Friday, February 13, 2009

The Danger of Reading Two Books at Once

History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
(fictional tale about a post-plague world in which the dead live in a sort of purgatory until everyone they've known has also died, then they disappear)
Amazing Grace, a Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris
(memoir/spiritual exploration of rediscovering Christianity in the woman's original home town in North Dakota, despite everyone else's skepticism)

Last night, I dreamt I was a visiting pastor in a small town in Midwest America. I walked to the house where I was staying, very sort of mid-century 1800's, as if life were frozen in time out there on the western edge of farm land. The sand kicked up around me and I passed the church where I would be preaching. Why was I there? Who knew. But I liked the family I was staying with as soon as I met them, and they liked me. The perfect balance of propriety and humor. Secular in a lot of ways, but also appreciating the sacred. The first night I went to bed thinking "How am I going to do this? I am Buddhist!"

The next day I awoke and read some of the liturgy this little parish church was using. Everytime I saw the word "God" I felt I had an understanding of the presence they were talking about. Even cause and effect, though the science didn't match up, had its analogous understanding between the two religions. "I can do this," I realized as I drank my morning coffee, boiled on the stove like my mom did when I was a kid.

I walked to the church listening to the bells, running a bit late myself. There I gave a fiery sermon - not firey as in brimstone, but fiery with passion. I talked about everything they wanted to hear and never used the word "God" and they got it. They got it. I was elated, not with myself but with the power of faith.

I walked out of the church to find total disarray. Somehow during the one hour sermon the town had contracted a major plague and people were dead by the roadside and fleeing. I ran back quickly to the house where I was staying and also somehow managed to convince the parishoners to stay still and lock the door from the inside to keep the sick out of the church. Most of the family I loved already was dead. The father and a young girl remained. I rigged face masks for them and me, and we wandered out into the strangely dark midday. Plague, in its total biblical force, had hit everyone there one way or another. I knew it was not a matter of escape, rather, a matter of how gracefully we could die.

I led the father and girl back to the church, gave a secret knock and they let us in. We all sat in silence, some praying, some meditating, some just existing as its own form of appreciation. Very little panic was there. Mostly a sense of acceptance and calm. Even I dropped all my strategems and we sat silently and waited for fate.

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