One of the most frequent accusations of “idolatry” I heard as a child was leveled at Roman Catholic devotion to the virgin Mary. Lessons learned during childhood are difficult to displace, especially when they concern your eternal destination. I overcame this particular objection, a bit, during my sojourn among the Episcopalians, but I have to confess I never felt right praying to Mary. In my Protestant-steeped mind, there were two classes of entities involved: gods (of which, properly, there was only one) and human beings. Only the former received prayers. The rest of us simply had to contend with non-supernatural powers and do the best we could. Still, I met many believers devoted to Mary, and honestly, some accounts of Marian apparitions are pretty impressive.
A local source for inexpensive advertising in our area is essentially a weekly set of want ads. For a small fee you can advertise just about anything you want to buy or have to sell. Spiritual or physical. A few weeks ago, someone ran a magnanimous piece on a prayer to the virgin never known to fail. The words of the prayer were printed, along with the instructions, for nothing is quite as simple as “ask and you shall receive.” The prayer must be recited thrice, and thanksgiving publicly proclaimed. A number of questions occurred to me, regarding not only this, but all prayers for divine action. One is the rather simple query of how you can know if a prayer has never failed. I suspect this is known by faith alone.
There are any number of things most of us would like to change about our lives, and the larger issue of prayer is the daisy-chaining of causality. One change causes another, causes another, and often that for which we pray will impact another person in a negative way. This is the classic “contradictory prayer” conundrum—one person prays for sunny skies while another prays for rain. Neither is evil, both have their reasons, perhaps equally important. (The weekday is a workday for many, and that’s non-negotiable in a capitalist society, so I suspect prayers for sunny skies tend to be weekend prayers, but still…) The prayer never known to fail is either a rock or a hard place. It’s that certitude that does it. I don’t begrudge anyone a prayer that works. Faith alone can test the results. And although we could use a little less rain around here, we could all benefit from a little more faith, I suspect. And for that there’s no fee.
Posted in American Religion, Consciousness, Deities, Posts, Sects, Weather
Tagged Blessed Virgin Mary, Episcopalians, faith, prayer, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism
The roofers were here. One of the things you learn only after laying down a ton of money is that those selling a house like to withhold information. Moving during one of the rainiest summers in history, we naturally discovered leaks. And so the roofers are here, like noisy angels banging above my head. Given the orientation of our house, their access is outside the window of my work office. I figured it was an opportunity to learn. As the old shingles came raining down, however, I couldn’t help thinking of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. One of his more disappointing efforts, this horror film involved a memorable scene of mass suicide where people jumped off of a high building one after another. Maybe other people would think of other comparisons, but the falling debris brought the film to mind in my case.
It’s a matter of framing, I suppose. I’ve watched enough horror that it has become a framing device. This is true although it has literally been months since I’ve seen a horror film. (Moving proved to be its own kind of nightmare and one day I suspect we’ll be unpacked enough to watch movies again.) Instead of losing the frame of reference, however, I find it intact. If you spend long enough with Poe, he gets under your skin. And changing states to M. Night Shyamalan’s eastern Pennsylvania might have something to do with it. This is Bucks County territory, after all. Another frame of reference, mediated by media.
As I watch the old shingles drop, I realize the window through which I’m witnessing this is another frame. Like a camera lens, it limits my view. At times it can be like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, seeing neighbors at their daily business. Indulge me. For nearly the past five years I worked in a cubicle with no view of any windows whatsoever. I was completely cut off from the outside. (Which, for those of you who’ll admit to having seen The Happening, might not have been an entirely bad thing.) Now that I have a window—my own framing device—I realize some of what I’d been missing. At Routledge I had a window, but at such a level that the Manhattan outside seemed artificial. You couldn’t see individuals down on the street. The entire wall was a window—too much of a frame. Gorgias Press involved working in a windowless room as well. I’m professional enough not to let the falling material or the pounding distract me much. There’s work to do because there are bills to pay. And horror films prepared me for that as well. It’s the ultimate framing device.
Posted in Current Events, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Movies, Posts, Weather
Tagged Alfred Hitchcock, Gorgias Press, horror films, M. Night Shyamalan, Pennsylvania, Rear Window, Routledge, The Happening
I’m not a believer in New Years Resolutions. A constant and critical self-monitor, when I notice a bad behavior I try to correct it right away. Sometimes I’m actually successful. Now that I’ve finally removed all books from the garage—some were being held high above the water-line on plastic boxes—I’ve started to sort through systematically what is beyond redemption. A comment of occasional visitors, however, has goaded me into a resolution; you see, people sometimes ask “Are you going to read those again?” While aching to address the mindset betrayed by that very question, I cede a point; if I’m going to the expense of replacing a non-reference book, I should want to read it again. My resolution—when I buy another copy, I will read it then and there.
