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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Portrait of A Saint

Sunday, March 02, 2008

One of my first ventures as Associate Pastor is to lead a Lenten small group called, "Writing As A Spiritual Practice." We're doing writing exercises together on Sunday mornings, trying to write a little bit every day on our own, and experimenting every week with different "spiritual" compositions.

One such experiment is to write a description of a "saint."

Here is my crack at that testy little genre.

Portrait of a Saint
Rooms opened up with him in them, and there were no strangers. His broad, bearded smile swallowed centuries of fear. Owing to his religiosity, religion fell apart in his presence; his sturdy citizenship took in the world. And the world was never so divided as his own back yard.

He stood on a boundary line, forsaking a security that was rightfully his so that some larger purpose might have its way. He suffered for it, as Christ knows a saint must suffer. If all of heaven was in song when the Son emptied himself of divine vestments to be born in human likeness, the Falls was not singing when one of its own sons shed the Tricolour to be born among the prods. They threw rocks through his windows. They shot his daughter.

Still he stayed. His wife’s nerves gone to hell, and his daughter’s spine pierced by a riot-born bullet, and still the Irishman refuses to yield to the violence that is tearing his community apart. Not that the bullets and rocks miss the mark; his soul is pocked with dents and scuffs. His memory is thick with scar tissue. The lyrical Belfast brogue gives way, sometimes, to a heavy silence, and he stares for hours at the fibers in the carpet or a saucer.

He is impatient as the devil with the cheek of his countrymen. A fidgety, toothless neighbor from down Clonard way who hasn’t worked for years comes to his door every day to eat his bananas and yogurt. He speaks rudely to the company, then slams the door behind him as he leaves with nary a word of thanks. The saint runs his rigid hands over his face and moans at the reverberating door, then slumps to evening prayer.

The dogs on his street leave their droppings on the sidewalk in direct defiance of properly posted signs, and it is they who burden him with the heaviest cross. He stands on the side of his house hosing off the bottom of his shoe again. He looks in the kitchen window at me washing the evening dishes and shakes the exhibit in the air, dangerously close to his reddened face, and pronounces, “I’m sick to death with this!”

This, I think, is the hair shirt that will finally strip away his skin, the irritant to which he will abandon these streets to the devil’s own devices, the stigmata that will devour his faith. Fires and funerals have had their crack at the man and failed; they got in their shots, but they could not topple him. Strikes and protests, murders and threats, the spitting contempt of old ladies and the wide-eyed glee of wicked children: he has survived them all. Only, I fear, to be done in by the dog poop that peppers the Via Delarosa he has worn bare these many years with determined steps.

He punches his foot back into the dripping shoe, and I wonder through the window: was Moses ever tempted to abandon the wilderness over a goat apple? Did Jesus himself ever step in it, then pause a long, hard second before putting his foot back down and stepping one step closer to Jerusalem?

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 6:44 AM


commented by Blogger Jerilyn, 6:47 PM  
You're beautiful. You and your beautiful husband and your beautiful children.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 2:36 PM  

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