In those Small Moments of Revelation

My First Things column today is one of those odd ones that began at about 3AM as I was lying sleepless after a busy Christmas Day. I was all keyed up — I suspect I’d had too much coffee, too — and part of the Midnight Mass was racing through my head, and then a moment from a favorite film slipped in there. You know the brain skips from one reference to another. And the title came to me, so I just got up and wrote it.

Sometimes when that happens, something good, like this, or this comes out of it.

And sometimes…well, it’s something like this:

I found an unusual-looking fellow performing an obnoxious dance, complete with lewd pantomime. His audience consisted of two unimpressed record-shop clerks, and when the dance abruptly ended a conversation ensued about life and music and the consequences of sullen attitudes and selfish behavior. The actors were Jack Black, John Cusack, and Todd Louiso, the film was a fairly faithful representation of Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel High Fidelity, and happening on the movie at precisely that instant was a moment of revelation. There was a freshness and energy to Black’s no-holds-barred performance and Cusack’s fourth-wall-breaking and self-obsessed monologues. After enjoying a few repeat viewings, an expectation formed: I wanted to see more work by these unexpectedly charming, gifted performers.

It didn’t last long. The actor’s subsequent projects were mostly tedious. High Fidelity had been interesting, but the performers—undeniably talented though they were—could not themselves sustain that elusive sense of freshness and depth that makes one want to keep seeking something out, keep chasing its mystery, keep refreshing one’s sense of wonder at seemingly boundless potentialities. A small thing that had seemed full of promise proved to be simply a moment, passing; it left no contrail against the empty-and-the-void.

You’ll have to read the rest to see if you like it. It does not end where it begins.

UPDATE: Over at Facebook
, Father Steve Grunow says it better than I can:

Our physical senses are so saturated by the ephemeral that the spiritual senses are rendered numb or remain so underdeveloped that we can scarcely appreciate the character of revelation as it makes itself known- but grace will sometimes allow us to see and understand.

Read his excellent piece on the Crib and the Cross. We’re still thick in the mystery and revelation of Christmas!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • DWiss

    I look forward to those small moments of revelation. When they happen, it’s like being turbo-charged, briefly. Afterwards, all kinds of troublesome tidbits fit into place, and I feel as though I’ve made meaningful progress in my spiritual life. Teaching my confirmation classes, I try to weave my enlightenments into the conversations that we have about Catholic topics. Turns out they’re very personal things, because I can’t make them translate into much that matters to 15/16 year olds.

  • jkm

    Beautiful, beautiful. The mystery of Incarnation is precisely in the paradox that embraces the lewd (which I am amazed to find derives etymologically from “lay,” as in nonclerical) and the transcendent, as does this column. What is the source of our lewdness, after all, even at its most sinful and tragic, but yearning for the touch that heals, the communion that does not end, the return to joy unclouded by the shadows of suffering and death? We, all of us, lewd and profane, long for the Truth who became flesh in that manger. “The Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling,” says the strikingly lovely new translation of the Second Preface for Advent, and so do we all.

    It is that longing that leaves us open, if we are lucky, to moments of revelation, but it takes (as Emily says in Our Town) saints and poets to know it and share it so that others may know it too. The creche that prompted your Christmas Eve epiphany was the product of that longing in Francis of Assisi, who set up the first praesepio and purposely left the manger empty. Yet the power of his longing, put into words in the sermon Deacon Francis preached that night, was so strong that the crowd present swore Francis was holding in his arms the Christ Child.

    To share the love beyond all telling, to place the Child of Bethlehem tenderly in our achingly empty arms, takes a formidable gift. Thank you for putting yours to use for us.