Saturday, April 3, 2010

April is the cruelest (and national poetry) month; Easter?

I think (hope) a lilac bush grows just outside our bedroom window. I'm unsure because I've only lived here since October. But I missed lilacs when I lived in Davis.

I missed "spring," really. "Winter" in Davis is like one long Midwestern April:  it rains most days, temperatures stay in the 50's, the grass and bushes on the hillsides turn green after long months of dormant brown. "Spring" in California just isn't the profound transformation Omaha experiences. Flowers in Davis bloom off and on all year, not like Omaha: tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth are all popping up throughout my neighborhood. It looks almost like a different place. So yeah, I bitched and moaned about the terrible winter Omaha has just endured. But I think I knew that the spring would seem all the more miraculous. 

The cardinal in the tree outside my office window won't shut up. A pair of them is nesting in the massive elm, and the male seems pretty proud of himself. I don't remember hearing cardinals in Davis, either.

Yesterday was our third warm day in a row. I went to my usual Friday yoga class at the "Y" and then did core and upper-body weight work for another 45 minutes (I hope all the Bulgarian split squats I'm doing right now will help my finishing sprint on the bike as much as they did two years ago.) I left the gym feeling physically spent but spiritually affirmed, even though Holy Week is still weird for me, a lapsed Catholic. I'm still looking for a practice of spirituality. My friend Miah and I recently shared a good-natured debate about the intellectual legitimacy of my agnosticism; he thinks all agnostics are just atheists too afraid to get off the fence. Another of my old friends, Matthew, studied in a Presbyterian seminary before he started graduate school, and he and his wife are still devout Protestants; he and I once shared the same debate, but he was on the other side of the fence, urging me to hop down on the side of faith.

Believers and skeptics both seem to doubt my theological pluralism. I admire and respect practitioners of most religions, while I empathize with secular humanists. I suppose it's the best and most lasting remnant of my Jesuit education. I've been good friends with very conservative Mormons and with outraged feminists, and I see merit and truth in both positions.

Someday I'll write about my personal and political reactions to the child sexual abuse controversy that's raging in the Church--suffice to say, on this issue, the personal and political are inextricable for me. And the Church's positions on gay parishioners, birth control, and female leadership all conspire to keep me away. My friend Molly insists that a good liberal CAN practice a sort of dissenting Catholicism, one which advocates reform on all of these issues. She clings to the Church's liberation theology and social justice efforts--which still rock, BTW--and prays for better days on the other stuff.

Maybe the Episcopalians have got it right? The ritual and mysticism of the Roman church with a lot more tolerance? Openly gay bishops? Right on! But Henry VIII? Not so much. Besides, an Irish member of the Anglican church seems really strange, no?

Another old friend is a pretty involved Methodist, but her Methodism is of a Berkeley stripe unlike the Midwestern kind from my childhood. My Locke grandparents on my mother's mother's side were Methodists, and my memory of them always makes me think about Maclean: "The Burns family ran a general store in a one-store town and still managed to do badly. They were Methodist, a denomination my father always referred to as Baptist who could read."

So. I don't know what to do. My dissertation adviser has hinted at his Buddhism without ever really talking about it. I suppose that's the most intellectually attractive pathway, and mindfulness would be a welcome respite. But it's also so, uhh, foreign. I'd basically have to start from scratch. But maybe that's best?

I know I believe in some sort of metaphysics that's Neoplatonic and transcendental. And I always look for a more specific set of answers this time of year; the physical evidence of renewal and rebirth during spring lends credence to questions of faith, somehow."To me, the meanest flower that blows can often give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

So, all of this brings me back to April, and lilacs, and belief. Some of my five readers will have seen this coming since the first paragraph, but what the hell. In a wonderful distillation of faith, environmentalism, springtime, and lilacs, here's Thomas Stearns' take on some the issues I've been discussing. After I post this, I'm going to head to the woods and ride my bike in the dirt. At least that's something I can still believe in.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering         5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,  10
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,  15
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,  20
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,  25
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.  30
                Frisch weht der Wind
                Der Heimat zu.
                Mein Irisch Kind,
                Wo weilest du?
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;  35
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,  40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.

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