The New Journey to God
Chapter 5 December 24, 1993
In which Catherine goes shopping and considers the nature of being. St. Michael offers a version of the ontological proof for the existence of God. St. Bonaventure is compared to certain modern authors.
THE DAYS PASSED, GRAY AND DULL. Winter, that seemed almost upon us in November as the days shortened and the trees were bared, slackened its pace during those last December days leading up to Christmas. The sun, now seen by office workers only on weekends, achieved little either in warmth or light. There was, as yet, no snow.
I returned many times to the chapel of St. Bonaventure. I even bought a copy of the Mind's Journey to God, and tried to read it in light of the illustrations. But the style was as dense as a piece of Celtic knotwork. The ideas seemed less to succeed one another in logical sequence, as to be interlaced through symbolic cross-references, as if to say that each part of the universe was connected with every other, and the whole to God. But it was too much for me, and it was only on account of St. Michael that I persevered with it at all.
I continued to meet with Fr. Fitzgerald, as the archangel had instructed me. I had not intended to mention it, but somehow the story about Michael's appearances came out. Father took it in his stride. He even claimed that it was exactly what one should expect in light of Vatican II and the Church's rediscovery of the layman's vocation. He had a theory that world affirming spiritualities need to be balanced by a strong devotion to the holy angels. It had something to do with the simplicity of the pure spirits acting as a countervailing force to the diversity and fragmentation of worldly activity. It was true of Francis, he said, and of certain modern schools as well.
He also wanted to know if I was eating well. "People who see angels often stop eating, for no sensible reason that I can see. No? Good. Then you can make yourself useful."
And so I did. I served soup one day a week at the kitchen that the Franciscans had started; I took Communion to shut-ins; I filled bird feeders on the chapel lawn, and I joined the altar guild. In the midst of this activity, I would sometimes be reminded of the peace I had known when I was with the archangel — a peace almost as sweet in recollection as in possession — and I would desire, at least in that moment, a life lived whole-heartedly in the service of God.
In time I forgot. From working with the poor, I became interested in poverty; and from poverty, I turned to the creation of wealth; and from wealth to politics, and the exercise of power. I might even have forgotten about God, but by chance, my reading brought me full circle to the God question once more, this time posed from "the other side."
I was reading a book by a member of that school of thought for whom the liberation of man can only be accomplished through the death of God and the deconstruction of all traces of his presence in our culture, our words and our thoughts. The issue turned on unity, or rather, on our assumption that a unity is always there. We assume that there is a unity of person, that connects the deeds of today with those done by one's younger self, ten years earlier. We assume a unity to human history, to time, and to the entire world, which we then call the universe. But it was precisely this universal awareness of unity that the deconstructionist author held to be inimical to man's freedom and maturity. Since the unity of the world was only an echo of "God", and since "God" no longer exists for man, all unities must be exploded.
To him the world was already in fragments, with no pattern to explain it and no source to unify it. It was a finite world, guaranteed by nothing, backed by nothing, and without even the continuity of a single human life to ensure that a common substance perdured through the waves of time, from one moment to the next. And yet, he urged the reader to take heart boldly, and dare to live in this world of ceaseless change. All unities are tyrannical; freedom exists only in constant change. And for freedom's sake, we require a state of unceasing, metaphysical revolution.
Since there is no unity in fact, pursued the author, neither is there any in meaning. There is no Scripture in which to understand the rest. Neither the book of nature, nor the book of man's redemption is open to be read.
"The Inoperative Community" by Jean-Luc Nancy
And so it continued, for page after page in a style intended to illustrate the absence of a common centre to thought or any common language that might oppressively unite author and reader. The deconstructed reader is, I suppose, as brief a fragment in the whirling universe as the deconstructed author. They touch briefly; the mind of the former is kindled into thought by the words of the latter, but of communication, where two might be united in one thought held in common between them, none was expected or desired.
