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The God Blurred World

The God Blurred World

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Published by Joe Bonomo
New Ohio Review (N5 2009). Cited as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2010 (Christopher Hitchens, ed.)
New Ohio Review (N5 2009). Cited as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays 2010 (Christopher Hitchens, ed.)

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Published by: Joe Bonomo on Jul 07, 2010
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11/25/2012

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Recently I looked at newspaper coverage o the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar mis-sion: ront page ater ront page o banner headlines, screaming two-inch type,giddy editorial cartoons, all reported manner o visionary enthusiasm and tear-ul astonishment or a new uture where moon creatures have been disprovedand NASA will rescue us all. Writer and sci- visionary Ray Bradbury wantedto create a new calendar, beginning with “Year One o the New Era.In Section One, on page two o the July 20, 1969 edition o the
ChicagoTribune
—barely noticeable in the lower-let corner, the insubstantial pica-width dwared to near extinction by the booster power o Apollo media cov-erage—ran a small item:
Mother Kills Sel and Two ChildrenMillstone, N.J., July 19 (AP)—Mrs. Nancy A. Schnitzer, 29, killed herchildren Douglas Jr., 9, and Donna Lynn, 2, with a 12 gauge shotgun andthen turned the weapon on hersel at the Schnitzer home here, police said.
A headline near the top o that page read “Here’s Scenario or 1stMoonwalk!” But beneath was documented proo that what gripped much o a world barely penetrated the appalling consciousness o one house in New Jersey.As a kid, I loved watching the television ootage o the Saturn V andApollo rockets liting o rom Cape Canaveral: the otherworldly orange o the heat and fame, the intense, God-awul vapors. I glimpsed the inside o auniverse—a dream, a hell—that I’d never beore seen. The attached scaold-ing and ladders on the launch pad, surreal in its height o three hundred and
The God-Blurred World
Joe Bonomo
 
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sixty-three eet, ell away like so much lint as we struggled to master gravitywhile three hundred pounds o monomethylhydrazine uel and nitrogen tet-roxide oxidizer, 41,000 pounds o engine propellants ring to make lunar orbitinsertion, and the coral glow o the booster rockets all lit a world new again.Such backlit
mise-en-scène
. I the image-art o cinema oered this century notmerely verisimilitude but indeed a new way o seeing the world and ourselves,then the lito blazes that enkindled southern Florida in the late Sixties andearly Seventies were also atomic lters o a new rontier, lighting the antiquesbelow.The Stations o the Cross were welcome respite rom the unexciting certaintieso the classroom. For many o us grade school kids at Saint Andrew the Apostle,there was a cinematic drama in this Act o Contrition describing Christ’s nalday on earth, unlike any other religious service. Church always held or me anoverpowering theatrics. The grave silence bespoke a story in progress: enteringchurch, I always elt as i I were entering a movie in the middle. It was a storyI elt let out o many times. The bored aces o my classmates suggested thatthey, too, had missed the climax. Were we too young? Too inattentive? We hadto listen hard or legend.I absorbed a great deal about the art o narrative rom attending church.The Bible readings and Gospels were ull o stories suused with imagery, theirragments arching into a kind o cohesion: the pantomime o Easter; the strip-ping down o the altar during Lent; the slender green palms we brought hometo hang, drooping and ignored, in the kitchen.Weekly worship had become rote and tired, and so I looked orward toStations o the Cross with the keenest interest; there was a quiet dignity andspiritual het to the ritual that seemed absent on Sundays. The Stations wereunpredictably observed: I didn’t know when, or why, we’d head down in singlele to the building annexed to our classroom wing. As we marched, the usualdread o the gloom-tainted church and o tense playground politics that mani-ested themselves even in the house o God, when with whom you sat couldmake or break an aternoon, dissipated, lited into something grand.I’d heard the narrative o the crucixion told oten, was no longer riv-eted by Golgotha and The Shroud. Rather, the deep pleasure o Stations wassomething closer to the warmth and bodily enchantment I experienced dur-ing “reading time,” the late-aternoon classroom diversion during which SisterNena would ask us to lay our heads down on our desktops as she’d read tous rom an oversized storybook. What luxury! My Formica desktop wouldmoisten with my breath’s nearness. Plot didn’t much matter; it was her telling
 
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that enveloped me. When Sister would interrupt the tale to speak to someoneat the classroom door, I’d have to wait, in a kind o suspension, hal-drowsy,hal-attentive, or the story to resume, her voice to again ll my small headwith perume. Aterwards I’d eel dizzy, and would resume my normal class-room activities in a kind o haze: surely this had as much to do with the sleepi-ness that the activity was designed to induce in rambunctious ten-year-olds asit had to do with a depth in mysel that I elt had been reached by the story.Sister Nena’s reading time and the stories o the Stations o the Cross are linkedin a timeless abric, which, as a boy, I pulled over me in a darkness o myth.I haven’t attended a Stations o the Cross service in years. Memories re-volve around that grade-school boy who elt compelled to listen less by burdenthan by desire. As they are in most Catholic churches, the ourteen Stationswere arranged along the side aisles at Saint Andrew, each story-ragmento Christ’s nal aternoon maniested in an etching hanging on the wall. Achurch’s sweeping immersion o itsel—and o its parishioners—into the artswas a magnicent introduction or me to a undamental aspiration, the transla-tion o the untranslatable. Church involves a panorama o the aural, the writ-ten, the theatrical, the visual, the plastic arts, which all nearly overwhelmed mynascent senses. The incense wating into my lungs during Sunday’s High HolyMass entered me not as the Spirit o God, but as the Spirit o Story.For me, then, the great churches existed in an erotics o representation,pulsing as much with art’s invisible desire to make maniest the splendor o our chaotic world, as with the Holy Spirit’s desire to make itsel maniest inour chaotic selves. Characteristic o most devotional exercises, the ourteen Stations o the Crossdemand a rigor o the body, a pious severity echoed in the harsh pews, thehush o the service, the rigid ormulae o the idiom. And the meditative pauseat each image or prayer and consideration refected not simply the severityo Christ’s suering but the immensity o the image’s power as a narrative.Though our heads were down in our prayer books, our imaginations wan-dered through the artul constructions o each picture. The etchings at SaintAndrew weren’t extraordinary in any respect, being Sixties-style generic relieso dark-brown wood and shiny, gold-tinted metal. But that didn’t matter: theconstancy o Christ’s agony and sacrice wrought by each pose attracted me.The desire or spirit made maniest in the physical realm was all too apparentto me as a young boy gazing upward at a thin man, his head hung in anguishbeneath exhausted shoulders, orced to carry a cross ater having allen or a

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