Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conversations with the Crucified

I am most certainly not a numerologist. The worship of numbers seems like a total waste of time, a preoccupation for profoundly minor intellects, of which the world is unfortunately too much endowed. Only idiots think the created more significant than the Creator, and numbers are of course part of the created. Not only that, they are even inferior, as quantity, to the metaphysical predicament of quality, a factor which makes metaphysicians and poets superior to mathematicians, for all that society has to reckon with their essential necessity. But therein lies the lesson. If mathematicians are necessary, how much more the other chaps posted above them?
And yet I have to acknowledge that numbers do have significance. It was the Lord who said, "I have ordered all things by number, measure, and weight."
So now we have Post 100, and I must think that a significant milestone has been reached. Of course, it is not every day that one has a brother die, and thus it was that Wayne packed it in as I was cruising into the 100th. He would probably like that. Once again, he is significant in his brother's life. The tenth predicament of metaphysics: relation. Moving from Aristotle into Pauline Christianity, this gives us the Mystical Body, and a great deal of trucking with angels.
It was in the middle of September, 1957, that a major part of the crew of the great BC Power Commission attempt at damming the mighty Homathko flew by Beaver float plane out of Tatlayoko Lake, down Bute Inlet to Campbell River. It was a radically sunny day, with an utterly cloudless sky, vivid blue, an unforgettable comment on a radically useful summer. In all modesty, given Western Canada's paucity of mystics and general mediocrity in regard to the best theological company, it was an unforgettable day, marking the exit from the Biblical desert of the contemplatives, which had produced profoundly significant fruit, to a purposeful and irrevocable engagement with the One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church, without which, it follows as a matter of the simplest logic, no mystic can be totally fulfilled in his vocation.
From Campbell River we bussed to Nanaimo, where some stayed on the bus and headed for Victoria, while the rest of us caught the CPR ferry, either the Princesses Marguerite or Patricia, and set off for Vancouver.
I'd already known my share of adventurous and romantic travels on that pair of boats, but once again sailing into my home town created a whole new level of significant experience. Once we had crossed English Bay and passed under the Lions Gate Bridge, the vessel slowed for the approach to the dock, and I beheld the city before me and naturally pondered my thoughts and feelings on returning to the neighbourhood of my birth and upbringing and education. Now as I've said before, I'd already become accustomed to fairly regular ad-ons from the Almighty, interjecting himself into my observations and thought processes, sometimes darkening the inner and/or outer landscapes, and scaring the crap out of me, or doing quite opposite and making me feel outrageously favoured. Coming home, of course, was quite the parade, and He didn't want to rain on it, I suppose, so as we glided toward Vancouver under what was already a wonderful sunset, it seemed like the lamps had been turned up a notch or two, and the entire prospect, sky, sea, and city, glowed like nothing I had ever seen in a painting, or a film. Naturally, or, more accurately, supernaturally, my soul hummed accordingly. Clearly, I was returning home in triumph, and the year ahead simply had to be more of the same.
We docked, we disembarked, saying goodbye to each other, and promising to meet again when the academic year got under way the following week, and there was brother Wayne waiting, grinning, on the dock, as planned, with my little car standing by in the parking lot. He had driven it down, but of course I drove it home, as we started swapping stories.
The scene shifts, reeling off the decades.
For some years now our cathedral parish has held the public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, one eight-hour shift, one day a week. Thursday. A small but constant band of the faithful sign up for an hour each, and up to the beginning of the summer, we had never been part of this. It had not been at all necessary to our contemplative life, as we have a house that is profoundly quiet and prayerful, anymore than daily mass and communion has been necessary for years.The mature contemplative already lives in heaven, to a large extent, so he or she has no need of these otherwise helpful means for getting there somewhat more quickly than the average. (The Sunday obligation, of course, is another matter.) But as we did do the month of July on a daily basis, having the opportunity to hear sermons from an African Capuchin, we were approached by the lady in charge of the exposition schedule. It was summer; some of her people were on holidays; would we fill in?
We did, although I found I had to hold the line at one hour only from our household. God would not allow two, at least not more than once. And even for the one He was rather blunt about the sins of His people, here and around the world. So it was not an entirely pleasant time, although not as unpleasant as had become the occasions when I would drop by in the manner of the good old days, when so often the persons represented by the cathedral statues were some of my most necessary sources of support and information. But week by week it became more pleasant, spiritually, and less disturbing, spiritually.
In fact, the Thursday two days before my brother died held only one uncomfortable moment, with the life-sized crucifix that hangs over the side door, the northern entrance from the rectory car park. That image rises above the beginning of the stations of the cross, and I was just about to begin making them when I realized I was damn good and scared of Jesus on the Cross. I stared up, puzzled by the sensation, because it is by no means a normal one with me. The Lord had much more reason to be afraid of my doing something ridiculous than I have of his punishment. His lash I've known for too long in the dark night, and He knows this as well as I do.
But, as I said, I was frightened. I do not exaggerate.
I made my stations, all fourteen of them - a lovely habit I began early on, and practiced especially in Ocean Falls and Terrace, at the end of the teaching day - and went back to my pew for the rest of the hour. I habitually begin with the stations.
When our time was up and we were leaving, I was profoundly struck, coming out on the front porch of the cathedral, by the wonderfully luminous quality of the light lying over the town and the forest above it, lying to the south of us. It was remarkable, the most radiant I'd seen in probably some days. I spoke about it to Marianne, and at the same time recalled vividly the evening back in 1957, sailing into Vancouver Harbour. And then I thought no more about it, until my nephew Chris, Wayne's oldest, called just over forty-eight hours later.
A quick sketch of my brother's life would have to conclude, I think, with the decision that he never actually got to that lovely spiritual disposition known as "Fear of the Lord", the seventh gift of the sacrament of Confirmation. He did not receive that sacrament after his baptism, as far as I know, and even if he did, he did not do all that much to make it operative. But that, for some, is the reason for purgatory. So, as so much of the East believes, we can start all over again. Nothing so easy as wandering about as a cockroach, of course. Purgatory is no jog in the jungle. But it is much better than the other place, thanks to the prayers of the Church, so one perennially anxious brother and godfather was heartily relieved by those signs from on high. There were, of course, tears of relief.
At the next week's Exposition, at the beginning of the stations, I said, "Thank you."
"You're welcome," was the reply.
Always courteous, that Man, as well as infinitely forgiving.

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