The other day I stepped into a church to attend mass. The small congregation in the city centre church, St. Francis, was well spread, all eyes on the priest illuminated by light from a cupola above the altar. The interior of the dome was plastered with mosaics of saints gathered around the central figure of Our Lord. There were even saints flying around in the air. St. Patrick was very prominent standing there on a grassy knoll, crozier in hand and a lovely green cap upon his flowing, white locks. Christ himself had a long, lean face with a neatly trimmed brown beard, a living man whose soft eyes eased my troubled brain with a benevolent gaze. This is the body, this is the blood, the priest intoned in a melodramatic voice as he held the monstrance before his face. His round, fat features and pin-prick eyes reminded me of a portrait I had seen in the gallery. His homily was most illuminating, on the theme of God not needing to justify his ways to men. In a powerful trick of rhetoric he lowered his voice and cast his penetrating gaze upon the congregation, in such a manner, given the spatial dimensions between us, as to be looking each individual in the eye, in effect penetrating to the core of my being with his words; Who do you think you are, that our Lord should justify his ways to you?
I put my cap on outside on the porch where other members of the congregation, mainly elderly pensioners, dipped their fingers in the holy water font, blessed themselves before slipping along. Indifferent weather, a little cloudy, a patch of blue over the river. The rain will hold off. The people of my native city were out and about, faces and voices familiar to my eyes and ears, no small matter of a little city tumbling around in a vat of living, sensual need. I strode along and liked to think that I could face anyone now with equanimity or without fear, though I was one who believed that man was the beast most likely to test your mettle. I didn’t have to go far for illustration. On Cook St. I ran into my neighbour April, with a new friend, not a very young man, who began to laugh when he was introduced to me, I mean laugh as though he was in attendance at the Comedy Club. I looked around for the source of his amusement, then realised I need not look beyond myself. He nudged April and pointed at me; he’s, he’s funny. Eric was his name, a loud man with a tremendous aura. April said nothing as she linked his arm to continue their tour of the city. Most people, I believe, would make nothing of this incident but as I continued along the street it became a nugget in my head, a piece of grit that would not wear away. In the days of my youth when I travelled with a gun in every hand I would have shot him down and moved on, no wild and whirling moods to trap me, his ringing laughter soon forgotten. Now in a scary moment, there was a need to break something, to tear something, to jump in the river. I had to pause before an open laneway and think. I had to think about the greater world, telling myself that it was Monday in Shanghai and New York, it was Monday in any great city you care to mention, any metropolis with millions of laughing Erics, brash and aggressive, and cars cutting along the freeways like long endless lines of ants. Silence. In this world there are also people who exist in an in-between space. You could say that they don’t count but there are so many of them they must be important in some way, if not exercising powerful influence on the destiny of the planet, then as some sort of under felt, a necessary but invisible source of insulation for the great minds that decide our destinies. Silent and remote. Remote and silent. Dreams crowded with strange birds and beasts. The benevolent face of Christ gazed from a cloud. The twelve apostles too were outcasts and freaks. They left their ordinary lives as fishermen, for example, to follow a man who spoke alien words, and strayed from the teachings of their fathers.
It was Monday in Hong Kong, and South Kensington, in San Francisco and Munich. I would like to continue with a more striking elucidation of the matter but I can’t, not now, because now is not a good time.