The Strength of God’s Gaze

By Laura Bramon

Holy FlowerThe first time I saw her, I made up a story about her, and it was all wrong.

This was in the autumn several years ago, when, in my third-time’s-a-charm attempt at entering the Catholic Church, I stumbled into Adoration each evening at my Capitol Hill parish. Here, in the cool of the day, God’s body gazed like a gentle eye from the altar while our priest heard confessions in the back, and the usual suspects—the older woman on whom I fixed a story, and an older gentleman in a bright blue windbreaker—beheld and snoozed, respectively.

Who was this older woman?

Seated in the shadow of a pillar, wearing a gray coat and a little gray cap, she was nearly invisible. I would have missed her entirely had I not glanced back on my way to my own perch, where I knelt on the floor near the altar. Her countenance glowed in an intangible way, as if she had swallowed a lit candle. Her eyes held an expression of unfurling desire and relief.

Each evening as I walked the side aisle, I stole a glimpse of her face. [Read more…]

My Soul Thirsts

My children’s Michigan fact book says you can’t go more than eight miles without hitting water in this state, but it must be less this far north. I imagine the land shifting and disappearing beneath my feet as it does at the shoreline, except I’m standing in my kitchen.

“You’re basically living on a big dune,” a woman says when I mention my back pain. I thought I’d pulled something lifting moving boxes, but she says transplants often complain of chronic pain. We go rigid trying to find our sea legs.

Today I imagine the strain in my back isn’t from bracing myself against water but from shouldering a cross in the form of a giant clock, the old-fashioned kind that ticks loudly all night until it sounds a shattering alarm. I want to carry it into the woods and leave it, take it to the lake and sink it, to float home weightless and free from an unhealthy obsession with time, from circling thoughts of finitude that have kept me awake since before my mother died young. They never leave, not even with my lips against the warm cheek of a toddler so full of life he can barely stand still for a kiss.

These are the thoughts that drive me to the page, and they used to drive me to the pews too, where I could escape for a moment into that ethereal world of hot wax and flickering light and melt into years of other people’s faith in a place where death has no sting. But the churches up here don’t seem any more set apart from the flow of time than their social halls do. They smell of musty carpet and HVAC systems and food.

A couple of weeks ago a parish priest thoroughly shocked and horrified me when he described stained glass and art—both lacking here—as distractions. My dear man, my inner Chesterton bristled, that’s exactly why I’m here.

[Read more…]