The Use of Talking

There is no end of things in the heart.

Archive for the ‘Introduction’ Category

Behind the Mask: The Confessions of a Viator Vagans 1

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I am a Catholic. I started my Christian life as an Anglo-Catholic; having come to believe all that the Catholic and Roman Church teaches, for nearly thirty years I have been an unhyphenated one. I came to faith late, from a rather smug and cynical atheism, and that is still my mind’s (or better, my imagination’s) default position. It was my reading in my late teens that pointed me in a different direction—Eliot and Auden, Dostoevsky and Dante, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. At the same time I’d met a graduate student at the university I was attending, a learned, opinionated, witty, and extraordinarily generous young man. An observant Jew, he was “at home” every Friday night in his off-campus apartment to any of us who wanted conversation. From him I learned, inter alia, that it was still possible to be brilliant and a believer.

So I took to reading theology lite—in the Lewisian vein—and church history. There was a huge Episcopal cathedral down the street from my dorm, and I took to paying it Larkinesque visits and riffling through the Book of Common Prayer. I only attended a service there once, however, on Easter, when the ever-so-well-bred bishop knocked with his crozier on the great bronze doors while fanfares peeled from the state trumpet, reputed to be the most powerful organ stop in the world. I appreciated it as spectacle, but couldn’t connect to it as prayer.

Then one weekend my graduate student friend needed help with his exhibit table at a political youth conference at a midtown hotel. On Sunday morning, our friends wanted to go to church, and one of them suggested an Episcopal church a few crosstown blocks away. I had been intrigued by the church’s ads in the Saturday newspaper—”Catholic Worship, Liturgical Music, Gospel Preaching”—and even more by the fact that it was mentioned in a memoir about Eliot. The worship (High Mass, they called it) was unlike anything I had ever seen before: the large sanctuary area flooded with light; sacred ministers in beautifully embroidered silk vestments, attended by a flock of acolytes in cassock and cotta; chant and polyphony rendered by a professional choir; traditional hymns accompanied by a world-class organist (his improvisations were astonishing) on a wonderful instrument; the magnificent language of the Prayer Book and the Authorized Version; billows of incense nearly hiding the altar. And in the middle of all that beauty, there was a space where I found I could pray.

The Catholic churches in those first-fresh-winds-of-Vatican II times had nothing comparable to offer. Latin had vanished almost overnight, and the English, while not as Romper-Roomish as it was to become, was no match for Cranmer. Roman Rite church music had begun its slide into the morass of simpering cantors and pop banality. There, I couldn’t pray. Here, I could. So four months later I got up my courage to attend Sunday mass on my own; a few weeks after that, I summoned even more courage and spoke to the rector. By the time another four months had passed, I had been baptized and invited to serve at the altar. One year to the liturgical day after I first walked into high mass, I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by the ever-so-well-bred bishop.

This, of course, is a very superficial look at my Anglo-Catholic conversion. Or maybe it was just a very superficial conversion. At any rate, it’s the beginning of the meandering path that’s got me to where I am as I start this blog. For more of the story, stay tuned.

To be continued . . .


Written by hans castorp

December 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

What Is the Use of Talking?

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The name of this blog comes from Ezra Pound’s “Exile’s Letter,” a translation/adaptation of a poem by Li Po (or Rihaku, in the Japanese form that Pound uses). The relevant lines are:

What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,

There is no end of things in the heart.

I first read the poem in the eighth grade (we had a very unusual, and alcoholic, English teacher who never returned from the Easter break); I’m afraid to say how many years ago. Those lines seem particularly apropos today when I’m in a liminal space, trying to figure out who and what I am and who and what I’d like to be—sort of a hyper-delayed rerun of an adolescent crisis.

So I intend to use this space to write honestly about what’s in my heart and mind. I’m writing, as the Russians used to say in Soviet days, “for the drawer,” to say what I need to say with the expectation that few, if any, will read it.

What is the use of talking? None, perhaps, except to unburden the talker. And that’s enough.

Written by hans castorp

November 30, 2011 at 12:40 am

Posted in Introduction

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