I carried the book to work with me and read it on the Subway each morning. I took it a paragraph at a time, opening the volume where it fell, since if logical sequence is unimportant, presumably one can begin anywhere. I found it oddly compelling: despite its total lack of common sense, the text seemed to contain some mighty secret, about to be explained on the following page. And then one would turn the page and read what followed, and the text would appear to contradict precisely what had previously seemed to be the author's clear intention. At times I would think the whole thing was a joke to fool the critic. And then I would think, he is trying to say something very profound that no words can hold, so he shatters the words. But on balance, I began to think that I was involved in a logic contest with the devil and likely to lose.
I carry a large handbag, and during the return journey, I would attempt The Mind's Journey to God. Of this I understood no more than I did from the morning's reading, although for the opposite reason. If the one had deconstructed human experience to the point where the subject of a sentence did not know the meaning of its own predicate, the other could not mention the least thing without binding it to the full sweep of the world's history, written in the Providence of God, to such an extent was the world for him charged with meaning
My own mind dwelt somewhere between these extremes, acknowledging enough structure to the world to explain the Subway and my daily tasks, but not enough to place these tasks inside a larger framework. In theory, being a Christian, I believed that everything that happens, down to the smallest detail, is under God's Providence; but in practice, I lived as if there were a great vacuum of sense hovering over human affairs.
Gradually, as evening followed morning and my reading continued to alternate between the two books, I realized that I would have to call my careless assumptions to account. There was a common bond between the Medieval theologian and the Twentieth-century philosopher; something they shared and that I lacked. Each was directly and immediately aware of some presence in the world, like a network of light and purpose, suffusing every human thought and utterance. They could hear the divine Logos not only in dogma, but even in "See Spot run!" The difference between them was that where the Franciscan mystic gave praise, the modern author said "No!"
IT WAS CHRISTMAS EVE. I had gone down to the Eaton Centre, in principle to pick up some last minute gifts. It was perhaps three o'clock in the afternoon. The buying frenzy of the previous weeks had passed its peak and for the mall, Christmas was over. It had the fatigued and desperate look of the hall when the wedding reception is over and before the cleaning staff have arrived. In most shops only the remains of their displays were there, picked over by shoppers. In some a certain consolidation of merchandise had taken place, and one found towers of wrapping paper and Christmas cards in preparation for the Boxing Day sales to follow.
I was not alone. Despite the lateness of the hour, people were still shopping. I saw a lot of men there, staring blankly at arrays of small household appliances, or lining up at the cash registers with three and four chocolate bars each — the large size, available in gold or silver foil, that looks like a slab of building material. These men would soon have somewhere to go; but there were other people there, with neither God nor man to look forward to, and for whom Christmas is only an empty day on the calendar, containing no promise and with nothing to do in it.
Shopping in Toronto has increasingly moved underground, to the point where visitors to the city have been heard to complain that they could find no shops at all in the downtown area. In fact, they have been deceived by our inverted architecture. There are three levels of shops to the Eaton Centre, running south from Eaton's for two city blocks, and numbered down from street level. I entered at the north end of the mall, drifted through Eaton's, and descended to the third level. Not knowing what I was looking for, I decided to make a complete circuit, in the hope that something might leap out and suggest itself.
Perhaps it was the deconstructionist philosophy I had been reading, or the result of an exhausted imagination, but the more I shopped, the less sense did anything make. Sense was rather being deliberately unmade, as everything chose to advertize itself by what it was not. There was a cosmetic shop that chose to alert the buyer to the presence of 1,000,000 Canadian children living in poverty. Should we, I wondered, dress plainly and give what we save to the poor? And then there was a shop that sold sunglasses. Instead of the expected shots of sunbathing on the beach, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Cyborg in Terminator 2 — Judgement Day. I paused before a window of Yuppie Baskets. Here at least fluff was being correctly marketed as foolishness, but the variety of unrelated objects was so intense — does one need to purchase a plastic reindeer in a Santa suit along with a tin of coffee? — that I felt faint and lightheaded just trying to figure out what it was that I was looking at.
