What I remember of that Sunday, though, and of the Sundays that immediately followed, is less the services themselves than the walks we took afterwards, and less the specifics of the conversations we had about God, always about God, than the moments of silent, and what felt like sacred, attentiveness those conversations led to: an iron sky and the lake so calm it seemed thickened; the El blasting past with its rain of sparks and brief, lost faces; the broad leaves and white blooms of a catalpa on our street, Grace Street, and under the tree a seethe of something that was just barely still a bird, quick with life beyond its own. I was brought up with the poisonous notion that you had to renounce love of the earth in order to receive the love of God. My experience has been just the opposite: a love of the earth and existence so overflowing that it implied, or included, or even absolutely demanded, God. Love did not deliver me from the earth, but into it.
Sacred/Profane #3: Geoffrey Hill and St Teresa sing the blues
Proud citadel of meekness
Likening us our unlikeness
Majesty of our distress
Emptiness ever thronging
How long until this longing
End in unending song
And soul for soul discover
No strangeness to dissever
And lover keep with lover
A moment and forever
From ‘The Pentecost Castle’ in Tenebrae (1978)
Sacred/Profane #2: Hafiz of Shiraz has a midnight visitor, and a century’s worth of English translators make different decisions about the careful withholding of a gendered pronoun in the original. Is it a he? Is it a she? Is it the ancient of days? She or he or He is certainly drunk, anyway. Unless that’s a metaphor too.
Source: Parvin Loloi, Hafiz, Master of Persian Poetry: A Critical Bibliography (2004)
A quarter of the U.S. population — and 40 percent of the population of New York, where my novel is set — self-identify as Catholic. One of the most striking features of the city is that there are churches everywhere, from one of the world’s largest cathedrals to hundreds of storefront churches. And a bit of investigation will reveal that those churches fill up every Sunday. Not to mention the fact that there are more Jews in New York than in any other city in the world. But for some reason the publishing industry in this city tends to view the introduction of religion into contemporary realist novels as a willful act that must have some strong rhetorical justification. From where I stand, the exclusion of religion is the willful act. Novelists never get asked why they don’t include religion in their books, or why the religion they do include — often just a species of madness — bears so little resemblance to religion as it is practiced by the majority of Americans. If they were asked, I suspect, most of these writers would not have a very good answer. It simply doesn’t occur to them. Whatever one’s beliefs, this seems like a basic failure of verisimilitude. Reality includes religion; realism should, too.
Sacred/Profane #1: the Reverend Al Green sings