Monday, November 18, 2013

The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle

I think about the motley chaotic confusing house that is Catholicism. I think about the mad wondrous prayer of the Mass. I thing about how htere are such stunning and wonderful and confusing people in the clan of Catholic. I think about how we are all several kinds of people at once and hardly know ourselves let alone anybody else. I think about how possible the Church is, and how possible we are. I think about how really the Church is lots and lots of us mulish miracles gathered for little holy meals and story-swaps. I think about how religions are like people, capable of both extraordinary evil and unimaginable grace. I think about how the Church is sort of like the windows above me which catch these timbers of sun and focus them on the human comedy. I think about how I'd be a lot less of a man if I didn't have ways ot wake up to what I can be if I harness mercy and humor and grace and wisdom and attention and prayer and humility and courage and grace.

Which is what all true stories are about. Which is what we are, really, at our best--true stories. And true stories, stories with love and power in them, can save your life and save your soul and bring you, if even for only a flickering instant, face-to-face with the unimaginable creative force that once, a very long time ago, explained itself to Moses as, simply and confusingly, I Am. That force is in you, in every moment, in every story; which you know and I know, and which we hardly ever admit, which we should, so I do, amen.
(the clan of catholic)
Read it once. 

This is the essence and theme and a large portion of the style of The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle.

In face, it is so truly the essence of it that I can't describe it better.

Read it a second time, perhaps aloud.

So I will just say that I liked this book very much. Some of the essays are written in a more standard form.
The third person to bless my rosary was a small girl in sage country. She is six years old. Whatever it is that we call the creative force that made us all and can be seen most unadorned in children beams out of this kid with the force of a thousand suns. She put my rosary on top of her head and held it there with her right hand as she put her left hand on my face and said I hope these beads will always have holy in them for when Mister Brian needs it, which is a very good blessing it seems to me.
(ten blessings)

Some are stream of consciousness.
At least look her in the eye and be gentle. Christ liveth in her, remember? ... Also in the grumpy imam, and in the surly teenager, and in the raving man under the clock at Flinders Street Station, and in the foulmouthed man at the footy, and in the cousin you detest with a deep and abiding detestation and have detested since you were tiny mammals fresh from the wombs of your mothers. When he calls to ask you airily to help him lug that awful vulgar elephantine couch to yet another of his shabby flats, do not roar and use vulgar and vituperative language, even though you have excellent cause to do so and who could blame you? But Christ liveth in him. Speak hard words into your closet and cast them thus into oblivion. Help him with the couch, for the ninth blessed time ...
(how to be good)

Some, like the example we began with way back at the top of this piece, are in-between.

In a way, they were like reading Ray Bradbury who reveled in words, flicked words against each other to talk to us in a new way, drowned in the poetry of them. If Bradbury had written about faith he'd have made me smile, nod, see myself. These hit me that way.

I will say that Doyle is from Portland, Oregon, which tends to imbue its inhabitants with a somewhat different viewpoint than those from my part of the country (Texas by way of the Midwest). The things that divide us are those that he lets roll off his tongue as matter-of-fact. However, those pointers tend to be lightly passed over to get to more important, personal ground. That makes it easy to ignore comments which would usually make me roll my eyes if they were emphasized more. And there are not very many of them. I appreciated that because the overall effect of the essays was to make me think more like the excerpt that started us off on the review.

This book is by a Catholic for imperfect Catholics. Doyle's light hand with divisive elements makes me think wonder if it wouldn't be a good one for Christians of any stripe. These essays make me think of how Pope Francis has so many enthusiastic supporters from outside Catholicism, spreading even into atheist ranks. They draw on the common things we all know about being human from the very good, to the striving, to the times that we fall and must haul ourselves up for another try.

Read it a third time.

Get the book. Keep it by your bed. Pick it up. Read it. Let the words roll over you. And be glad.

The review copy was provided by the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for Patheos to feature their books.My review is my own based solely on the book's merits.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to pick this book up. Thanks for the review.