I backed away quietly, and sat down by the rim of the fountain. The Salvation Army was there, playing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on Country Western instruments, and a small group of youths were attempting a break dance to the music. Here at last, I thought, someone is having a good time.
The group itself was almost as diverse and colourful as the contents of a Yuppie Basket. It seemed to coalesce about a slim, dark-haired fellow, dressed in an impossible yellow outfit of rap-like origin. He was demonstrating an exuberant sequence of steps, and the rest were capping his lead with improvisations of their own. The band moved into a Blues version of "Jingle Bells," and the figure in yellow began to turn a graceful series of cartwheels. But this was too energetic for me and I resumed my mercantile wanderings.
I found a shop specializing in Canadian gifts at the southern end of the mall and went inside. I thought I might purchase some portion of the Canadian experience for a foreign friend, but here as well it seemed that Canada had been transformed into something else — something no doubt easier to market than the real thing. There were the usual Group of Seven napkins and placemats, paper weights containing loonies, and plastic figures of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in assorted sizes.
I seriously considered a sweatshirt depicting the CN Tower and the skyline of Toronto, done in the style of van Gogh, until I realized that it was a treatment that would cause the skeptical to doubt whether such a place as Toronto actually exists. The human intellect tends to reject as impossible whatever the imagination has illustrated as ridiculous.
It was the year of the angel. Angels had even featured in the cover article of Time Magazine. Cherubic figurines were everywhere to be seen, holding small candles or bunches of flowers, advertizing roast chicken, or simply doing nothing at all. I even saw a plaster statue of an angel at prayer. But most angels on display were intended to be functional. Lapel pins of guardian angels were available to guard against assorted dangers, or to commemorate special occasions and the months of the year. For further assistance, the book store had a prominent display of how-to books on contacting one's own personal angel-guide. Even the shop of Canadian souvenirs was not exempt from the heavenly host, represented as small guest soaps in decorator colours.
The banal, if rigorously pursued, has a logic and consistency of its own. Once set beside the real thing, it is instantly exposed. But since of itself the banal contains nothing that would prompt the mind to go in search of mystery or beauty, it can continue unopposed for some time, until by accident, reality intervenes. Thus I stood in vague contemplation, before a display of ornamental soap bars, half of which were shaped like small angels, the rest drawing on "Anne of Green Gables," rejecting none of it. I held a small, decorated box in my hand. It contained a bar of soap. I turned it over and read the inscription on the back. "This product," it declared, "is officially licensed by the heirs of L. M. Montgomery." The package then offered the following piece of metaphysics. "In a word, Idelwild (the name of the product) is Anne and there will always be a little of Anne in each of us."
"Well, that does for both of us;" said Michael, as he replaced one of the angel soaps on the display. "The disciplined romanticism of Canadian womanhood and the eternal praise of the Heavenly Host: all turned to soap."
The virtue of angels is a frightening force. I was suddenly ashamed of the person I was and thought to turn away, but joy prevented and I said, "I am so glad you are here; there are so many things I wanted to ask you about." Until the words were spoken, I had not realized how true they were.
"Then you should have asked me," he said. "Help
is always there." For one horrible moment
I thought of the books I had seen with their
"New Age" instructions on channelling spirits. Who would dare attempt to conjure a spirit as independent and free as this one? Who could so utterly miss the point? He had a sprig of holly pinned to his lapel, and he wore a white scarf,
folded neatly inside the collar of his
The horror passed; I remembered that Christians appeal both to angels and saints all the time, and in very simple ways. There were candles in front of the statue to St. Michael at the Cathedral, and recently someone — not I — had placed a small carnation in the archangel's hand. I wondered again at that strange, supernatural society that we call the Communion of Saints. Yes — help is always there.
"I expected to see you in the Cathedral," said Michael. "One expects at this time of year to find Christians in churches at prayer, rather than out shopping."
