Posts tagged ‘faith’



by mdjb

Having my little shared office to myself for the afternoon, I sat at my desk with a lidded thermal cup half-filled with tepid coffee from before my morning class to one side of my laptop and a tax balance sheet to the other; on the screen 372 words directed toward a heartwarming chapter of my NaNo opus, and they, refusing to cohere in a meaningful manner, thrust their collective tongue at me, so that I’d swear they were whispering we dare you to feel good about yourself. I found myself moving my lips in silent prayer, though I’d be the first to acknowledge that kind of activity is strictly outside my realm of occurrence, and I could feel eyes on me, which embarrassed a bit, but not overly so. As I thought it, I saw the word lord appear in my mind, and as I was writing on my brain slate, quickly emended it to read Lord, in case He was the One watching. Lord, I prayed, help me find time to finish all the tasks set before me, but especially those I’ve set for myself, please. In the cooing that followed, I thought He was laughing at the temerity with which I asked for attention to such insignificant (to the Big Picture, at least) details, and thought, yeah, that’s about what I deserve. When the pigeon on the windowsill pecked at the glass pane causing me to turn and catch sight of it before it flew off, Ockham’s Razor crossed my mind, closing those Lordly eyes, and appropriately returning my attention to the balance sheet thereby leaving word 373 to come along later, at home, over a fresh cup of coffee.

On one end of a dream, wormy spaghetti-like fingers that won’t quite let go of a past they have no business holding onto, and on the waking end, bright beginnings which might be explanations of change or at least nubs of desire regarding movement. Who authorized this bad patch, and who vanquished the last? We saw through the flimsy excuses; we prayed in unison; we fell toward each other, bruising a third knee, and when I say we, I am being hopeful. Those slimy fingers carry the rosy odor of humectant. I take credit for your brilliance because loneliness is dry, and it isn’t solace. The waking end will arrive soon enough, but I will leave it to your discretion to rise and quiet the alarm, if you are so inclined, as otherwise we may sleep and march, and wonder together if it is true that music helps the brain relearn words.

Well, I guess she’s moved on; I mean on and up in the world. I asked her to have a look at something I’d written and posted around the Internet, something that included an oblique reference to our time together, hoping I hadn’t been too abstruse, and that she would know it was directed toward her although I was giving it away for free to all and sundry. She responded with an e-mail providing a link to something she had written, and for which I discovered upon clicking I would have to pay a subscription fee to read more than the introductory sentences (two, count ‘em). I’m not about to ante up six-ninety-nine just to find out if I am as firmly regarded as she had been in my mind or completely incidental in the way of things because I’m not entirely convinced I was on her list of prospective readers until she received the request to read mine which may have prompted her to click another contact without thinking. I want to believe I, or someone resembling me, was mentioned in her piece even if only referenced as someone who will never be anything. Now, she is something else.

Friend Dorothy remarked that time together is never wasted or lost, but an episode can send us into freefall, and I guess that is exactly where I am at the moment I write this, suspended between the life I thought we were living and the actuality of going nowhere. A sudden need for self-reliance sent me scurrying to Emerson to see what he had to say about digging oneself out, and I was disgruntled in being reminded that, well, he probably would never have found himself in such a situation to begin with given his ability to override unwanted advice. He’s a comfort.
I do like the idea of transcendence, but that could be because I get to wallow first, for it is said we never appreciate that which comes easily, and you cannot swim with dolphins without getting wet. I have mucked about long enough. The return on my investment is greater than I could have imagined, for though the beans are small, and the cheese hard, they are unquestionably edible, sustaining, and of a singular provenance.


