Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The School of the Holy Ghost
"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor
I am in my second reading of Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. Beyond the title, which fascinates me on many levels, Mr. Elie has put together both biographical sketches and summaries of work for four American, Catholic writers. He said that collectively, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy were known as "The School of the Holy Ghost." Having had a lifelong admiration of both Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Mr. Elie introduced me to both Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Each of the four embark on very individual path's in life with the apparent hand of God in the background. For the realization of God's amazing grace operationalized in an individual, Mr. Elie gives four terrific examples.
Individual lives are like tapestries that reveal the interplay of form and grace. Life Tapestry is the title of my imagined autobiographical work as a personal spiritual journal of self-understanding. A representation of an individual path to the realization of the presence of God. For many years people have exclaimed, "you should write a book!" With very little notion of how one actually attempts such an endeavor, I thought I might start a blog such as this to at least begin writing and recording stories as I remember them or if they serve some purpose to me at the moment of writing them down.
The title of Life Tapestry is an amalgamation of the various influences at play in the story of my life as experienced from the level of consciousness that I now find myself to live through (and/or have lived through). Consciousness or awareness has a movement to it. Sometimes there is great clarity and piercing vision and other times simply a rememberance of peak religious experiences. Some of my life circumstances that exert their influences upon me are the "shadowy figures that still swing between the trees in the back of my mind". They come through the various themes listed below:
1) My monastic interests and spirituality;
2) My family and friends;
3) My work experiences;
4) My educational experiences;
5) My deep appreciation for the journey as Life reveals it.
One of my favorite movies is Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn plays Queen Eleanor. In a rather despondent moment, she feels exasperated and laments to herself "What a life's work!?" Because of the notion that tapestries are beautifully created artistic pieces produced through the active labor of one or many artisans, I thought this was a great metaphor for my story-telling adventure. The non-similarity, if one exists, is that I may have thought I was following a design or blueprint for the tapestry, when in reality it was grace that produced what what is stretched out today. Because the work is in progress, the awe and mystery of its appearance is as valuable to me as to any other. I have no idea what the final tapestry will look like, or even if it will be completed or abandoned in media res.
I once thought I would call my autobiography The Beloved Gyrovague or The Beloved Vagabond due to my constant shifting both within the church and monastic life and that out again (questing for solid ground or a sure foundation). In my moments of critical self-reflection, the title might change to The Beloved Sarabite. The broad based appeal of any of these titles would be lacking accept among Benedictines as they are terms out of Chapter One of the Rule of Saint Benedict. In any case, neither gyrovagues or sarabites were up to Benedict's standards and I generally fear the worse in any claim I have to Benedictine heritage despite my thirty year attraction.
The use of the word tapestry also picks up the feminine influences on my life and the profound appreciation I have for womens' ways of knowing and relating. The medieval notion of women sitting around (nuns or nobility) and creating tapestries is appealing to me. How their individual reflections and meditations might have been shared in conversations or in collective silences at the loom. Even in an American context I think about the Shakers and Quakers around the quilting frame. I enjoy the company of women but most especially the stories told on these occasions. Stories that have a heart view or an enclosed or protected wisdom, a truth derived from some critical reflection upon life's experiences.
I'm fairly convinced that grace plays a hand in any means we can stomach in our living with the truth. Insights sometimes gently nudge us into flight. "The soul takes flight to a world that is invisible; but there arriving, she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise." -Plato
Like the books of the writers from The School of the Holy Ghost, the tapestry or quilt survives the artisan. What story does it tell?