Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Ligature

Things are getting very, very, very, serious.

The Almighty has put his foot down, which in my case means that he has been interfering with my feet, with my walking. I have no objections; it is basically a very pleasant experience, this sensation of various degrees of inoperativeness that moves into my limbs; it's only annoyance to me, if that occurs, is momentary, while I adjust my mind to a change of intention.
There is more than one name for this predicament. The Reverend A. Poulain, SJ, used the term 'mobile ecstasy' in his 'Graces of Interior Prayer' to describe actual physiological interference with the motor faculties, and it was Marianne, when she was not quite thirteen, who was able to find the phrase while browsing in just that text. I had lent this book to her, after some five or six months of the letters between us, because it was more modern, and to a degree, simpler than John of the Cross or Teresa, although she would of course be reading those saints' and mystics' texts in her own good time. The more general term is 'ligature of the faculties', which includes effects on the mental powers as well as the physical. Poulain's other subject of expertise was mathematics, which he taught in a Jesuit seminary in France at the turn of the century.
It was on a rainy evening in the then diocesan children's summer holiday place, Camp Lourdes, while we were chatting after supper in the quarters assigned to Shawn and me and our four small children, that she saw my right arm suddenly stalled in motion as I was gesturing over some conversational point or another. Camp Lourdes was on the south side of the West Arm, 14 miles east of Nelson. It had been established in the 30s by the legendary Bishop Martin Johnson, founder also of the university and a nursing home for, at first, aging retired miners and prospector who had no one to look after them.
Up to that point I had been well versed in various invasions of my inner faculties and feelings, and since the beginning of 1965 my vocal abilities had begun to experience divine interventions.
And God seemed to have made a special point to my wife about Sunday afternoons. Only after I had collapsed on the couch for a good hour or more of passive meditation would He let me up for the customary family walk, simply by lifting the very evident clamp from my soul.
But no discomfitting a particular limb, until that wet night at Lourdes before 'George', as she signed her letters to me, boarded the Lourdes launch to go back to the highway side of the West Arm and then home. Her father and the older brother who had given her the nickname operated a garage half-way to Nelson and also kept the launch's engine up and running. During the war her father had maintained the engines of air force planes used by the Commonwealth training plan. We had both been quite struck by the event of the immobilized arm, so when she got home she dug out Poulain and found the explanation. When she wrote about it a subsequent letter, I was not a little impressed. But then this was the kid that had one noon hour come marching up the sidewalk above the school yard - I was on lunch duty - to demand to know more about the late medieval philosopher William of Ockham, whom some historians blame for Martin Luther.
In subsequent years the invasions increased. As Teresa teaches, once we reach the prayer of union, we are never as habitually strong again. The prayer life is of more use to mankind than even the greatest physical labours or athletic achievements. But in the Easter season of 1973, I was really nailed, to my complete surprise. I mean, I had read of such events, but found it impossible to believe that I myself was worthy of such attention.
The young woman who had introduced me to yoga, by showing me the method for standing on my head, had carried on with the ashram community at Kootenay Bay. Aware to some degree of the being kicked upstairs that I had experienced over the 72-73 winter, she was insistent that I now make another visit to the ashram, especially for the purpose of talking with one of the young male founders. I said I would go.
But I did not go. I could not go. When it became time to set out, one April morning, I felt my legs become totally incapable of movement, and they stayed that way, most unmistakably, until I explained the situation to her. We were at the kitchen table, sometime after breakfast, no doubt lingering over coffee.
This happened again, in the fall, when I was asked to step into the university's production of 'Fiddler on the Roof'. One of the actors in a small part, an older man, had suffered a minor heart attack. I walked up the hill to the campus theatre for a morning rehearsal, then returned home for lunch. When I went back for the afternoon session, I actually managed to walk, and climb the slope, but my legs felt like lead. Moving them was a huge effort. Nor would the rest of me co-operate with the rehearsal session. The director and I had a talk. I did not go too deeply into the spiritual physiology of it all, but she respected my general reputation and said the situation could be remedied because of a young man who, while all along helping with scenery, had been dying for an acting role.
This particular ligature of the faculties has never ceased to appear at interesting times, either in my legs or arms or both, and therefore interesting times must again be upon us because yesterday morning my legs were cut to half-speed as MT and I were on the uphill pull on the return from a morning stroll along the lake shore. Although not uncomfortably, I had to drag myself over the last half-mile to home.
I actually had been pondering, I must admit, some discussion of the facts of these ligatures, because they have been a curious part of my entire post-1982 researches into fitness, and I knew I needed to say as soon as possible that the most significant factor in the supposed 230K would be divine co-operation. When the jock's Muse wanted me to head out, even though I was in my mature years, well over 40, I could no more resist the inspiration than I could as an adolescent ignore the lure of the ball diamond in spring. Nature has always had a liturgy of its own, as any religions worth mentioning have always been very well aware. But on the other hand, I have also suffered from surprising restraints or removals, including the withdrawal of the mystic's daily bread and butter, the inner sense of touch, in my first eighteen months in the weight room.
This most recent use of the leg irons struck at an interesting spot, in interesting circumstances. Just before I started this blog some weeks ago, I was booting along the very same city block, in the early morning, when I was beset with the most profound sense of drabness. This is a common enough experience, part of the daily work load for a contemplative, but I could not remember it being anywhere near so smothering during the recent months of early morning walking. It certainly has not been there during the walks since. These solitary forced marches are generally pretty cheerful.
Part of the answer to the puzzle might be Rudolph Steiner and his Waldorf system of education. At the beginning of yesterday's walk I had dropped into the International School of the Kootenays office and borrowed a couple of books of Steiner's lectures. It would seem to be time to come to grips with the similarities and difference between us.
Twenty years ago to the week, God dropped this locution on me, even though I had not been at the blackboard in an ordinary classroom for 21 years. "Your job is to teach." I've always suspected that he had more in mind than the voice and instrument classes I was already occasionally giving, but I've yet to find out precisely what it would be.

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