I don’t mind admitting: I’ve got my issues with the church, like I’ve got my issues with anyone/thing it takes you less than ten seconds to see through.
I keep re-assessing the joy-to-pain ratio of acts done in the name of the Lord. You can imagine the rest…
All the same, there’s been some impressive thinking and writing I’d register on the Joy side of the ratio. And we don’t need to turn to the Bible, the great philosophers and theologians to find it. Kent Beausoleil. His true name and it fits. He’s a priest who hasn’t lost touch, who seems to be working out his own ratios, and finding conclusions which, quite honestly, leave even a know-it-all like myself silent for a minute or two. And Bill Johnston. William Thomas Johnston, to be precise. A grand-sounding name befitting his depth of vision and consequent judgement of our times. Two different takes on the soul in search of what has been promised. Are they really so different, I wonder…
Bill Johnston is right up there along with Amy Jo Sprague, Penny Goring and Matthew Temple in my books and I’ll be returning them all more than once. What you have here is an abridged version of the opening of How to Serve an Unholy God.
How indeed to serve an unholy God? Is Crucifixio a response? Or Regrets?
And what if the real question’s not how to, but why: why at all serve an unholy God?
Desire. Desire. We do not desire a thing because we deem it good, but deem it good because we desire it (said another wise man)…
The bright light pierced the color shards of glass bathing the wooden pew in front of me with colors that brought joy. Songs of rapture filled the air while smells of perfumed incense enveloped me in mystery. A young American boy from the 1960s surrounded by family, surrounded by community, looked over the wood of that pew and encountered strange men and women doing strange things, saying strange things, and a boy’s heart was filled with wonder. My heart, filled with bliss, felt love.
Years later, as history met experience, as prayer met spirit, as faith sought understanding, this outward manifestation turned inward. As the many sufferings of life changed bliss to anger, and wonder to hurt, the mystery became me and the me who did not understand rejected family, rejected faith, and found an ache planted.
The endless see-saw of love’s pursuit and life’s reality pierces the soul, and the heart wounded, compassionately sees at once injustice’s hold, and loves freedom, while the seeker’s hand firmly grabs the cross forever kneeling, forever praying, forever reaching out to mystery as mystery reaches out to me. I collapse, catching belief, catching me.
Over a hospital tray
of uneaten Jell-O,
maternal death looming,
I ask my mother of regrets.
through oxygen haze
and medicine drip
she says ‘no’.
Later at home, posthumously,
I feel the lie.
Seven delinquent kids regrets.
Cigarette asphyxiation regrets.
Married at 19
And the empty liquor bottle tips.
Kent Beausoleil, published in Shaking Thoughts.
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The town in which I was born was poorly named. The town was known as “Haven.”
I have been told the night I was born every woman with child in Haven miscarried with the exception of two. Some early in their pregnancy, some even unaware of their condition, merely bled. One woman died in the passing of her unborn baby. Another child was born dead and misshapen, with varying accounts of the extent of its disfigurement. Only two babies that night ever met eyes with the world. One, deemed Azalia, was said to be born chubby and laughing with a full head of blonde hair. I was the other.
With only two midwives in the town of Haven, and those off tending to clients able to pay, I was born of a mother alone in our single-room shack. She pushed me into this world onto our bare wooden floor, standing on her own two legs. She cut my chord with a carving knife from a drawer and wrapped me in a thin blanket. As a child I’d overheard it said that I was born bald, with a sickly appearance, pale and thin and lacking the breath of life. My mother held me through the night convinced she would have to place me beneath the earth in the morning. After weeping until she nodded off with my body resting on her chest she awoke the next morning to the sound of my weak crying.
Perhaps the memory of those days, blurred as they are, have been tainted by the effect of nostalgia, but in as many ways as I can recollect the time spent with my mother was filled with joy. We shared a small one-room house. As a child I had little and was put to every task I could accomplish as soon as I was strong enough to achieve them. I helped with the cooking, scrubbing the wash of others in exchange for firewood, smearing the many chinks and cracks in the walls of our home with mud to seal out the frigid wind.
I still recall the night I returned to our excuse for a home with arms full of dung to burn when I found my mother had finally succumbed to the pox. As a bastard I had no one left to care for me and the people of the town, fearing I would bring the illness into their homes, turned me into the street.
It was my first night huddled in the blackness of an alleyway that a man came to me. I was pulled from my sleep, my face forced into the mud and my breeches ripped from my backside. I pushed myself from the ground with my arms and as the man raped me I cursed him.
I cursed him with every foul word a boy of that age could know. I cursed him in the name of every god, creature and evil spirit. I cursed him in a tongue I did not know I possessed. I cursed him and he stopped.
I heard snapping sounds and gurgling then, and when I spun around I saw Leone. Leone was a tall man with a thin build, fittingly cruel eyes as dark as his hair, and what I saw to be an unaccountable strength with a large, heavy, red-headed fellow at the end of his arm. He held the man a foot aloft and in one hand he had the large man’s throat. The man died fairly silently as Leone increased his grip, driving his fingers into his neck and when the man fell away he still held a handful of throat in his grasp.
I thought surely I would die as I watched my uncle drop the chunk of flesh and lick the blood from his fingers but he merely said “come with me, boy” and, seeming to have no choice in the matter, I did.
Bill Johnston, adapted from How to Serve an Unholy God.
More from the great man here