God, the Sublime

All was silent ’til

dove sang morning homage to

sun at earth’s far rim

– Brother Paul Quenon, OCSO, in The Art of Pausing, p. 48

One night

Recently I sat in a little chapel filled with one hundred boys upon whom unimaginable crimes and sins had been committed, boys who had endured and survived more species of pain and desolation than I could account in a year, boys who had been married to sadness for years, boys who were thrashing all day every day toward some kind of shivering peace and rebirth, and every one of these boys was bouncing his feet, or nodding his head, or grinning widely, or snapping his fingers, because there was a university alumnus standing where the altar usually is, and he was singing and roaring, and banging away beautifully on his enormous guitar, and the wild deft musicians behind him were making a muscle of music so joyous and fast and captivating that you just could not sit still, no matter how cool you wanted to seem, or how deep inside yourself you crouched as protection against rage and pain and fire, and the boy in front of me was rocking and bouncing like he was about to launch into space, and then he burst into tears, and he cried for the rest of the hour, although he never stopped rocking and bouncing for an instant. I watched his tears slide down his face into his suit jacket, which was hairy and too small for him, and I wondered how many tears had been wept into that jacket, but there is no way to tell.

At the end of the concert, when the band had finished with an incredible flourish and it was okay for everyone to jump up and yell, the boy shot out of his chair and jumped up and down laughing until finally he and everyone else settled down to a dull roar and began to file out of the pews. Then every single boy in the chapel went up to the members of the band and shook their hands and said thank you, sir, and then they lined up in barrack order and walked out of the chapel rustling and humming.

I saw this. I was there. I’ll never forget that boy. Something hit his heart right amidships, right in the place where joy and hope were down to their last lost grains, and it was a man from and of and about this university who delivered that thrilling blow, and I saw it delivered, and I saw it land. That’s what universities are for, hitting kids in the heart. It happens all the time. It happens in a zillion ways. I saw one way, one night, and I’ll never forget it.

– Brian Doyle, Grace Notes, p. 88

Save the kids

I know how incredibly hard most of us work on behalf of every kid we know. I know more brave and weary people breaking their backs for kids than I can count. But there are a lot of kids we don’t help, lost kids, scared kids, kids who are headed to an ocean of blood and despair. How can we catch them on the beach? How can we bend the bruised and blessed world and save them? Because they’re all our kids. And all they want, all they ever wanted, is us.

– Brian Doyle, Grace Notes, p. 50

Close attention

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.

– Henry Miller

Finding God

Whoever it was

who searched the heavens

with a telescope

and found

no God

would not have found

the human mind

if he had searched

the brain

with a microscope.

– George Santayana

The word

In the beginning was the word, no? Not corralled electricity, not digital display, not ephemeral flicker on a stupendous screen. In the beginning was the word, and kai theos en ho logos, the word was God, the Coherent Mercy speaking everything into being, forming from that unimaginable imagination an endless story, giving birth to it from the holy cave of that unthinkable mouth, so that even now, billions of years later, the words we use, the tools of our tongues, are shards of holiness, glittering and loaded with that original light; as we remember sometimes when a string of them fits together and opens a heart.

– Brian Doyle, Grace Notes, p. 73

Mother who endured the unendurable, mother who holds and salves and saves us, mother to whom we whisper in the blue hours of the night, mother whose gentle smile is our food, mother without whom we would die of despair, mother to whom we will run sobbing and laughing when our chapter closes and the path to your arms opens wide,

Pray for us, pray for us, pray for us,


– Brian Doyle, Grace Notes, p. 101


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