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Vincent van Gogh, "Enclosed Wheat Field in the Rain," 1889. Via Wikipedia.

Vincent van Gogh, "Enclosed Wheat Field in the Rain," 1889. Via Wikipedia.

BLOG— Infinite cathedral

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The rain comes down, hard and cold, hard and cold. It’s late November, and this is late November rain: no mistaking it for August. Perhaps that’s because there are no leaves to soften, and vary, its fall. The wind, too, sounds different, stiffer. It passes through the rain like a wave of grief or shock through the body. The chime rings, sweet-voiced, unaccountably sweet, proof of some secret honey at the heart of November’s worst: the trench-coat wind, the boot-heel rain.

But, oh, the wind blows. Without the play of leaves, it’s relentless. Without the play of leaves to whisper the wind’s million private names, there’s only one voice, one name, and it’s coming from the wind’s own throat — insistent, raw, unlovely.

Yet somehow it all is lovely. The night is black, no stars, no moon. Just the haloed yellow porchlights. They hang from each house’s dark altar like saints’ pictures glimpsed through smoke — a gleam of gold, the rest a mystery. The night is a church, the best and only kind: the infinite cathedral of the urgently real. And mystery might be the realest thing about this church, though mystery is the basis on which we usually dismiss it — the seen and unseen night, the seen and unseen world.


There’s no problem the wind and rain can’t solve, even the November wind and rain. The wind and rain can’t name the problem, can’t diagnose it, can’t prescribe, yet they can, shall we say, dissolve it. They’re doing it now — for me, and perhaps for you, too. I hear the rain rushing in our gutters, and where the gutters are full, rushing down our house’s sides. I hear the chime, sweet chime, unaware of anything but its own earnest goodness. And I hear the grim wind, which gradually sounds not grim, not unfeeling, but merely bent to its purpose: the common condition of everything in this world.

It is human nature, especially on a late November rain-lashed night, to wonder and worry about purpose. What purpose am I bent for, and am I bending the right way? Some know; most don’t. The truth: we just bend. The wind comes along, and we bend. All the little necessities and opportunities of life come along, and we bend toward or for or sometimes in resistance to them. And whatever shape that gives us is the shape we have. It is that shape that is our purpose, more than any set of activities or goals. Who are you in the sway of life? That is who you are.


It’s late now, really late, and the night is quieting. No, not quieting: the wind grows fierce again, rattling everything that’s loose, lifting and tossing everything that’s capable of being spirited away. And underneath its gusts, the wind has a steady roar tonight, like an engine or an ocean, and I have to really listen to hear it. Constancy melts it from my ears. Indoors in a pool of light, deaf to another roar, the roar of heat, I am separate from the night, and strangely part of it — strangely the heart of it.

The window shivers in its frame. Or is that something inside me, moving in currents I scarcely understand?


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