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I graded yesterday and today, and I hope to get caught up over the next two days. Then lots of planning and some administrative work I’ve put off since the fall. I also want to take a long walk in the snow tomorrow morning. And to read more Walter Benjamin and the Baldwin biography I’m almost through. And to be with Victoria.
Got to page 13 today, and Evely’s That Man Is You is living up to its title’s promise of mistaken identity. After all this Christianity, he says, I don’t know God when I see him.
Evely quotes Saul of Tarsus: “Who are you, Lord?” An embarrassing question. Yet to find the Lord in such a place, at such a time, taking on such a tone, walking in such a skin, is to find also that I don’t know the Lord.
It is comedy. Jacob: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. Jesus: Surely the Lord is in this face, and you know her not.
It is the path to humility, to resolution, to the last curtain. Eschatology is comedy: Then shall I know even as also I am known. Life is a play inside a play inside a play. But living is dying: stepping out of one playhouse and onto the dark streets of another.
Eternity unfolds in unmaskings. During the play, it makes sense of the past. (The embarrassment of dramatic irony: it was laughter I heard: everyone knew but me.) And I find myself in a role I hate; only faith, that faintest smile, assures me I’m on the right stage. New lines come as the scenes change — or do I improvise? — and I discover my true character.
I am practiced, by the play’s end, in facing my unknown, and I trust that my unmasking will continue.
Saul to Damascus is two unmaskings. Saul doesn’t recognize the Lord, and neither does Ananias:
The Lord said to him, ‘Go to Straight Street, to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. You will find him at prayer; he has had a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to restore his sight.’ Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have often heard about this man and all the harm he has done your people in Jerusalem. Now he is here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord replied, ‘You must go, for this man is . . . (Acts 9:11 – 15, REB)
For this man is . . .
It’s the age of masks, the putting down and sorting out by the simplest codes and slurs. It is a tragedy. One hopes for the end, when all will be revealed.
Image: “El sueño de Jacob” by José de Ribera
Finally finished volume one of Luke. My chief devotional was Joseph Fitzmyer’s part of the Anchor Bible, but for me over several months it was my anchor text, the text I’d pick up and drop daily so the currents of other texts wouldn’t get me lost.
The chief candidate for my new anchor text was last owned by Rev. Ed Coleman of Nashville’s Christ Church Cathedral. It was first owned by Tom — his last name doesn’t appear in the book — who received it as Christmas gift from John and (I think) Teasie in 1966, the year the book was published. I don’t know how Rev. Coleman got the book or if he knows Ed. And I? I got the book from a bookseller. The book itself is a hardbound copy of Edmond Bonin’s translation of Louis Evely’s That Man Is You. Besides the handwriting that informed me about the previous owners, the book had no marks before I started in on it today.
I discovered the work on my mother’s devotional shelf when I visited my parents over Christmas. One page I randomly turned to spoke to me in my discouragement about my writing. The discouragement felt vaguely productive. It felt like a winter field with the plow and scythe put up somewhere in the shed. Kind of like a Twachtman painting, or at least of the one I enjoy at the Phillips. It’s as if Twachtman in all that snow couldn’t farm; all he could do was paint.
God alone knows
………..what He expects of us,
………..what response He’s looking for
………..and how many people’s destinies depend on ours. (128)
Evely’s book is sharpening that picture.
Bonin puts Evely’s prose in verse. Bonin says, though, that he has disposed the text in “sense lines”:
Based on the ancient method of pronging prose per cola et commata, this sense-line arrangement throws into greater relief the development, co-ordination and subordination of ideas, emphasizes significant parallelism and antithesis, and permits one to isolate key words. (v)
According to Dianne Tillotson, per cola et commata facilitates reading out loud:
Instead of filling up the page with continuous text, the line breaks reflect the way in which the text should be read aloud.
Tillotson describes other devices in medieval texts to the same purpose, and then says of them all:
This text is not designed for the mindless recitation of spelled-out syllables and words. It is coded for he projection of meaning.
Bonin’s approach is a step past John Anthony McGuckin’s in his Book of Mystical Chapters. McGuckin breaks monastic aphorisms into verses, but by aligning all lines to the left margin, he relies only on line breaks to augment sense and reflection. Bonin’s work appears more like the sentence mapping middle school teachers often require to learn syntax.
Per cola et commata may give me a new way into Charles Wright’s poetry. His lines are even more loosely anchored to the left margin than Bonin’s take on Evely, and the placement does seem “coded for the projection of meaning.” Wright’s verse sails on a spirituality that, even more with his unmoored lines, carries an ancient salt in its spray.
Image: John Henry Twachtman’s Winter at the Phillips Collection.