Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Like the flowers, I will seek the light

Books are spilling from the shelves. Fifty years of books. Seems no matter how many we get rid of, more accumulate.

And it’s that time of life to start tidying up. Dump the detritus. Simplify.

So we take loads of books to the Historical Society’s book sale.

But isn’t easy to part with books. So many evoke memories. So many have sentimental value.

My college Walden, with all the words I didn’t know underlined in red.

My big two volume edition of Audubon’s Birds of America, a 25th anniversary present from my wife.

And dozens -– hundreds –- more.

Here's a little book I could never throw out, perhaps the most beautiful book in the house. A French missal. Missel de Frere Yves. The prayers of the Roman Catholic mass for young people. Given to me more than half-a-century ago by Anne, in the hope, I suppose, of elevating my taste in visual beauty.

A typical pair of pages, for Maundy Thursday. The Last Supper. I'm not quite sure why there are only eleven apostles. (Click to enlarge.)

And here a double-page spread of the liturgical year.

This is what I loved about Catholicism, what I still love. The way the rituals mesh with the annual and diurnal cycles of the Sun. The materiality: bread, wine, wax, oil, water, fire. The colors of the vestments. It's all so lusciously pagan.

I could still get into this stuff if it weren't for the requirement of believing the miracle stories are literally true. I can imagine a Church structured with the same childlike simplicity as the Missel de Frere Yves, inspired by the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and with liturgies that celebrate the goodness of the natural world. I could even take the stories you see in the cycle here, as long as they were understood as myths that embody the history of human longing.

But of course that would be a very different Church than the one I left behind. So I'll do my own cycle of the seasons with Thoreau and Audubon. And pass down my Missel de Frere Yves to whichever of my grandchildren -- if any -- professes a sympathy for the core intuitions of natural religion.