devils, font of life,
that carries down the DNA of God.
Is Crazy Stable a "Catholic blog"? Kinda-sorta...which is why I fangirl over bloggers with the guts to go full Papist. This Sunday, I'm thrilled to welcome four fresh and compelling voices from the Catholic online conversation to my own beloved parish, the Oratory Church of St. Boniface, for a panel discussion moderated by your Stablemistress. On March 15 at 1 p.m., it will be my pleasure to introduce:
Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress, a Benedictine Oblate and managing editor of the Catholic Portal at religion supersite Patheos. An award-winning writer and columnist at First Things, she's the author of Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
Eve Tushnet, whose eponymous blog at Patheos delves into the challenges she explores with great good humor and courage in her book Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (Ave Maria Press).
Tom Zampino, a newcomer to the Catholic blogosphere, whose Grace Pending ("Observations of a faith in progress") shows that you should never underestimate the spiritual depths (and writing gifts) of an attorney and dad from Long Island.
Arrive before 1 p.m. (we're on Duffield Street near the corner of Willoughby, near the Jay Street and DeKalb Avenue subway stops--the website has directions here.) Novice bloggers are especialy welcome, and invited to introduce themselves in the Q&A. Hope to see you Sunday for a cloud of witness!
Once upon a time, back in the 1980s, a group of people entered a cavernous, darkened building on Flatbush Avenue. A flashlight played around the vast interior, revealing dull glints of gilded faces, flaked with decay...plants sprouting from a black, moldy carpet...sprung velvet seats sifted over with dust. The beam was too weak to illuminate more than a hint of the infinitude of rococo columns and alcoves that lurked in the shadows. We stood on a tour of "Brooklyn's Haunted Places" in the padlocked ruin of the Loew's Kings Theater, one of the original "Wonder Theaters" built to transport New Yorkers into a cinema fantasy world. Opened in 1929 and shuttered ignominiously in 1977, the Kings was almost certainly slated for demolition--if anyone in the drifting and dysfunctional city could summon the will to knock it down. The Spouse and I were a young couple on that tour--new homeowners in Flatbush, a place as steeped in myth as it was marooned in decline.
Flash forward almost 30 years. The couple, still Flatbushers, are back, with their 19-year-old daughter, on the opening night for the gloriously restored Kings. The kickoff concert, fittingly, is another indestructible grand dame: Miss Diana Ross, resplendent in an array of glittering costume changes, belting out her catalog of hits to a rapturous crowd of pure 2015 Brooklyn: Caribbean families, hipsters, diva-worshiping gay guys, and newly minted senior citizens who came here for movie dates and graduations from nearby Erasmus High School back in "the day."
Diana praised the beauty of the space: "I feel like a queen! Can we turn up the house lights?" They never went high enough for me to get any shots that convey the red-and-gold palette, but you get the idea:
The restoration is stupendous. (For a good rundown, go here.) The same vintage as Radio City Music Hall, the Kings lacks its exuberant Deco quirkiness, going instead for a dreamlike palatial vibe.
The original had an Old World patina, which has been painstakingly recreated to yield a slightly sepulchral luxe, a perfect prom palace for funky vampires. Walnut paneling, caryatids, alcoves, columns, spin and overwhelm. Imagine sitting here in the depths of the Depression, watching Fred and Ginger (and a newsreel, and cartoons), shown to your seat by white-gloved usherettes.
Speaking of whom, the Kings team on opening night was terrific, doing a firm and friendly job of herding 3,600 of us--a full house--through metal detectors (alas) and to our cushy seats. They did their predecessor Barbra Streisand proud. I expected the politicos on hand, including Mayor DiBlasio (or, as the Daughter calls him, "Mr. Potato Head") and the irrepressible Marty Markowitz (who never gave up hope for the Kings) to babble at us, but they seem to have gotten that out of the way days earlier at a ribbon-cutting.
Here she is, Brenda from Flatbush (my longtime Interwebs handle), descending the grand stair. As we left, a charter bus was filling up (we joked that they had come from Park Slope). We walked home through the snowy streets, past jerk chicken shops and a pawn broker and the construction pit where a new hotel will soon rise on Flatbush Avenue...past Erasmus, whose courtyard hides an ancient building awaiting its turn at renovation...past the Dutch Reformed Church, whose spire has gazed down on this village intersection since the American Revolution...past its churchyard, where slaveholders rest beneath Dutch-inscribed tombstones. Past and future whirled together (not to mention the sensory overload from having sung "Stop! In the Name of Love" with Diana). I hope the Kings signals the resurrection of a Flatbush as crazily quilted as the one we stopped in and love...and not that it heralds the scourge of gentrification that would drive out the very kind of working folks who dreamed and celebrated in its glorious space all those years ago.
