he can sing you into paradise or bring you to your knees.
It's a gospel kind of feelin', a touch of Georgia slide,
a song of pure revival and a style that's sanctified"
I sit now at my office, with roughly three hours on my hands and two hours of work I must acomplish before I leave. My mind, though, races from the world of settlement agreements and revisions to briefs to a places which are no more "real", but somehow seem more divine.
I remember standing on a crowded bus in Guadalajara, Mexico, heading out to visit a suburban crafts town, when the radio at the front of the bus began to play a sentimental singer
intoning "As Time Goes By" in Spanish. Meanwhile, as people entered the bus at the rear of the bus, the new arrivals would hand forward paper money to be applied towards their bus fare. I was struck by how the paper money went forward from hand to hand to hand, and then the change came back, passed, as if subconsciously, from hand to hand to original payor.
Somehow that sense of music and things working as they should has stayed with me for a decade, as fresh as if I were still riding that bus. I have another Mexico bus memory, riding a downtown Monterrey bus when, as if from the ether, a performer jumped in front of the bus, quickly did a flame-swallowing performance, and then faded back into the streets. I witnessed this performance after an all night drive and bus ride to get to Monterrey. The entire thing struck me as limitless waking REM.
I remember going to church at a little Methodist church in Marshall, Arkansas, a small town on the western edge of the state. During the service, a developmentally disabled woman was given a place in the proceedings in which the play the accordion and lead the congregation in song. She was off-key, but she was so in the moment. The sheer "rightness of things" inherent in the entire situation was a kind of non-mystical blessing upon us all. I remember a Christmas Eve service at my church in California, in which the minister, a non-Christian, explained to us the meaning he found in the story of the Shepherds encountering the angels at the time of Christ's birth. Imagine the scenario--one moment one is merely tending sheep, and the next moment pyrotechnic singing strangers in the sky are imploring one to depart every routine and go seek out the nativity. This is a form of faith far beyond that of seers who understand what is to come, and merely wish to see their ideas confirmed.
So many times the immediate experience is so important. Most of us understand how this can be so in a romantic or intimate setting; a fair criticism of our current culture is that we have come to value only the moment of infatuation and pleasure, and forgotten that living "in the moment" can be so much broader than merely the moment of physical ecstasy. Even as I write this, I am tempted to speak of a transcendent evening long ago, one of those evenings of utter innocence and yet absolute transport. But there are so many senses of the moment which
transcend the literal and the physical.
I have been in the moment approaching a small chapel in which the religious structure was unimportant, but a trail lined with crown of thorns euphorbia spoke volumes to me. I've felt myself at one with the lyrics of a song I barely can decipher as Michael Stipe clenched the microphone in a converted bowling alley concert hall. I've gasped as I drove around a hillside on a country road, at the incredible scenery before me.
I think it is far too easy to live life at second hand. I love the passages in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, in which the protagonist, Charles Ryder, realizes that he lives his life
from a remove, as if he were reading it in a book or viewing it at a cinema. It's so hard to live life as it is happening--to just pause and be. So many people have written so many complex exegises for why this is so, but my own view is that all one can do is recognize this is so, and
search out the connecting moment whenever one can.
It's not a matter of being a sensation junkie, as this addiction, like so many others, is not the "authentic experience". I do not pretend to be an expert in any matter of the heart or soul, but my own idea is that the way to this Grace is some inward pause; a waiting with a sense of wonder.
In my mid-twenties I eschewed formal church services which did not connect with my soul for
long country drives, listening to Prairie Home Companion on the radio. I made a simple rule--each time I came to two forks in the road, I would take the road never previously travelled. I found in the small towns and remote farm to market roads of my typographically ordinary local terrain a world of moments waiting to be savored and captured. Here were fading barns, relics of a passing agricultural time. There were quiet country churches, built in the 19th Century by men returning from war. I pulled over to examine arcane little historical monument signs, all saying "we came, we settled, we are here now". I would ride for miles in my Peugeot bike, drinking in the spin art of fields of susan flowers swirling by my peripheral vision, as I rolled down the long hill into Crandall, Texas, on my way to the bump in the road towns like Scurry or Warsaw.
I remember once driving when an ultralight plane was overhead, and watching in awe as it landed on a country highway. I remember bicycling by a landed blimp, and seeing its huge inflation deflated. I have felt the pull of sunfish pulling a plastic bobber underwater in the lilies on a small east Texas lake, and gasped with wonder at Spring dogwood trees, with their white flowers making a growth under the tall piney woods.
I do not belittle work, which has a reality and immediacy that I value. But lately I am longing for a leisurely day in which I just wander on foot or by car and stare at everything about me.
I want to see the last of the Fall butterflies, the white herons beginning their migration south in large looping flock flights, and hear the most earnest songs sung by the most nervous voice. I want to have dinner with my wife, my brother and his wife, and talk about all the worries and wonders that we all confront. I want to escape the feeling that my life is received from VCRs and TV screens and computer screens. I see nothing wrong with media, per se, and I am not anti-technology. But there's a solitude, and a watching, that I long to be experiencing again. It's the opposite of loneliness, this watching, and it may well be the moment by which I define Paradise. I never doubt that there are things I will never understand, but when I have those moments of insight, the consolation is overpowering.