A Measure of Success

by mdjb

Peck wakes from a dream of flying to the sound of someone knocking on his door and finds he has slept all night on his couch. Never made it to the bed. He stumbles past the litter, and rubbing his eyes, he asks, “Who is it?”
“Open up, I’ve got something for you,” says a female voice he recognizes.
He hasn’t seen Sheila in almost a year.
He lets her in and accepts her assessment with equanimity. “This place is a pigsty. I would ask how you’ve been doing,” she says, “but I can see you’ve been doing nothing. Sleeping a lot again?”
“Umm,” Peck says.
Sheila is carrying something the size of a newborn baby wrapped in brown paper, which she places on the only chair without clothes draped over it. She says things to Peck that he feels are supposed to fill him in on what she has been up to during the time they’ve been separated, but he is distracted by an idea he’s been tossing around in his head.
She goes into the kitchen and he can hear the sound of water running. Is she getting a drink? Is she washing his dishes?
“I’m sorry,” he says, but he doesn’t know exactly for what he’s apologizing. He sits on top of shirts and pants in a chair facing the one with the package on it, and asks, “What is it?”
“In a minute,” Sheila says. But he nods off again. He’s so damned tired all the time now.

Another knock on the door disturbs him, just when he’s on the point of finding the key to his Concept. Almost had it. Damn!
This time it’s Faith and she’s come with her secretary and the woman from the grant committee.
“Sweetie,” Faith says after bussing him on the cheek, “We’ve got good news for you.”
He lets the women in and apologizes for the appearance of his apartment.
“What’s wrong with it?” Faith asks. “The place looks fine.” And when Peck looks around, he can see that it does. Everything is in its place. There are no clothes lying around. There are no Chinese food containers dripping soy sauce or oozing lo mein on the tables. “Go freshen up a bit,” Faith says. “Put some water on your face. Mrs. Donner has some things to speak to you about.”
Peck knows what the woman is going to tell him. It’s what he’s been waiting for. He is suddenly wide awake and feeling happier than he has for a long time. He kisses Faith and wraps his arms around her. It’s all her doing. He doesn’t know where he would be without her taking care of his interests.
He notices that behind her, Faith’s secretary Sally is blushing and when they disengage he sees Mrs. Donner blushing also.
“Oh, you two,” she says, “So in love. It’s wonderful to see.”
Talk of love rattles Peck a bit. He never likes to think of the possibility. “I’ve kissed Faith in gratitude many times,” he says. “I’ve kissed Sally once or twice. I’ve kissed the woman in the kitchen many times. I don’t know about love.”
“The woman in the kitchen?” Faith asks, looking a little crestfallen. “Have you got company, Peck?”
“Just an old friend,” he says. “Let me introduce you.”
He walks around the dividing wall and looks in the kitchen, but just as he is about to utter Sheila’s name, he sees she is not there. Everything is spotless. There are no dirty dishes in the sink nor clean ones on the drain-board. Everything is, is… The only word he can think of is justified. He returns to look in the chair but Sheila’s package is not there. Did he dream her visit? The apartment doesn’t look the way he remembers it.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “I was up so late last night. I guess I fell asleep in a chair and I just woke up when you all arrived. Listen, let me go wash my face and then I’ll put on some coffee and we can talk.”
“I’ll make coffee,” Sally says.
To Peck, Faith says, “Yes, Sweetie, that’s a good idea. Go freshen up. We need to talk.” To Mrs. Donner she says softly, “I’m sorry. He’s been working so hard on his current project. You understand…” and she shrugs her shoulders. Peck doesn’t know just what a diplomat Faith can be. He doesn’t always see the smile with which she wins people’s affection.
Mrs. Donner returns the smile. She does understand. She has dealt with people like Peck several times. She almost always makes good choices and does well during review time. “Oh, you’ve got a treasure there,” she says, “I know the two of you are going to be very happy together. I can see you’re so…so simpatico.”
* * *
Twenty years later, Peck is walking beside the lake on their estate, which is within walking distance of the university where he teaches part-time. He’s enjoying the soft breeze and doesn’t feel cold thanks to the scarf Faith insisted he wrap around his neck. He’s wearing the sweater she likes to see him in also.
On the other side of the lake are the young ones. They used to call them hippies and after that they were Generation X but the alphabet has now been used up. He knows they’re sycophants, but he enjoys having them around and Faith doesn’t seem to mind.