"I have been busy about many things." I said defensively. "It is almost Christmas."
"If that is how you see the feast of the Incarnation," he said tartly, "I can understand why you are having difficulties."
We left the shop. I was only too glad to leave the mountain of angelic soap behind me. Continuing my shopping circuit, we took the escalator and reached the upper level. It is not a full floor, but a sequence of mezzanines, joined by bridging sections, so that one can move from one side of the mall to the other. Halfway across, we walked over to the railing and looked down through the network of lower floors, stairways and escalators. At the very bottom was the food court, and people were sitting on little plastic chairs, drinking coffee from styrofoam cups. The young man in yellow was there as well, dancing no longer, but seated in earnest conversation with one of the youths, a carton of chips on the table between them. He looked familiar, but I could not place the resemblance.
I looked up and saw a flock of Canada Geese flying overhead. They were not alive, of course, although the sculptor had produced a fine imitation of these birds as they come in to land on open water. In honour of the season, each bird was now supplied with a red bow around its neck.
Meanwhile, the process of deconstruction, begun in the Subway by my morning reading and developed during the last shopping minutes before Christmas, now rushed forward to whatever may be the logical conclusion of the dismemberment of common sense. And somehow Michael was the catalyst, if not the cause. I should have been strengthened by his example. Just as there are fundamental particles of matter and energy, so are there fundamental particles of the spirit — beings created for no other purpose than to proclaim what creation is. The alien and simple creature standing beside me should have rallied my own dispersed affections to his standard, but the summons was too high and I lost heart. The diverse images around me tightened their hold, messages with no messenger attached. I too am as fractured as these, I thought. I felt faint; strength left my knees, and I crumpled onto a bench.
"You are not well," observed Michael.
"No," I replied, "just tired. It's all this." I made a gesture that took in the geese, the food court, and possibly the entire festive season. Michael sat down beside me.
"Child of God," he said quietly, "whom do you serve?"
I looked away, and tried to focus on the food court; the man in yellow and his companion were cleaning up their table and preparing to move off. For a moment, Michael's question seemed also to contain its own answer. For a moment ... but the moment passed. A window closed, and my numerous projects surged back into the forefront of my mind.
"I don't know," came at last the miserable reply. "That is what I wanted to ask you about. I've been working so hard, at all the things I thought you wanted me to do. You showed me how to value the physical world. I have an interesting job and I value what I am doing. I know it is only the life cycle of the bee, but you showed me that we are responsible for the bees.
"Then you taught me to appreciate human activities and the Church. So I have been busy doing good works; it was more fun than I expected, especially all the interesting people that you meet. Fr. Fitzgerald gave me a plan of life. I pray each day and go to Mass, when I can get away from the office. I have a bank account for charitable donations. I give up things I don't need, like extra cups of coffee; I go to confession regularly, even when I can't think of anything interesting to say. I am reading the Mind's Journey to God, even though I can't understand it. I do all of these things, and I only get more confused. I look at you, and I think 'this is not working'."
"And when you look at me," he said, "what do you see?"
"I see someone who looks only and always at God," I replied, surprised at my words. Until then, I was too busy pitying myself to consider what made the archangel a saint.
"Yes," he said. "To be like God, you must look to God." The weight of Heaven closed in. I stood up to escape its pressure and we left our bench to wander up the other side of the mall.
"There is nothing wrong with the things you are doing," Michael said briskly. "You must continue to do them. But you do each one as if it were an end in itself. Do them all for love of God, and you will simplify many things."
"They seem simple already when I am with you," I said. "And when I am not?"
We were standing in front of the Disney store as he spoke. The large and moon-like face of Mickey Mouse looked down on us from the window, greeting with lunatic glee my discontent and the archangel's compressed and serious joy. Below the face, and featured in the centre of their Christmas display, was a complicated and expensive device consisting of a half dozen small huts in brightly coloured plastic, like the housings of a cuckoo clock, although without the means of telling time. It was intended as a musical entity. In chaotic sequence the doors of the huts flew open one by one, each to reveal a Disney character who would sing a different line of "It's a small world," in a thin, cartoonish voice.
