Sunday, May 22, 2011

Distant Stations

I sang old songs from nowhere
Los Angeles, Albuquerque
said a small prayer for the poor and the naked and the hungry
and I prayed real hard for you
I waited for you
but I never told you where I was
it was you who taught me how
to write this kind of equation
I waited on the steps for you
and I hid in the bushes whenever a car pulled into the parking lot
you taught me how to listen to these distant stations
distant stations
-- "Distant Stations" The Mountain Goats

It's been several months now since I've missed a Sunday Mass. I go to a late night one, in a big California cathedral, and sit in the back with a clear view of the vaulted ceiling. We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is Seen and Unseen... I am un-baptized. I am unbelieving, or beginning to believe, or begging to believe, depending on the night. What I like is the bend of the bodies: the boys late and alone in the evening damp, clutching at crosses; the woman in glasses who sits the whole hour with her thumb to her forehead and her eyes closed; the small choir, their mouths open in apostrophe, their voices barely rising to the ceiling. I am learning all the prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Nicene Creed. I say them all. I hear them all like static-y, distant stations on a bad Honda Radio, like a foreigner passing through a mountain town. I can only pick up, pick out, occasional lines to love: full of grace, forgive us our trespasses, come again in glory... come again. I've spent my whole life in the land of the faithful: of roadside crosses and Bible passages on billboards and honeysuckle climbing up over the walls of churches. I never belonged there, and only now, miles and miles West, am I going to church.

My faith -- whatever, whenever it is -- is an act of translation: the literal into metaphor and then back again. The body into the word, the word back into the body, and that body somehow into mine: misshapen knee, copper curl, chin turned up toward the glass and the light.

I want to leap into the bushes at every passing car. Every time I think, Yes, God,  I also think: Lynchburg, judgment, lonely, stranger. I keep coming back. Whatever I am waiting for, does it know where I am? the half-dark, looking up at the ceiling, praying so hard for you...

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