Sunday, February 01, 2009

Going to Church

There was a time when I wondered why more people did
not go to church. Taken purely as a human recreation, what
could be more delightful, more unexpected than to enter a
venerable and lavishly scaled building kept warm and clean
for us one or two hours a week and to sit and stand in unison
and sing and recite creeds and petitions that are like paths
worn smooth in the raw terrain of our hearts? To listen, or not
listen, as a poorly paid but resplendently robed man strives to
console us with scraps of ancient epistles and halting accounts,
hopelessly compromised by words, of those intimations of
divine joy that are like pain in that, their instant gone, the
mind cannot remember or believe them; to witness the
windows donated by departed patrons and the altar flowers
arranged by withdrawn hands and the whole considered
spectacle lustrous beneath its patina of inheritance; to pay, for
all this, no more than we are moved to give—surely in all
democracy there is nothing like it. Indeed, it is the most
available democratic experience. We vote less than once a
year. Only in church and at the polls are we actually given our
supposed value, the soul-unit of one, with its noumenal
arithmetic of equality: one equals one equals one.

-- John Updike, Pigeon Feathers and other stories (quoted in an essay by Charles E. Cole in the Quarterly Review). h/t Garrison Keillor.

1 comment:

Alexander Chow-Stuart said...

That is so beautiful, Bumble. I hadn't read it before but it is one of the most moving and intelligent arguments in support of spiritual communal gatherings that I have ever read. "Church" has its own loaded meanings and associations, not all of them benign, but the gathering and the celebration of humanity are universal, hopefully. Updike is amazing.

It reminds me of something Bruce Chatwin wrote (maybe in Songlines, maybe in Granta) about home being the point on the globe at which our horizontal travels (as nomads) intersects with the vertical divine world of heaven and hell (or however you wish to imagine it).

Charong then expanded on that idea to say that gas companies probably find those intersections when they are situating their gas stations:-)