Catherine Madsen


            If poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity, liturgy may be stillness maintained in turbulence: religion deals with what sets the emotions most perilously on edge. It must recreate the rawest states of mind in people who may not, at the moment, be disposed to feel them; it must trouble the hearts, even irritate the wounds, of those who come to services out of habit or in search of mild comfort. To people whose emotions are always on edge it must offer a guarantee of stability and integrity. To offer rational theological adjustments and deliberately inoffensive metaphors to suffering human beings is vastly off the point; it is, as a friend says, like using aspirin to treat a gunshot wound. Liturgy can provide no relief for the human condition if it does not understand the nature of the injury.


The Bones Reassemble 


             A vow is a simplification of relationship into formula. It congeals what can only be enacted into what can be described, as a photograph congeals a face into one expression. It leaves out of account the shifts and nuances of shared life, compressing it all into a few set words. It is the lowest common denominator of intentionality.
            But there is a faithfulness stronger than any vow; a faithfulness that can neither be promised nor abandoned; a faithfulness which is not even consciously undertaken, but informs consciousness more surely than any deliberate act....This faithfulness is bodily, it enters not into your religious observances but into your synapses. It is not a social or personal obligation but something between a lifework and a fate. It is this, and no strenuous, grudging effort of the will, that draws you back to the people and the places you love—and draws you on the terms of the relationships themselves, not the terms you promise or expect. It is steadier and more austere than any promise: you promise only to the things you have chosen, but you are faithful to the things that chose you.


The Law of Relation