On Truisms & Beatitudes

November 3, 2009 · 6 comments

There’s a saying that goes:

“Pray to god, but for f*ck’s sake, row away from the rocks!”

As you know, dear reader, I’m something of an unwilling agnostic.  I pray – and it works – but I have no idea to what I’m praying.  I don’t have that fundamental concept of a higher power that (supposedly) spiritual people talk about.  See?  Even in my writing, I can’t help but qualify everything with just the teeniest bit of doubt.

Part of the 1.75 hour mass on Sunday was “A Brief Stewardship Reflection and Offeratory Sentence”.  Though he was introduced beforehand and was wearing a nametag, the name of the gentleman who gave this short speech in his own words escapes me.  He had a French first name and a Spanish last name.  I was hoping it would be in the bulletin, but it’s not.

In any case, although I found his words to be a bit intentionally poetic and therefore contrived, his statement was probably the most powerful call to his fellows I heard that day.  He spoke of a 34-year separation from god – a kind of wasteland walking in which everything was made of ashes.  He said that he was introduced to St. Paul’s by the reverend who gave the sermon that day; that it was “the softest of soft sells:  stop by sometime, the music is lovely”.  Reverend Lang, he said, was in flip flops and matching Hawai’ian shirt and shorts.  That was 2.5 years ago, and the man with the contrasting names said that while he hadn’t quite found god again, he felt closer than he has in a long time.

He described St. Paul’s (the church, the community – not the stone and wood structure itself) as “one of those ‘thin places'” where he didn’t feel quite as separated from the divine as he might.  He said that it is as though he were looking through a backlit screen, upon which shadows are cast.  Though he can’t see the players themselves, he can see the forms and discern some of the movements.  He was very near crying when he left the podium.

I was a bit too caught up in his analogy – he didn’t use the word ‘screen’, his description analogy was that of seeing through granite vs. seeing through alabaster.  I was thinking that quartz might be a better referential than alabaster, as the former is most certainly translucent; I don’t think the latter quite completes the description, despite its more poetic nature.  Maybe he was thinking of eggshell-thin alabaster.

In any case, the french spaniard finished off by quoting Dylan Thomas – that famous Welsh athiest and poet.  I prefer the full context (the quoted part is italicized):

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’  These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.

(Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, Wales, November, 1952)

Thomas died in 1953.

[This would be a fitting place to end the post, but I’d still like to wrap back around to the truism with which I started.]

Reverend Lang’s sermon was on the beatitudes (“…Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…”).  To paraphrase, he said that the beatitudes were Jesus’s revolutionary re-working of old truisms.  Prior to the beatitudes, people would say things like “blessed are the wise, for they will not be fooled”.  These were sayings that people used as anchors:  things that helped remind them of what was real and what was not.  The beatitudes were Jesus’s new take on what is real and what is not.  The old truisms were basically self-confirming statements, and Jesus wanted to turn society’s way of thinking on its head.

I won’t get in to my own critique of the reverend’s sermon – I see the beatitudes in more of a political/propagandic light.  My point is simply this: the above-referenced statement

“Pray to god, but for f*ck’s sake, row away from the rocks!”

is a truism for me.  I can’t rightly call it a beatitude, but it’s somewhat of an anchor for me; it reminds me of what’s real.

While I can certainly make use of prayer and trust that everything is just as it should be, I’m a damn’ fool if I’m not pulling hard on my oars.  I need to stay away from the tiller – at the helm, I will certainly crash my boat onto the reef, so I leave the steering up to whatever’s out there that’s greater than me.  All I can do is provide the power to get from point A to point B – whatever and wherever those may be.

Now, to bring this from the theoretical to the practical, dear reader, what this means for me is that I’m going to head off to bed now, as it’s still not too late to get a decent night’s sleep.  I got quite a bit done today – work stuff and personal goal stuff.  And tomorrow I’m going to take advantage of daylight savings time and my (currently) hour-early circadian rhythms.  I’m going to get my work done at work, talk to a man about a horse that involves some website copywriting (and additional income for me), and then meet with a buddy of mine to discuss his career options.

After that, I’m going to come home and talk to you, dear reader.  And hopefully, somewhere in the middle, I’ll plan out a good hike in the Adirondacks for this weekend.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian November 3, 2009 at 10:21

I’m gonna try my hardest to stay out of the drivers seat today. That shit is taking its toll on me.


The Naked Redhead November 3, 2009 at 10:32

I don’t have much to say except for the fact that I enjoy these kinds of posts. I think anytime anyone can talk through a bit of his or her spiritual musings logically and honestly, it’s a good thing.


Brian November 3, 2009 at 10:52

hey TNR thats a scary looking picture. You look somewhat psychotic (in a hot way).


$@bs November 3, 2009 at 15:10

Just as an FYI, agnostics don’t go to church!

I was totally thinking of you today!


Brian November 3, 2009 at 16:53

Hi S@bs…I was totally thinking about you today too. How bizarre…


The Naked Redhead November 5, 2009 at 11:22

Thanks Brian. :P


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