Friday, April 15, 2005

PRAYER SCHOOL, PART 2 and SATURDAY

PRAYER SCHOOL, PART 2

We have been talking about Ignacian prayer, which is a most interesting, if demanding
method of prayer. But the overall lessons of "what prayer is" and "how it changes your affect" have been the most fascinating aspects of class. I want to understand what happens when the yearning or the desire that we talked about on the first week transcends tradition and technique. I've come to see it as an effort to move from blindness to sight, from unconsciousness to consciousness. An effort, of course, with no guarantee of success. In many ways, the pray-er (who curiously becomes synonymous with her act) is like one of those ancient voyagers, back when the world was still uncharted, who set off to see what was out there. If anything. And yet, in blindness, they were willing to undertake the most arduous of journeys, to risk the possibility of never returning, never seeing loved ones or home again. The deepest forms of prayer involve the same risks, the same days and weeks of monotonous seas, the same potential to alter the shape of the world.

SATURDAY
Finished McEwan's latest earlier tonight, and it remained very much on my mind as I tried (and failed) to fall asleep for a couple of hours. Finally, I abandoned the idea and took solace in hot chocolate and my computer, feeling the need to "talk back" to the novel.

As always, the wonders of McEwan's prose kept me spellbound. It has been labeled "post 9/11 fiction," and the connection is evident. The characters in Saturday live with the acute awareness that the streets that seem full of bustling commerce, the lives so full of promise and satisfaction are not nearly as solid as they seem. But to me the novel seems more like a mid-life reckoning, perhaps even McEwan's own. Though he clearly attempted to make his protagonist unlike himself (Henry Perowne even argues with his poet daughter about the value of literature) I saw McEwan's dust jacket photo as the character moved through his story. The skilled surgeon at the height of his powers, never more alive than when he was at work, seems a perfect metaphor for McEwan and his art. And though I know nothing of his life, I can easily imagine him enjoying the warm and intelligent family life: I see him drinking the wines in the spacious high-ceilinged rooms, feeling marginally guilty for the pleasure he takes in his luxury vehicle, even chopping the ingredients for a fish stew described so vividly the fragrant aroma of garlic practically rises from the page.

The most affecting part of the book for me came at the end when Perowne envisions the rest of his life: the deaths of his mother and his father-in-law, the children's final leave taking from home, the gradual withdrawal from his work. He thinks of how easily his mother's things--the ordinary objects with which she defined her life--were packed up and given away when she went to a nursing home, and how small and worthless they seemed once they were no longer attached to her. The final effect is of melancholy coexisting with even the most abundant happiness. In the end, this is not just a novel in which the world as we know it is destabilized by random acts of violence and terror. It is one in which that world is ultimately besieged and undermined by time itself.

I had not meant to connect my two topics in this post, but there is no prayer in Henry Perowne's world. No God. And yet, I come away from this book which elucidates the ephemeral nature of life filled not only with Perowne's melancholy. I'm also full of my prayer school yearning: Let this not be all there is.

Now to bed.

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