On a holiday, if you don't go to church, the synagogue, or some other such worshipping place, you go to the books, if you are a type of person who is interested in 'the word'. My own homely worship place is in the bathroom. There I have all the favorite Jesuits, the Kabbalists, the contemporary interesting theologians, several bibles in several languages and editions, and other such ancient texts. You get the picture. My morning ritual begins with a good look in the mirror. These days it is my hair that fascinates me. Next, I let my eyes glide down on the spines of the books, and then I make an instant selection. Today it was Balthasar Gracián's Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (1637) that caught my gaze. The word, oracle, made me think of my mother. In spite of her Marxism as her primary religion, she liked going to the prophets in town. This was usually not an affair that one was loud about, and you had to know the right people if you wanted to get in touch with these saints. She used to make my sister and I swear that we would never disclose our exciting activity of visiting, which, however, often involved a bathetic conclusion: “By Jove,” mother would say, “such nonsense, but how I love the passion in it.”
Indeed what the prophets had to say was nonsense, but the fascinating part was sensing that at least where mother was concerned she really would have liked to come across the real astonishing part which would have placed her in a state of grace. So she was always hopeful. And it wouldn't have mattered which one, as long as it was there (the Catholic theologians distinguish, for instance, between actual grace and sanctifying grace, accidental grace (gratia creata accidentalis) and uncreated substantial grace (gratia increata substantialis), efficacious, sufficient, irresistible, infinite grace, and so on. You get the picture). But states of grace are hard to come by, and for the most part, what we are left with is making distinctions rather than experiencing them in their fulness of beauty and being. I read these lines from Gracián in the bathroom:
"Do not die of the fools' disease. The wise generally die after they have lost their reason, fools before they have found it. To die of the fools' disease is to die of too much thought. Some die because they think and feel too much, others live because they do not think and feel at all. The first are fools because they die of sorrow, the others because they do not. A fool is he that dies of too much knowledge. Thus some die because they are too knowing, others because they are not knowing enough. And yet though many die like fools few die fools." (180)
It occurred to me that if there is something that never ends, it is devising strategies for testing our courage when it comes to making distinctions between house oracles and heart oracles, especially when we know that revelations about their inner qualities rely on bells ringing. One such bell reverberates in my head, as we speak, through the words of Gertrude Stein, ringing through Alice B. Toklas, which I have just quoted in my post on the 11th: “I may say that only three times in my life have I met a genius and each time a bell within me rang and I was not mistaken.” I'm going to church today and worship along Augustine's genius: Ipsi sancti in ecclesia sunt alii aliis sanctiores, alii aliis meliores.