Gethsemane at Penn Station

Gethsemane at Penn Station April 17, 2014

It is Holy Thursday, and that is a good thing. Even amid the controversial back-and-forths taking place over foot-washing and liturgy and women and the pope, I really, really need this Triduum.

I. Personally. Me. And I’ll tell you why.

Something happened to me on Tuesday and nothing has been good or right since then.

I went into Manhattan to address what I thought would be a group of Catholic communicators. Instead, I found myself talking, in a rather intimate setting, to a group of mostly Mormons and some mainline Protestants. They were all perfectly lovely people, but this required a sort of recalibration-on-the-fly, away from Catholic themes I’d had planned, and more toward the multi-religion focus of Patheos, and the internet and — because it is always before me — the realities of Idolatry that are inherent to New Media.

And I had some tasty observations to make on that issue — new thoughts I’d not previously shared, or even realized myself, until that morning, as I’d traveled toward the city.

Still, I left unsatisfied with the talk, and with myself. When you have prepared to address one sort of group and find yourself facing another, “winging it” can make one feel truly flighty.

And in that uneasy mood I decided I would, upon entering Penn Station, await my train with a Guinness in my paw.

I never mind waiting during appointments or long layovers because I love to people-watch. I like to observe folks when they’re not self-conscious, and then imagine lives for them. When you are raised to “be-seen-and-not-heard” as I was (which probably explains many things about me) you decide, like Mary Bennett, that “the rewards of observation and reflection are much greater” than being in the thick of things, and you therefore become content with philosophy.

Settled with an Irish stout, then, my position at the bar allowed me to see the schedule boards I needed for my train, and also afforded me a full-view of the escalators pulling people off the streets, and a cross-section of folks coming-and-going. The perspective was a people-watcher’s dream.

I had barely touched my beer, and was vaguely agreeing with the man at the next stool that Talking Heads was a great ’80’s band when, for the merest moment, something happened.

For just the briefest instant, it seemed to me as though everything simply stopped; a full-on freeze-frame.

The people walking by, the escalators full of people
floating up or down, the groups gathering by the schedule board, the music and conversation around me — it all stopped.

And in the space of a pulse — with the same sort of fleeting pound of affirmation that characterizes a pulse — I understood something in an instinctive and internal way that I cannot perfectly, or even adequately describe.

I wouldn’t presume to say that anything was being communicated to me, but I nevertheless had a glimpse — or an overwhelming “sense” — of something. In that brief flash I knew that hovering over us, near us, within us, all about us, was an awful, unstoppable ache of love and sadness; a sense of “Oh, my people! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

This ache of longing, reaching out; of be-longing unanswered, unfulfilled.

It lasted the merest second
, and then all was normal; everyone was moving; the radio was blaring. But nothing has been right for me, since then. Nothing has been good. I have been weepy and restless and everything seems unsuitable to me.

This was not Merton’s wonderful, joy-filled sense of people gadding about, shining like the sun. This felt more like a gloaming; like the space between dark and light that, of an ordinary twilight vespers, can bring such a sense of comfort and completion. And yet, this moment contained a note of what I can only characterize as desolation. Unfulfilled be-longing. Oh, my people…

There is a story about Blessed John Paul II, that he was once discovered in his private chapel with his arms about the Tabernacle, crooning a song in Polish, as a mother might croon to a child. He looked up to his visitors with a distraught expression and said, “I don’t know how to comfort him!”

That is precisely what it felt like to me — as though I had one of my children in my arms, and he was inconsolable.

Nothing has been right, since that moment.
I cannot be easy or simply go on as I have.

Today I have realized that I can no longer write about politics or political issues because they are superficial, transient and only partially attached to what is real; they are sinkholes of illusion meant to turn us away from the outreach of love that is the taproot of all that is reality — all that is genuine — and that is begging to be accepted. I wrote about politics yesterday and did it poorly because I hated it, and how it made me feel.

I don’t want to write about these theatrics anymore, and become complicit in the distraction; I don’t want to assist in leading people away from that pulsing affirmation I felt, “Oh, my people…”

I don’t want to abandon that bereft-seeming outreach of desolated love that I sensed in Penn Station — so much like a modern, subterranean Agony of Gethsemane. I can’t let it go and walk away from it, even though I know I am free to.

And I have no idea what it will mean to remain with it
, to companion it, or where that will lead. Nowhere good, by worldly standards, I’m sure.

But the very first thing it will mean is that I am through sniping about politics, except in how they affect the Constant Reality of Christ and his Body.

That should play havoc enough with the blog, to start. Please pray for me!

Tonight there is a Mass; a Last Supper. Here comes Good Friday.

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