I thought of this superfluous application of human ingenuity, and my reply was ready made. It would speak itself, all about the anonymity and alienation of the big city, increasing levels of violence and decreasing expectations, existentialism and deconstruction, and the intrinsic fragmentation of daily life in the Twentieth century. This reply, drawn from hundreds of talk shows and magazine articles, flashed through my mind, and yet, when I spoke to answer the spirit at my side, it was only to say, "Even without you, the way seems clear."
Yes, even in Toronto, existence is coherent. At its core existence is coherent, even though the fragments may disturb the surface.
"Perhaps," I speculated, "that is why we permit ourselves the luxury of war and revolution. Underneath it all, we know there is a bedrock of sense that nothing can shake. Whatever is destroyed can be rebuilt, since the blueprints are never lost. Even the deconstructionists assume that the bank manager has not so deconstructed arithmetic that the royalties for their books might fail to reach the proper account."
"And if the salt loses its savour?" Michael asked.
"It can't," I said firmly. Hope is a heady virtue, especially to one unaccustomed to its exercise. So also is the perception of being to someone used only to experiencing a sequence of facts. For the first time I knew as surely as if I had tasted it, that something lies behind the dispersion of events.
We strolled on in outward silence as I pursued this line of thought on my own. Or rather, I pursued a line of poetry on my own, since metaphysical thought is arduous and I was unused to it. The line that entered my head was the haunting opening line of Yeats' great poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, ... I had memorized the verses at school, without understanding them.
And now I wondered if the poet might be referring to the experience that Michael had directed me to seek. Was this the inspiration behind the Deep Green environmentalists, for instance; do they seek to lose themselves in some quiet unity, soft as the forest floor, beneath nature, and in it; lapping with low sounds ...
"No, absolutely not!" interrupted Michael, and I woke sharply from my dream. "It cannot be pictured; but if you insist on trying, picture it neither as earth or water, but as light: the light you don't see in itself, but in which you see everything else."
"I thought that being was just some sort of ..." I was about to say "stuff," but amended it to "what everything is made of."
"They are made in it, not of it," said Michael. "They are known through being and desired on account of it, since being is the measure of certainty and the measure of the good. And furthermore," he added, in a tone that suggested a lowering to a simpler philosophic level, "being is not simply a word used to denote the sum total of all existing things."
"Why isn't it?" I asked.
"Why isn't it what?"
"Why can't 'being' mean no more than the sum total of all existing things?"
"If it meant the sum total of all things, you would have to see all these things at once in order to know what the term means. Even I cannot do that, and yet both you and I use the word without difficulty. I say that you are a human being, and you know what I mean. I can say of this building, that toy, or those people, of anything in fact, that they exist and that they are beings. Each is a being all by itself; so the idea of being stands behind each and applies to each."
"Maybe 'being' is just another word for thing," I said, still struggling. "I don't see what you want me to see."
"Only what is always there and never seen: the cause that gives the effect, the eternal that waits through the changes, the background, the reason, the presence in what is present. I want you to see the light through which, despite appearances, you judge the world to be dependable, and not chaotic. That light is as certain as the present moment; more certain, since unlike the present moment, it is unchanging and eternal. It is the same light and the same certitude that connects today with yesterday, so that you know you are one person, and not a plurality of fragments.
"You simply cannot think of being as not existing," finished the archangel with precision.
"I can imagine all of these things being absent," I said.
"And then I can picture the entire universe as not existing," as I continued my destruction of all things.
"That is very interesting," said Michael. "And what does this nonexistent universe of yours look like?"
"I don't know — like a great black expanse I suppose." I knew that I was walking into a trap, but I wanted to see how he would get me out of it.
