Wednesday, June 1, 2016

spinning under our thumbs

Rise up, blinking in the sun
Wrapped in invisible wire
Something beautiful's gonna come
--Punch Brothers, My Oh My

One of my favorite feelings is the Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling. Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling is the stirrings that are shaken up inside of me; the way that the words sweep me up in their magic and wash over me, dazzling me in the Salinas sunshine and the Oklahoma dust. Reading a Steinbeck novel feeling is when I sink into his world slowly, like walking from the shallow to the deep end of the pool.

Steinbeck is a patient story-teller, and he takes his time to weave an image of a land that I have never visited, but I can begin to see.

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”

The story spills out of the book, the dusty land of promise and desolation enchants my waking world. It is full of glory and beauty that touches all daily activity. As the powerful prose seeps into my head, even ordinary subway cars become gilded and full of simple grandeur.

I begin to imagine life on a far broader scale than my small-minded self generally tends towards. I think of Benedict's opening lines of his opening homily on creation. Reflecting on the opening words of scripture "In the beginning," Benedict writes:

"These words, with which Holy Scripture begins, always have the effect on me of the solemn tolling of a great old bell, which stirs the heart from afar with its beauty and dignity and gives it an inkling of the mystery of eternity."

I do not generally think of the heart being stirred by dignity. But the heart is often stirred by what is solemn. The solemnity, which suggests a contact with deep reality, is striking. Solemnity signals to us: this is real. This is not a joke, a construct, or an act, which so much of our man-made world is. This is reality. It is something sacred and permanent, beyond the limits and control of humans. This reality is something we are a part of, not masters of. It is something interior, fundamental to our being.

To come in contact with such deep and solid truth certainly stirs hearts attuned to it. Steinbeck stirs my heart in such a way. He cuts right through to the eternal beating in the veins of the temporal moment.

"Human persons are not closed in upon themselves; they must always be aware that they are situated in the context of the body of history, which will ultimately become the body of Christ. Past, present, and future must encounter one another in every human life."

It is very easy to love people only just for the moment. To encounter people only in the limited view of the present, and take from them what I want now. Steinbeck reminds me of the vast expanse of glory: of sin and struggle, and goodness, and virtue, and loving and dying that belongs to every human life. As I scan my fellow inhabitants of the subway car, the world begins to glow with that weight of glory. My vision shifts: they are not obstacles between me and the corner seat; they are not simply bodies taking up space; they are not dangers or curiosities, they are human. And to be human, Steinbeck reminds me, is an awful, glorious, terrible, and solemn thing indeed.

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