One of the stinging parts of this resolution is that some of the books were read by me just this past year, or even earlier this year. Jude the Obscure, although I enjoyed it, cost me a quarter year of my life of evening reading time. On that basis alone I should replace it, but if I’m not going to reread it why should I incur the expense? (Moving is anything but cheap.) I will also face rereading old favorites that have been put aside for a while. No house, for example, should be without Emily Brönte’s Wuthering Heights, although I read it again just months back, or so it feels.
This is perhaps a way of making lemonade from a cloud. Or finding the silver lining on a lemon. Whichever it is, I sense that it will figure toward my reading goal for next year. As I’ve spent the rainy weekend unpacking books, literacy is on my mind. For those who see my literomania as some kind of disease, I was cheered to note just how many of the books on display I had indeed read. The same goes true for a number of the academic books in the study, but, I must confess, while pulling them from their boxes I thought how boring most of them are. Boring, however, doesn’t equate to useless when it comes to books. Given their price points some of them may take years to replace. That’s the point of a resolution, in any case. It can cause some pain. As I stuff the moldy, distorted tomes into their body-bags I hope that rereading their replacements will bring them back to life. After all, resolution and resurrection are not so far apart.
It’s August and I’m already starting to feel haunted. While science may declare it nonsense, there’s a feeling in the air—particularly in the early morning—that tells us the seasons are changing. While it may be different for everyone, for me it begins in the tip of my nose. I can smell the change coming. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have more hot days—a long string of them yet awaits—but the shift has begun. Autumn is perhaps the season closest to the soul. While I like all seasons for what they represent, fall has always put me in mind of melancholy rapture. It’s a difficult concept to explain, a kind of blissful evisceration. A hitching of the breath in my lungs. A sudden rush of joy followed by sadness. The ease of summer living is ending.
Summer is the growth season when we look out and see the promise of provisions that will see us through long months of cold and chill. The times we huddle down only to be blinded by the arctic beauty of the sun on a snow-covered day. The indoors time. Summer is when we can dash outside without a coat, giving no thought to whether we will be warm enough. The scent of autumn is a slight chill. It reminds me that while the crops have been growing, the monsters have too. There’s a reason horror films are released in the fall. I’m not the only one who knows they are coming.
Late summer is a liminal time. While the calendar may tell us summer lasts until the autumnal equinox, traditional cultures marked time in a different way. Equinoxes and solstices were closer to the middle of a season than its start. Most years we begin to feel summer in May, or even April. Winter cuts through November, and the thaw may begin as early as February. When I step outside just after sunrise and breathe deeply, I can feel the monsters coming. In a way I can’t explain, their lurking fills me with a frisson of anticipation. Already the days are noticeably shorter. Daylight itself seems to be fleeing before the ethereal chill that is still available in our rapidly warming world. The seasons are all about feelings. Emotions suffuse the changes of weather and human habits that accommodate to it. There are shivers and then there are shivers that the creatures of autumn bring. They’ve already begun to gather.
Posted in Consciousness, Environment, Memoirs, Monsters, Posts, Weather
Tagged August, autumn, autumnal equinox, fall, Monsters, seasons
We may have been to the moon—if not personally, collectively—but we still don’t control the weather down here. It’s probably not news that the eastern part of the country has been getting a lot of rain lately. One of the factors that led me to write Weathering the Psalms was the overwhelming tendency for humans to attribute weather to the divine. It used to be that we couldn’t reach the sky, so placing deities there seemed a safe bet. Now that we’ve shot through the thin membrane of atmosphere that swaddles our planet, we’ve discovered beyond a cold, dark space liberally sprinkled with stars and planets but mostly full of dark matter. The deity we thought lived beyond the sky somehow wasn’t anywhere our probes flew and recorded.
Still, down here on the surface, we live with the realities of weather and still think of it in terms of punishment and pleasure. When we don’t get enough rain, God is destroying us with drought. Too much rain, and the Almighty is washing us away with flood. The true variable in all of this is, obviously, human perception. Sure, animals experience the weather too, and they sometimes look to be as disgusted as humans when it snows too early or too late, or when the rain just won’t stop. I have to wonder if somewhere in their animals brains there’s the seed of an idea that the bird, or squirrel, or woodchuck in the sky is angry at them for some unspecified faunal sin.
While heading to the store yesterday, after weather reports assured us the rain was finally over for the day, the skies told a different story. The vistas around here are never what they were in the midwest—or what they are in Big Sky country—but the approaching storm was pretty obvious. An opaque drapery of precipitation was coming our way and although a rainbow would cheekily show up afterward, knowing that we’d been caught away from home with our windows open felt like punishment for something. Perhaps the hubris of buying a house when all I really require is a corner in which to write. Somewhere in my reptilian brain I translated a natural event into a supernatural one. When we got home to discover the storm had gone north of us, it felt like redemption. I spied the birds sheltering in shadows from the sun’s heat. Were they thinking it was some kind of divine avian displeasure, and hoping for some rain to cool things off for a bit? If so, was our religion correct, or was theirs?
Posted in Animals, Consciousness, Environment, Just for Fun, Posts, Religious Origins, Weather
Tagged animal intelligence, outer space, rain, Weather, Weathering the Psalms