"From your description, that sounds more like a giant blackboard than a non-existent universe. Your years in school have taught you to associate a dark wall with the expectation of knowledge. You wait for someone to write something on the board. Your black expanse is a symbol of the expectant human mind, but what has your mind to do with that which is?" Michael paused to let this sink in, and then tried a different approach.
"You try to remove the ordinary things from your imagination and then hope to find being behind them somewhere. It is not there to be found. Think rather of how you understand the things that you do see. You will discover that you understand change against an assumption of eternity; that you understand absence in the light of presence; and that if the diversity of all existing things somehow seems coherent to your mind, then it is because you understand diversity through a prior perception of unity."
"It's all in Saint Bonaventure," he added, "although he has to strain language to express it." Suddenly he left his discursive mode of thought and launched into the Theologian's extraordinary hymn to being. He explained the great attributes of being; and as he did so, each metaphysical concept seemed to rise out of the previous and return to it, like a phrase of music to its primary key; a mode of thought to which discursive logic is only a shadow.
"Being is simple because it is the cause of all things and is itself caused by none other — hence being is primary — since it is primary among existing things, it must be eternal. And since it is primary, simple and eternal, it must be completely actual; hence nothing can be added to it, or taken from it — and it is complete and perfect.
"Since it is simple, eternal and perfect, it must be one — admitting no mixture of parts — nor is it a component of any other thing. Rather it is one, and the cause of all multiplicity; it is actual, and the cause of all things; of their existence, of their natures, and their purpose. It is the origin of all things; the model of all things; and the final good of all things. It is in itself simple unity, serene truth, and perfect goodness."
The hymn came to a close. I stared at the objects in the mall around me, at the other shoppers, the garbage bins, and the potted trees growing up from the second floor. I was trying by dint of concentration to wrest the secret of being from the sights milling about me.
"It won't come by effort," Michael said. "It is simply there."
And then I knew. I stopped, amazed. His arguments had meant nothing to me as long as I was expecting them to reach a logical result: consequences derived from premises. I was looking for conclusions, but he was talking about beginnings.
"God exists!" I said, amazed.
"Yes," he said.
And we looked at each other in joy, unable both to speak.
Finally Michael broke the silence. "The ontological proof is valid, but it is not a proof in the sense that anything is derived from something more fundamental or more certain. There is nothing more fundamental or more certain than God. The proof, so called, is really a quality of perception. It is, as Bonaventure said, a perception radiant with eternal life and beautiful in the simplicity it confers to thought."
"Are you saying that we can see God in this life?" I asked.
"If you had seen him, you would have no need to ask," the archangel replied, "but you can still prepare a place in your mind where the Vision will be. It is like the moment before dawn, before the light is visible, but when darkness has sufficiently receded for you to discern the line between earth and sky — from this distinction, you know where the sun will appear."
"This is metaphysics," I said, after some thought.
"You sound surprised," said Michael.
"It's just that I never thought of you as the sort of person ..."
"I am not; but you de. Metaphysics is a useful human exercise, from both the ascetical and devotional points of view."
"I know that the Medieval theologians thought it was important, but I always suspected that they were simply importing something Pagan into the Church."
"And would that make it false? At least the Pagans knew what they did not have. It is a useful discipline for the mind to reflect that God is not a thing among other things, but the cause of them all; that he is not a concept among your many thoughts, but the first principle of all principles; nor is he one good thing among others that you might choose to serve, but the end of all desire and the motive for all service. That is the ascetical value of metaphysics, and if it did nothing more than confuse humans sufficiently to convince them of how little they know, it would be worth the effort.
"But secondly, and this is its devotional aspect, it is really a form of prayer. When you lift your mind up toward the source of its capacity to know and to love, then you are raising heart and mind to God; this is prayer. It is true that the hands raised to Heaven in this way are still empty, but they are hands raised in prayer nonetheless. Metaphysics is the final stage of human reflection, as it gathers all of its natural experience together, and realizing it to be insufficient, brings it to the altar of the unknown God."
