Juxtaposition: World churches

Ceiling of Cathedral of the Assumption

Just one big soul:

My college has committed to assigning a college-wide text, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, next year. I’ve signed on, so I’m reading it here in Louisville, Kentucky, between reading scores of papers on Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. It’s been a good 20 years since I last read Steinbeck’s classic, but I’m enjoying the experience, as I did the first time, and I keep thinking of the chapter where Tom Joad meets the Reverend Jim Casy again and Casy tells him about the doubts that have led him to give up preaching, and the epiphany he had about God:

“I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road. I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit–the human spiret–the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of. Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a sudden–I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.”

And I love what he knows, and the deep down conviction of it, and the truth in it: Buddha nature, Christ in everyone, the kingdom of heaven is in you, all that.

Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, Kentucky:

(Sunday evening): After today’s reading, I found myself unexpectedly hungry for Mass. One of the RCIA leaders told us once that his favorite thing to do when traveling is to attend Mass at the local church, and I understood this afternoon as I left the reading room. I wanted to find a church and enter it, to partake of the Eucharist, that moment of grace, and to feel the lightness and clarity that comes with it.

The guidebook pointed me to the Cathedral of the Assumption, only a few blocks from my hotel, so I walked there, wondering if it would be possible for me to slip in quietly and sit in the back, as Mass was well underway by that time. I entered a side door and climbed stairs to the sound of joyous singing. Before I got to the top of the stairs the door opened and a man beckoned me in, then pointed to a chair. It was just moments before the Eucharist, and so I was able to partake and then to kneel and feel the stillness flow through me, still surprised by it. A different church, unfamiliar people, and yet the same liturgy, the same quiet ritual, the same icons, and an overwhelming sense of being home.

Afterwards I looked around at the beauty of the architecture in this 1852 church, and at the light flowing through the stained glass over the altar, a light that was echoed minutes later outside, as it streamed in long silvery rays from behind gold-tinted clouds.

Assumption coronation window

Reverend Casy again:

“Before I knowed it, I was sayin’ out loud, ‘The hell with it! There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing.”

All part of the wonder and the joy and the silence and the mystery. Every moment. Being Catholic and loving Buddhism, having a childhood dog named Shiva, and a Kuan Yin statue on my shelf. All part of the beauty. Inscape.

**Images taken from the website for the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, KY.

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