Friday, December 28, 2012

spiritual homelessness 1

I've been busy writing this past semester, although little of it has ended up here.  But as a final requirement I've taken a course called final integrative seminar which is meant to pull together many of the threads of my years at seminary.  The exam for this course is what's called a "statement of ministry," and while it may be precocious to call it that--I don't have much of a statement to make about something unless I've been directly involved in it for a long time--it's somewhat accurate.  I'll publish it in 4 sections starting today.

Spiritual Homelessness

My Statement of Ministry

Introduction:  What is my understanding of God?

Like all stories about God, this is a story about loss.  I knew an artist named John Wolfe back east in the 80s.  He was one-legged, had had the other blown off in Vietnam, had a family, a wife, a little girl, and an awfully big talent.  One of the few New Paltz artists to have his own studio, separate from where he lived and not on campus.  He worked in oils primarily.  He didn’t want an artificial leg but hobbled around on two metal canes that ended in cuffs on his forearms, his good right leg, and his stump. 

            He told me a story that took place in the 70s.  He’d just gotten out of the service a few years before, after losing the leg, and was down and out New York.  He couldn’t take it anymore, he said, drinking all the time, angry as hell, in pain when he wasn’t high.  He was sick of people, sick of life, and sick of people in his life, so he decided one night to just get out. 

            “I wanted,” he said between puffs from his Marlboro, “I wanted to be away from people, but not away from people.  You know what I mean?  I was tired of civilization or tired of the people in it.”  He took another drag and stared off into the distance, even though all he could see across the street was the library and the bar.  “People shot at me, they took my leg.  I didn’t blame people, I blamed civilization, or what civilization done to them.  I hated that.” 

            He stubbed out the Marlboro and shook another from the pack into his mouth.  He was fair-haired, wispy bangs blown across a boyish face that was too trusting to live for long on the streets.  His eyes pincered up.  “I got together a lot of money, I don’t know, couple hundred.  Be honest, I don’t remember where I got it from.  Saved it, borrowed it.  Might have stolen some, who remembers back then?”

            He lit the Marlboro, took a long drag, and handed it to me.  I took a single toke—that’s all I did with cigarettes—and gave it back.  He stubbed it back in his mouth and talked around it.

            “I’d heard about this place, down on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Tiny town, no one goes there.  I took a flight to Mexico City, took another flight east to another town.  Had to rent a burro take me up to another town where I caught another flight.  Caught a helicopter from there, one of those passenger things, got a fat belly and room for thirty.  Picked me up from one mountain top and took me across to another mountain top.” 

            He was off in another world by then, watching people come in and out of the library and either head for their cars or the bar next door.  We were sitting in front of the bank, the nicer one in town, but the people inside had never seemed to mind anyone leaning against their wall so we leaned.

            “Whole other air up there.  I could feel like, like my lungs were filling up with something else, something I’d never breathed before.  Something people were really supposed to breathe.  I couldn’t wait for them to open the door.”

            A guy we knew came out of the bar and waved at us.  We shrugged back.  “I was standing on the ledge when the dude opens the door.  What do I see directly across the tarmac?”

            I grinned.  I knew it wouldn’t be good.

            “McDonald’s arches.”  John took a final drag like he’d sucked all the bitterness out of the Marlboro and flicked it in the street. 

            “Did you stay anyway?”

            “Course I did.  I’d put a lot into this place or what I thought it was going to be.  But it ended up it wasn’t nothing.”  He grabbed his cuffs and we headed up the street.  “I came back, started doing some reading, some meditating.  That’s when I started reading Buddhism.  Started painting.  That was the only way I could find that place.”

            John’s canvases were landscapes or cityscapes, sometimes abstractions.  He took life drawing classes on occasion to keep his hand in, but his real work was depopulated, places where people had been and gone.

            I said, “No people?” 

            “No civilization.  People I can handle.  It’s what being around other people does to them I don’t like.”

No comments:

Post a Comment