I thought suddenly of how barren and dispiriting life seems when each occurrence is simply appended to the previous one, like the 6 o'clock news. Even if not the fulfillment of prayer, it would at least be peace to know that something rests behind the sequence.
We had reached the mid-point of the mall. We stopped by the guard rail and looked down to the fountain below, where a short while before I had seen the dancing youths and the Salvation Army band. The band had moved on, but the youths had returned. They were heavily engaged in a discussion with one of the security guards. Life, after all, still involves a sequence of events.
"Michael," I said earnestly, "I have been back to the Chapel of St. Bonaventure since the day we were there together, and I have studied the panels. I know you are trying to explain the fifth panel to me now, the one where the two cherubim are down in adoration before the burning bush, and the name of God is written above them, as I AM WHAT I AM. I understand it now. I see that all the fine things I have been doing are just so many fragments if God is not there — and I mean really there, in a way that we know he is there. I would like to kneel on that sacred ground with the cherubim and see that light with them. But I can't. I just seem to be wandering about in the scrub, some distance from that miraculous bush."
"You can't see the light, but you can feel the warmth," he said quietly. "Remember that God knows in the cherubim, but he loves in the seraphim, and it is we who have been given the first rank in Heaven. That is so that the rest of Creation, including ourselves, will remember that in the mind's journey to God, love leads and wisdom follows."
"Yes, yes," I said, impatient with myself. We had finally reached the heart of the matter and I felt as hopeless as ever about grasping it. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Do?" he said, as if the idea of doing had only then occurred to him. He was looking down at the water, bounding and cascading from the fountain below, with a still and distant look on his face, his arms resting on the railing. He looked like a man on watch, reporting what he saw; while I was left behind with only words to chew on.
"Do?" he repeated, almost to himself. "What action would it take on your part for me to suspend you in the middle of the air above that fountain?"
"None at all," I said, "since it would be your power that would be keeping me up. I could ask, I suppose," I added doubtfully, hoping this was only a rhetorical example.
He nodded. "It is the same with the life of union with God. You can ask; you must ask. He lifts. You cannot see as God sees — not in this life — but through grace, you can love as he loves." He looked intently in my direction, but I turned away so as not to see. "The bush was not consumed; but it burned, and the fire was very hot. First you become simple, and then you burn."
"Who lights the fire?" I asked.
"God, and his enemies," he said. "But it amounts to the same thing in the end; he uses everything to purify the souls he loves, everything: hatred, malice, persecution, lies, poverty, sickness, imprisonment and death; a thousand niggling disappointments, along with great disasters.
"You might think of Joan of Arc. When I think of the burning bush, I often think of Joan. Now there was a woman; so simple and direct that everything was alive to her, and everything she touched came to life — even something as decrepit as the honour of France."
The archangel's friends seemed not to stay long out of trouble, I thought to myself. But it was only half a thought, while from the other side of my brain wild voices were crying "love, and the world well lost."
"Speaking of trouble," Michael remarked, "I wonder what sort of trouble Raphael is getting himself into."
I followed his look. Down below, something painful and acrimonious was going on between the security guard and the troupe of young fellows who were, it must be said, precisely the sort of people that attract the suspicions of the forces of law and order. The young man in yellow seemed to be the focus of the trouble. No wonder he looked familiar; he had the same luminous simplicity as Michael.
"This does not look good," Michael said with a sudden resolve. "I'll be back." And he plunged head first over the balcony, disappearing from view half way down. I looked to see if he would reappear near the source of the trouble, but the group only seemed to be getting more agitated and confused as passing shoppers joined the fracas. I even lost sight of Raphael whose saffron clothes of oriental brilliance should have been difficult to miss.
This book is reproduced with the author's permission.
Copyright © Catherine Dalzell 1995, 2009
All rights reserved
Illustrations Copyright © Gordon Gillick 1995
Version: 4th December 2009