The sleeping bags are spread on the ground though it is almost noon. He quickly calculates the matrix in which they have ordered their positions and sees the outbuilding, the tool shed, as a table header. Late risers they are, and he understands that. Some of his own best work was formulated during those late dreaming hours. He knows there are four or five very bright intellects among the group.
They are loyal and committed. At their own expense, they travel to his conferences and stand in the back and supply the confidence he needs to expound his latest theories. Sometimes, when he draws a blank, he sees the smiling faces and is able to ad lib. A couple of times this has enabled him to come up with something new on the spot. Something with legs that walked on its own.
Keira, the blond with bright eyes, appears to be their leader. It was she who pressed him to let the group camp out on his property, seeing as he had so much, and he wasn’t taken back by her audacity. He readily agreed. People had always helped him when he needed it and he felt the need to give something back. To help young minds develop a better future.
Keira is there on the other side now and she waves to him.
Peck walks around the narrow end of the lake and goes up to her. “Good morning,” he says.
“Well, it’s almost noon,” she says, “But the rest will be getting up in a few minutes. Are you going to give us a class today?”
“I thought we might have a discussion in the library this afternoon, yes,” he says.
A couple crawl out of a sleeping bag and the young man says, “Good morning, sir.” The young woman smiles in a shy fashion and then averts her eyes, and in that aversion Peck realizes the power he has over the group. He can do or say anything and they will take it for truth. The couple walk over to the water and splash their faces.
“Keira, I’ve always wondered, why me, why you?” Peck says, waving his arm in the direction of the young people, more of whom are rising.
“Why you? I think the answer to that is obvious,” she says. “You have a great mathematical mind and we all want to absorb from you.”
He picks up a soiled pair of jeans. The knee-parts are brown with earth. “And you? I mean, why are you their leader?”
“Predestined, I guess,” she says, “My mother was a great fan of yours. When I was little and you began to get notoriety, you were all she talked about. She collected magazine articles and newspaper clippings. She said she met you before you were famous, but that she always knew you would be.”
Peck is looking at the jeans and getting an idea, but he is listening.
“Does she know you’re here now?” he asks.
“Well, she died five years ago when I was fifteen. Heart attack. I’ve lived with relatives until I went to college. Somehow, I always knew I’d come here, though.”
“I see,” Peck says.
“Did she? Know you, I mean. Her name was Sheila Martin.”
Peck remembers a dream he had twenty years earlier; he sees a brown paper-wrapped package sitting on a chair. “Yes,” he says, “Yes, I believe we worked together when we were young.” Suddenly, he realizes he has made all the right choices. Even those that were made for him have turned out well.
Now the rest of the group is awake and folding sleeping bags. Some gather around Peck as if waiting for a revelatory announcement. He takes the soiled jeans and hangs them on a nail in the door of the outbuilding. Giving them a whack, he raises a small cloud of dust and a madness of yellow butterflies flutter out from within the shed. For several moments, the scene is a swirl of blue, red-brown, and yellow.
“You see that?” Peck says. “If you took a picture of that right now and printed just the name Levis below it, you could probably sell another million pairs of jeans.”
A young man with a small digital camera does snap a few shots.
Peck remembers Faith will probably have some lunch ready just about now and will be looking for him to come back to the house.
“See you all this afternoon,” he says, “In the library around three.”
Keira says, “Thank you,” and hesitates. Then, addressing him by name for the first time, says, “Peck, my mom was a great person, and she was right in telling me never to stop learning.”
He walks a little bit until he has passed the small woods. When he is sure the trees are between him and the young ones and he cannot be seen, he raises his arms to shoulder height, flaps them slowly at first, and then gaining force, lifts himself off the ground. He doesn’t want to fly so high that he can be observed, but low, he enjoys the breeze surrounding his form. Butterflies accompany him. A couple of them, lazier than the rest, ride on his flapping scarf.
He has just a little time for a flight before lunch.
Someday, when he’s perfected the method, he intends to show Faith how to fly so they can take off for the clouds together.


