High Church Down South

Three links for Tuesday that, again, I meant to send out on Sunday:

1.

Alex Mar writes in the Oxford American about visiting a convent in the center of Houston, near where H and I lived for seven years. “But now that I am here,” she writes, “I have a confession to make: I am already disappointed.” Of course (spoiler alert) the story of the piece is the story of how that disappointment dissipates, and she’s able to see the meaning in scenes like this:

“At 6:30 on the dot, still in sweatpants and socks, I pad quietly down the tan carpeted stairs and into the living room where we gather for prayers, a handful of women in our sleepwear. I settle in beside Kelly, my age, seated on the blue pincushion of a sofa; we are flanked on either side of the room by Sisters Adrian and Julie, our pair of septuagenarians in flannel bathrooms… Together the women, as if on cue, crack open their leather-bound prayer books.”

2.

And we can’t talk about Catholics in the South without mentioning James Parker’s piece in The Atlantic on the publication of Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journals from the late 1940s. He writes:

“For O’Connor, the space left by the destroyed ego—we can imagine it as a kind of humming vacancy, drifting with pieces of burned paper—was holy because it belonged to God. And she wanted it. Or, more precisely, and more poignantly, she wanted to want it. ‘Dear Lord, please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss … to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfilment.’ Electric with literary ambition, she prays to be erased. A paradox? Hardly. ‘Don’t let me ever think, dear God,’ she pleads, ‘that I was anything but the instrument for Your story.’”

3.

Finally, I’ve read some great things on the meaning of Lou Reed since his passing on Sunday, like this reminiscence by Sasha Frere-Jones. But one I found particularly relevant here is Alex Abramovich’s notion that, for Reed, music was religion:

“For Reed, rock and roll was not a religion; it was religion itself. Repetitions, drones: these were the ways into trance states, and Reed’s way around an ‘all right!’ was rooted in the old Pentecostal church, where the words ‘I feel all right!’ signalled your readiness to receive the Holy Spirit. In his self-reflexive masterpiece, ‘Rock and Roll’, music promised answers that religion could no longer provide. (‘There is no god,’ Reed wrote in the Aspen essay, ‘and Brian Wilson is his son.’) Over the years, the Velvet Underground became a kind of church in which teenage pilgrims found one another.” (via Andrew Sullivan)

It’s the first line that really bears repeating. Not music as *a* religion, but music as religion. It’s one of my favorite ideas: that the power behind things like sex, drinking, poetry and music isn’t a force competing with religion but instead another manifestation of the same force. It’s interesting because those things (sex, drinking, poetry and music) led me away from the church as a teenager; now, in a sense, they’re leading me back.

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