Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stepping into the river...

Scenario: Yesterday morning featured the last waning hours of a mini-heatwave that washed across the region recently. Rather than a morning run, a morning walked was deemed more appropriate on my part. I walked up through my neighborhood while the sun was still rising, first setting my eyes upon St. Joseph's Church and the rather large property associated with that parish. I canvased the area, looking for some indication of an open entrance to the church. I found none. Heading west, I reached St. Stephen's in the span of perhaps thirty seconds, maybe less. As I walked up to the church I noted one of the doors leading into the building near the sanctuary was open and, walking further, that all of the doors were open - still not yet five thirty this morning. The janitor went outside to work the grounds as I entered the building. I had never been in St. Stephen's before, nor, for that matter, many of the churches in the Worcester area. Inside, waves of nostalgia washed over, however tentatively, the heat and humidity and set me adrift into a certain spiritual sea I had long since come ashore from. Inside, I felt almost in a womb, in an enclosure of warmth and nourishment. The interior architecture of St. Stephen is a rare sight. Build during, and reflective of, the height of that Catholic moment in the twentieth century that produce both a sure confidence in faith and the liturgical movement in its purest sense (the unveiling and exploration of the Roman liturgy in its previous form). The interior architecture itself is based upon the scholastic Gothic revival that accompanied the Oxford movement, a style of church architecture that, perhaps because of the particular cultural memory in the United States. The interior artwork, meanwhile, demonstrated the influence the liturgical movement had begun to have in a very real parish setting. Though there were two notable paintings along the side walls where the altar rail, in all probability, once stood, of vintage western style depicting scenes from the gospel, the images in the sanctuary began to show openness to western iconography, utilizing the western form for the figures, but filling the image in more along the eastern style, creating, incidentally, some very Mediterranean looking saints and angels in what was traditionally an Irish parish. I realized then that I had entered a physical space that embodied very formative spirituality from about fifteen years ago.

General conclusion: It's true, one can't step into the same river twice - there's no returning whence you came.  Evey person has, to my mind, two spiritualities - corporate and private. One's corporate spirituality will acquire a degree of stability and regular praxis. One's private spirituality, unless one succumbs to religious inspired neurosis, will evolve in the course of one's life, reflecting one's development as a person. One may feel nostalgia for one's former spirituality, but one can never return unless one undergoes some variety of psychic break. Returning to or remaining with a form of one's spirituality from another part of one's life requires disassociating oneself from the life changes and experiences one has undergone. A great portion of the time, remaining in a state of spiritual stasis requires renouncing one's maturation. One's spiritual life should coincide with one's maturation as a human being. Forms or practices from childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc., that remain with us should always be critically examined to determine in which way they represent an attachment to immaturity. The desert monastics have written more eloquently on this point than I am able and provide fine counsel on this topic. Feeling a nostalgia for one's prior spiritual life, for however brief a moment, has its allure but is in actuality impossible (and undesirable) to attain.