Cosmic Rays

by mdjb

A Jesuit by calling yet vastly non-Jesuitical by nature, Theodor Wulf woke from a wet dream feeling the shame of the ages. Already in opposition to the will of the Holy See due to his modernist practices, he now viewed himself as subject to the basest of submissions. The worst of it was he recalled immediately the scene in the Tower which had caused his lapse.tower

Balloonists were to confirm his findings, and in his dream, a balloon suggested the fleshy face of a man with a ring through his nose, smiling down on the Tower radiating cosmic rays for which there was as yet no name, but which emanated an invigorating sense of energy all the same.

Back in ’88, Eiffel was building his tower when Wulf had taken his vows and he had believed there was no greater dedication in the world. Jesuits were forbidden in Germany at that time. Wulf, committed to his vocation, emigrated to the Netherlands. That was how he had come to teach at Valkenburg. Now, twenty-two years later, here he was in France, not high on the list of places devoted to Rome, as Wulf wanted to consider himself. After four days of testing, his electrometer obstinately reading higher and higher radiation levels as he ascended the Tower, he began to believe that God had left remnants of the spark of Creation, here in this world to be discovered as a reward by those searchers worthy of knowing. Spark of Creation, or remnants of the Great Flood? One didn’t have to transcend to feel the hand of The Father at work.

Now as he awakened in shame, he thought he might be assuming too much. One should never assume. Disaster creeps at the heels of assumption.

Thankfully, the flood waters of January had subsided and the Seine returned to its normal level, but there were streets where the houses remained unlivable. More than likely those less dedicated men in the Vatican saw this as just deserts to the French who were considered less than faithful. Wulf preferred not to judge the Parisians too harshly, but now believed there might be something in the water that abrogated chastity,

In the corner of his room, by the window overlooking the Champ de Mars, the potted philodendron had grown exponentially, its aerial roots attaching themselves to the gray walls, no doubt attracted by the rising damp. The love tree would produce its poison in spite of neglect; find its own source of nourishment. Through the window, he could see the hazy March sky held no promise of rain, but now he knew it was filled with something else.

In the back of Wulf’s mind he heard the voice of his former teacher, Walther Nernst, dear Walther, who had found a better way to bring light to the night, but whose lamp was only this year overshadowed by that of the Englishman, Coolidge. “You must not speak of God as the source of this power,” Walther was saying, “It sounds heretical. It sounds like the poor workman who has left his tools lying around the shop.”

In silence, he argued, “But surely, to claim God’s hand is in this matter can only appease the dictates of Rome.”

“No, no,” the shade of Nernst responded, “In these times our scientific methods will be vilified. There can be no reconciliation.”

And as if he had spoken actual words, Wulf knew this would be the only outcome. He was faithful to his beliefs and he was a man of science. He did not see the two as mutually exclusive.

There was, however, his nocturnal emission. Was he doubting? Was it a sign?

Wulf’s plan was to return to Germany and publish his findings. He was sure the energy was extraterrestrial, and if not from God’s own hand, then from whence?

His soiled bedclothes reminded him of the temporal. The overgrown houseplant, displaying tenacity, spoke of survival without belief. Folded over a chair, his trousers and leather belt spoke of exquisite mortification hidden beneath a cassock. There was justification in abundance; if not a dichotomy, at least there was room for speculation.

In September, he would publish, but few would accept his findings, as Pius X would force his constituents to swear his newly issued Oath Against Modernism. Though Wulf’s electrometer would be patented and widely used for a time, it, like Nernst’s lamp, would be bettered. In ten years, his old mentor would win a Nobel Prize, and Wulf’s name would be largely forgotten.

But in this moment, lying half-awake and feeling shame in a Parisian flat, Father Theodor Wulf believed he had shaken hands with the Almighty, and been consigned to a fate less than divine.

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