Friday, January 13, 2012

Thought and Faith in Thought in Form

One must work to keep oneself (a) honest and (2) surprised. This work can take many a twist, nay, many-a. Lately, and for lack of anything better to occupy myself, I have put away middle-aged things and convened at the point of faith. For background, I have for many years relied on a faith-by-belief position which lately has sagged and flagged, not for any reasons except that it seemed arrogant to maintain such a personally-preferred status when all the world is going to meeting. I mean, if poets can publish their own books, and gays fight to marry, and people can camp out for financial clarity, I really ought to find a church. Simple enough.
I thought about here and there (Episcopals v. Romans) and decided to go whole-hog, being one who likes commitment (see the ring, the boy, the forms) and besides is on-board with the Trinity. So I went to St. Stephens over here in the Southeast and loved it, and I kept going and love it more, and I have been going every week, and going to adult catechism classes, and praying the Rosary among others, and just having a ball.

It's a lot like C.B.G.B. back in the day but without the hangover.

If you want strange, join the Catholics. I knew Christianity was paradox-driven by the RC's are seemingly compelled to layer, offset, and baffle. I am convinced that fundamentalism is in large part driven by those who don't get RC and can't stand not getting it. Ontological Luddites, let's say. And as far as social aspects of the weirdness goes, I am happy to report that my positions are unchanged and in fact glorified, and I am happy to discuss them: abortion is a right; same-sex marriage is a right. Neighborly love and humility should leave us no choice. Thank you.

But anyway. The thing I want to write about involves Baptism (Capitalizing is big in all its forms), Saints, and dreams.

So. When you (or I) are baptized I will have the opportunity to name one or two patron saints. These should be highly prized individuals you adore, relate to, emulate. I felt groundless and while planning to drop in on the local RC bookstore laid in a proper prayer to God himself for help and guidance, promising a cache of one thousand prayers for the souls in purgatory if he helps out (like I said, whole-hog).

The next night, I had this dream.

I was in the lower level of a building, the interior of which was white stucco walls and old wooden stairs and moldings, which I took to be a restaurant. It was very clean. There was a knock at the door, which opened, and in walks Mervyn Fergusen.

Merv was the doorman/co-proprietor/dean of C.B.G.B. He was famous for wearing a construction hat while working. He was Scot born, Cambridge-educated, a lover of Bach, a connoisseur of all sorts, and he thought kids were the best even when they drove him mad. He was also a devoted atheist being quite unhappy with God for, among other things, the Holocaust. Point taken. He and I were close. He introduced me to T.S. Eliot's poetry, David Hume's writings, and generally was a great guy. Merv died in 1982 of colon cancer, having hidden himself away from everyone except closest family, not wanting to make a fuss.
But as I said, in walks Merv, bare-headed with a look of sadness or utter longing. A person pops their head out and after confusing Merv with me (as far as who had been outside) says we can go upstairs. So we go up these nice old wooden stairs to the ground floor.

*This dream is a trip. Read on. Sorry if it weirds you out. If it helps, I understand. The Catholic Church is rife with idiots, felons, sex fiends, and impostors. It's crimes are legendary. But then, I do not believe in the Catholic Church. I believe in God.*

Anyhoo - as I reach the top up the stairs (Merv drops out from the rest of the dream), a monk comes toward me, looks me in the eye, and passes by to my right. He is dressed in a brown robe, white belt. His hands are gathered in an attitude of prayer. A voice says his name is "Petronius."

Petronius. Keep that in mind.

I am now on the ground floor - same walls, lost of light - where a number of people are gathered, who I take to be waitstaff, cooks, and hosts for the restaurant, which I now understood to be in fact an utterly transformed C.B.G.B. They were all tasting wine which was to be served that night as a way of educating them for their customers. Very professional. The owner is there, and he says, "Actually, Patrick chose the wine."

At this point I was starting to wake up from sleep, but the dream was so strong it kept going. People looked at me and smiled. I nodded, and I woke up out of the dream.

It is about 5:00 AM. I lay there for a moment then said ten prayers to God to have mercy on the soul of Mervyn Fergusen, which I am more or less convinced may be languishing in Purgatory. Jesus what the H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks is going on. I get up and go to my computer and look up "Petronious." I see the noted Latin satirist by that name, Fail. Then I see Saint Petronious.

Saint Petronius is an obscure Saint, unless you live in Bologna, Italy, of which he is the patron Saint. I mean to say that his name is not on the current Church Calendar of Saints. He was born in the early fifth century and died 457, I believe. He was born to a noble Roman family and converted to Christianity. He travelled to Africa and went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He was a noted ascetic and a "man of good virtue." He was made Bishop of Bologna, Italy. While Bishop, he retained his ascetic habits. He is noted for building a great cathedral on the model of the churches of Jerusalem. The Cathedral was dedicated to Saint Stephen.

Someone once told me that Catholics don't believe in coincidence. Well, I do. But I also believe in God. So, when I pray to God for guidance in naming a Saint, and I have a dream that includes a monk, and the monk is named "Petronius," and it turns out that there is a Saint Petronius who was a monk, who built a St. Stephens church, and the church I go to is St. Stephens. And, when the whole look and feel indicates that this is a seminal dream, and I weep to my wife as a recount it; and, even knowing that the unconscious/symbolic/archetypal form of C.B.G.B.'s - a problematic, mixed, dark place - has been transformed into a place of light; I say, given all this, I feel grateful and not a little awed. All this, and I am not even Baptized.

Well, what's next. My research yielded no clear results for dreams of Saints. I spoke to my priest who was impressed but counseled me to choose a Saint on the Calendar (the St. Stephen priest is about my age. He escaped from N. Vietnam under threat of death for practicing his beliefs and from what I know of him is very, very special. Just a great guy and devoted and solid in a way that takes my breath away).

At this point I was going purely on gut. I was glad I spoke to my priest, at St. Stephens. I went to daily Mass that evening at St. Mary'sCathedral in Portland, thinking I might talk to the presiding priest. I am glad I went, to give thanks, but as the service ended I understood that no one in the world was going to tell me what was right or true as far as the meaning of my dream. My body felt drained, my heart light. I attended daily Mass the next morning at St. Stephens. That is a hardcore group, the daily Mass folks.

The upshot is that my Patron Saints will be Joseph (husband of Mary) and Petronious. I have said my thousand prayers to God for mercy for the souls in purgatory. If I have done some good beyond fulfilling my vow, great. These were undreamt and treacherous real-world waters I was unprepared for that I got through and am glad to report. Thank goodness it is over.

Other notable"take-aways":

The RC Catechism speaks of prayers to God being directed to Angels or Saints for mediation.
Comments: Roger that. 10-4.

I am American. Petronius was Italian.
Thought: It couldn't matter less.

Saint Petronius, made a Bishop, appeared to me in the robes of a monk.
Rome: take note.

Principally, when God delivers your prayers, you should deliver on your promise to God.
cf. too many references to list here, and I wouldn't do that to you or myself even if I wanted to. I mean, you know where to go find this stuff, right?

Finally, my wife pointed out to me that I have often spoken of "rebuilding" from when I was young, since my days in New York, in C.B.G.B.'s. Rebuilding. When, in life, in poetry, in form, and now have I ever done other than rebuild.

Maybe someday, maybe soon, life mght feel new.

Ours is not a fashionable time to be Catholic, and less to announce it, but then it is never the time to be anything other than what one must be because you feel it stronger than anything, because you believe. I am what I am because I believe with love, and I state what I am and what I know being under another sort of obligation to tell the truth as I am best able. You see how lives can be made and remade, and so you speak to that purpose. What could be simpler.

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