Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, South Carolina 14.3.92: Silver Water, Twisted Oaks

Today is the anniversary of Simpson’s death, 5 P.M., 1991. I picked the violet folded into the journal at this page at Mepkin Abbey today, partly in remembrance of him, partly as a token of my prayer to find a way for myself. The two intents intersect: I trust Simpson prays for me, and I ask that he do so, to find a way through the selva oscura in which I find myself now at Belmont Abbey.

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Lawrence Kushner, The River of Light: Spirituality, Judaism, Consciousness (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1990):

“The commandments concerning relationships between one human being and another always take precedence over spiritual awareness. Not because one is more important than the other, but because people are the only path we have” (p. 37).

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Day’s end at Mepkin. Lazy thing that I am, I won’t go to compline; Steve will. Vespers just ended. A glorious sunset as we left the church. Night falls fast here. I wonder why? The vicinity of the coast? But over the river beneath the monastery, light lingers on, silvers the water. And above the silver, rose, salmon, faint yellow, amber gray as the sun goes down. All this made more weirdly beautiful by the tortured trees. Hugo played havoc—an expression that trivializes what the storm did—with the trees around here. The live oaks just butchered. The tall trunks denuded of branches, bent, twisted, look like nothing so much as trees in Texas as you go west of San Antonio. They’ve lost the grace of Southern sub-tropical trees, have that hard-bitten look of trees that must fight the desert wind.

Against all this backdrop, I try very ineffectually to recollect myself, pray, think. . . . I don’t know what it all means, but circles in circles in circles. I had just ordered (ILL at the college library) a biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and am reading it now with great delight. This morning, Steve gave me a volume of Hopkins’ poems as a memento of the anniversary of Simpson’s death. And this evening, Abbot Anthony gave Steve and me a letter in which Hopkins’s poem re: the Virgin Mary is included.

More circles: Anthony recalls our visit in 1974. The novice master Aelred was a novice with Placid at Belmont. So Belmont links to our past and our religious journey. Somehow it’s all tied together, and Simpson is in there as one who suffered incredibly and could not help himself, who delights to help now in a way he felt he couldn’t in life. But I see little of what all this means, not as I see the bar in my life so clearly.

It has to do with my vocation as a theologian, with being gay, a poet, one who tries to speak in solidarity with the poor. But I don’t see a burning bush, no clouds open and voices speak from heaven, no thunderclaps. I feel bereft in this sense: I feel commissioned, gifted with a place in which to live that commission, but barred from doing so—by the church itself. This leads to paralysis and hopelessness. Where is an angel or some spiritual guide to help me see my way through the woods?

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