All writing is effectively a search for the soul, which is our self-realized identity in God. The ideal reader is a symbol of this soul, and is often a specific person. For me it is has almost always been a woman.
It is important not to confuse the symbol for that which it represents. This is an old problem. If one is not clear about the distinction, the writing can become claustrophobic and cramped. We are never writing for her, but for that which she represents so nearly.
Sometimes when it is late and it feels as if the world is asleep I go for a walk. I visit the horses in their pasture, sometimes going past them to the river. The space defined by my body widens like a soap bubble, expanding as it rises. Edges blur. Even as I remain aware of body here/river or horses there, the lawfulness of those boundaries softens. I float through them and look down on the sea or out across the continent. The whole universe is home in me.
In that experience, distance is not an impediment to any union, because one understands – the way one understands how to look when their name is called – that it is possible to reach all the way through time and space to the other who – when joined, when gathered in, when entered gently – ensouls you by being ensouled with you. There is no other.
I first experienced this in 1988 (following five years of intense study and practice). Regrettably – heart broken and under the spell of certain family demons in Burlington Vermont and Galway Ireland – I rejected the gift in 1989 through early 1990. In April of the latter year, in Northampton Massachusetts, I repented and began a penance which did not end until mid-October, 2019. For nearly thirty years I was on my knees in a desert of cut glass, writing and writing for the one in her various forms and the One who was ever present. When I realized that my suffering and alienation was also the Lord’s, I was forgiven. The easy grace of union was restored in my living.
On this view, writing is the cry of the sinner for the One who will forgive her her sins (to adopt one kind of language), or the cry of the fragment for the whole from which it is estranged (to adopt another). I had fallen out of Love, confused the image for the symbol and the symbol for meaning, accepted as real the division between subjective experience and the appearance of the objective. How one says this is less important than saying it without reservation or condition. You have to go all the way in with your willingness to find authenticity. As Emily Dickinson said – who went orders of magnitude further than me on this trail, clearing and marking and making safe the way – why favor the crumb when you are given the whole loaf?
Anyway . . . in late November and early December I had a series of meetings with King David addressing the gravity of bearing the gift – of bringing forth love – in one’s late middle age. I confessed that I had slept with four women whose beauty and songs were entangled with my writing. He was patient but clear: four is too many. He counseled against embossing memories in favor of focusing on the marriage in which the possibility of writing is made new each day. I was embarrassed to have not seen this myself. He said an advantage of age is right perspective on the body’s many desires, and the ability to go past them in order to live in the disciplined solitude from which all psalms emerge.
When I talked to Jasper about this, he listened carefully then said, “not for nothing Sean but knowing about your childhood . . . isn’t this all just elaborate mother, abandonment, adult child of alcoholics stuff?”
[How one says this is less important than saying it without reservation or condition. You have to go all the way in with your willingness to find authenticity.]
I explained to him (as it had been explained to me in early November) that mother (and related family) issues, as such, are simply another reflection of the possibility of ensoulment through union and are not to be understood as a cause. A possibility of healing, yes, but an origin story unto themselves, no. It was pointed out to me (and I pointed out to Jasper) that a lot of light and water go into creating a rainbow, not to mention what goes into creating an observer of the rainbow. The search for causes is a distraction. We shouldn’t be afraid of joining a story midway, or of preferring one story to another.
And what about publication? Earning a living?
The angels say: think circles, not lines. Souls, not sales.
We cheapen that which we reduce to a mere effect, and we cheapen ourselves when we reduce creativity and love to products we think can be marketed. “God will not be mocked” doesn’t mean we’ll be struck down for going commercial; it means good luck finding peace or joy in the arms of ambition. Any emphasis on survival overlooks the fundamentally recursive shared nature of our living and, in particular, the void in which all living and dying begin and into which they spill, over and over and over. The void is God, but God cannot be named. Like falling in love, when you know, you know. And then it’s just you and love.
Thus writing, this writing. This writing here: the writing you are reading. Deepening, challenging, ripening, teasing, teaching, inspiring, satiating. It has been this way since I took the vows in 1983. And notwithstanding the brief but nontrivial fuckups which nearly derailed my apostleship, I have no regrets. The vows supersede my marriage and fatherhood and the shared homestead on which they are enacted. This minor but not unblessed scribbling is prayer, and the prayer is gratefulness, and the gratefulness pure manna.
“To please a young man there should be sentences,” said Gertrude Stein, who now and again lays a strong hand on my shoulder, and does not object when I add, “to please older men, too. Even old ones.”
For it was the old ones who perceived the Order of Love and the One – the Father and Mother, the Light in the Darkness, the Beloved – in which that Order remembers itself.
It doesn’t matter how lonely we get. It doesn’t matter how impossible happiness with a woman or man seems, nor how distant the Lord appears, nor how foul and unfair the world in which we are mired becomes. Distance is nothing; time is nothing. Bodies come and go, even coming-and-going comes and goes.
Here – in this sentence – here – in the way this sentence is written – here in the way it is offered and received – you enter me and make me holy. You lift the one who does not deserve to be lifted; you listen when he tries his voice.
For I grazed your hem in passing once and in that touch was healed. I write it – this is the writing – and your grace goes through me forever.