Memorial Day 2007

In the flowered hills God is easy to believe in, but what we know as religion is unnecessary. The flowers are what they are: wondrous, but not morally complex. When the flower dies, it effortlessly becomes life for other flowers.  It does not raise the question of the rightness of its death.

But with people, death raises the question of justice, which demands an entire moral context.  As you walk  into the suburbs from the countryside and then into the great cities you need a moral matrix for the blood.  It is the city which demands a religion from God — not the other way around.

Jesus, among the country peasants, talks in agrarian parables about the omnipresence of the Kingdom. He asks us to see and hear deeply, and act as if all moments are tiny seeds of something that will grow overnight into richness. But when He enters Jerusalem (The City) His talk evolves into dramatic liturgies of wine which is really blood and blood which is really love. It is not enough to see and hear deeply; an Exchange must be made to answer the weight of blood.

I walk in a country graveyard. The unanswered bloods of the nearby city are tucked away here in the landscape, out of sight and sound, but weighing like debt weighs on principal. The texts tell me that God has also died ignominiously and out of time, that God has also had His days amputated, suffered the loveless look in the eyes of the prosecutor.

I believe that He must have, or else this graveyard would explode with its own outrage. That Jesus died and won the right to judge the quick and dead — this, I suppose, is why they still sleep under their stones and the bees still buzz hypnotically. From the beginning till now, the mocker in my head says, the flowers and bees have woven their simple contemplations. Where is the promise of His coming?


In the flowered hills God is not difficult to believe in. He seems close, without analysis. People in the country tend to believe in God not because they are simple but because nature simply laves the eyes and heart with no intermediary — look, the sunset!

But in the cities He is far, far away. We have gathered here in order to not need Him. We reject His law as the artifact of a childish age and decide we can relate to one another directly, with no intermediary structure, just like we can see the sunset. As our numbers rise we produce massive quantities of words, thoughts, art, psychological commentary, even new subjects. We are complex to one another. He is on the far side of all that, somewhere. He is buried beneath the layers and layers of amorphous junk that people exude in their relational spaces. It ends in Sex and the City. It ends in reality television.

You want to see people relate to each other directly, without intermediary? Watch one of those reality shows where two people sit in a “house” and try to sort out their “relationship” in the utter freedom that is modern urban secularity. With no moral laws. As they talk, type the transcript in your head, and be amazed at the inarticulate subhuman structure of the thought. Their language literally fails. When there is no moral (read: legal, imposed by a bigger Person) — when there is no legal structure, there is no way to love. All that is left is the self.

When both are selves whose trump card is self-actualization, neither “friend” can make any claim on the other. Without a claim, all the one can say to the other is “like, I feel like you don’t respect me” answered by “like, I do respect you, but I gotta do my thang, you know, like…”

There you have it. We thought we could just have each other, and forget Him. I’m not always sure God exists, but I have metaphysical certainty that we need Him to.


What does this have to do with Memorial Day? This secular city life is more plausible the further away death seems. These inarticulate blatherings are the voice of the young, and the voice of a city where life is getting longer and longer and richer and richer. It is not the voice of Manhatten after 9/11.

Am I rooting for catastrophe to bring God back, then? No, I’m discovering anew the wisdom of yet another monkish piety: momento mori. Remember your own death, every day. and live accordingly. Is this morbid? No, try it. You might discover in it a path to human love.

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