I've been sick this week--the cruddy aftermath of a bad cold, mostly, but enough to place me within the nebulous borders of what I think of as "the kingdom of the sick." We know it when we're there, or when another is stuck inside the gates. Unlike dire poverty or hunger, which can seem so alien to our experience, all it takes is a racking cough or a temperature--or the terror of a suspicious lump--to kick us roughly into solidarity with everyone who dwells in that big, dark place; and whenever I leave (or sometimes, when I just pass) a hospital and glance up at its flourescent-lit windows, I feel a surge of selfish joy to be outside, where everything is suddenly more beautiful, free, and promising.
Maybe that's why my defenses, immunologic and psychic, have been down this week at the deluge of horrifying images from West Africa, none more shattering than this one from Sierra Leone, at a "hospital" where every vestige of care has broken down, every shred of human dignity dissolved like the capillaries of this awful virus's victims.The older I get, the more I realize that "human dignity" has come to occupy the summit of my hierarchy of values; this picture takes a sledgehammer to it.
I think of this little girl so often now. As a little girl, I was sick quite a lot. My mother would bring me buttered toast and Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup. If I was feverish, she would bathe me in bed with a clean-smelling solution called Lavacol; the washcloth as she wrung it out in a basin would make a lovely trickling sound. When I got up to drag myself to the bathroom, she would smooth my sheets, and they would be miraculously cool when I returned. I felt only the comfort; I could never have articulated that what was restored also was my human dignity. And at some miraculous moment, I would feel the stirrings of energy, the clearing of the fog, and would start to think about going outside to play. When I did, the world would seem, for a while, to be in a halo of grace and opportunity. The kingdom was forgotten. In my turn, I did the same for my own daughter. Same soup, same trickling washcloth.
I want to be an X-Men mutant, immune to Ebola, and stride in past the men in boots and suits and their chlorine hoses, and lift her up off the reeking floor, and give her clean sheets and toast and her humanity back. This picture is a few days old; she is certainly safe by now in the Kingdom of her Creator, or at least my faith affords me that consolation. But with every mild cough and its annoying cargo of mucus, I now remember her, poor little sister in the dark kingdom, inside the deepest ring of its hellish confines, the "bourne from which no traveller returns." Even the reflexive terror of living in a metropolis where this virus could emerge tomorrow--perhaps on the next subway pole I grasp--does not equal the horror of being alone on that floor.
A Prayer for the Forgotten Dead
O merciful God,
take pity on those souls
who have no particular friends and intercessors
to recommend them to Thee, who,
either through the negligence of those who are alive,
or through length of time are forgotten
by their friends and by all.
Spare them, O Lord,
and remember Thine own mercy,
when others forget to appeal to it.
Let not the souls which Thou hast created
be parted from thee, their Creator.
May the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
I'm so old, I watched the original 'Star Trek' when it first came out. And few episodes riveted me, or remain with me, as much as "Is There No Truth in Beauty?" The plot centered on an alien ambassador, Kollos, who was profoundly intelligent and benign, but whose appearance drove men mad with terror; he was transported inside an ark of sorts by a lovely blind telepath onto the Enterprise. Spock (being Vulcan) can look upon Kollos using a protective visor—but when he forgets to put it on and sees the Medusan face-to-face, all hell breaks loose. (Highlights below.)
This story haunted me, and not just for the delicious terror of gazing on the forbidden. At one point, Spock (with visor) mind-melds with the formless Kollos, and delivers an astonishing speech to the gaping crewmen on the bridge. It permanently impressed me, at age 11, with a profound sense of how bodies can separate as well as unite us. Thanks to fandom and the Web, I looked it up, and it still knocks me out:
"How compact your bodies are. And what a variety of senses you have. This thing you call... language though - most remarkable. You depend on it, for so very much. But is any one of you really its master? But most of all, the aloneness. You are so alone. You live out your lives in this... shell of flesh. Self-contained. Separate. How lonely you are. How terribly lonely."
As a Catholic schoolgirl, I don't think I ever made a connection to the Old Testament God, the One who appears to Moses as a burning bush.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:5-6)
Nor do I remember thinking of Kollos' observations as a way to imagine how Christ might have experienced His Incarnation.
But I do now, which proves either (a) that Star Trek is awesome no matter how much people may sneer, or (b) in 50 years, this as good I've gotten at theology.
Anyway, back to the Holy Face, the face of Jesus, my Lenten "theme"...what a change from Old Testament to New. We go from a God too beautiful and terrible to look upon, to a God with a human face. And body. For us, infinite consolation and fellowship. For Him, suffering and isolation...along with friendship, joy, anger, pity, all the things we feel. He felt the sun and rain of Galilee on that Face. His mother gazed down on it, his friends recognized and loved it. They looked on it in the dull stillness of death and then, most mysteriously of all, in Resurrection. And then He and the Face were gone.
And now the Face is hidden again, inside one another, where it can still be hard to look without a visor.