The Terrorist's Stories

I was talking to my boys, Gurney and Ammon, about religious conviction and the choice of community of spirit, while I washed dishes. Gurney had said it is hypocritical or insincere to go looking for a church because how could you justifiably mold your beliefs one way rather than another. When you did join a church you’d be insulting its members by the smallness of your contrived choice. If communion is a wonder to Catholics out of the history of their faith, how could you just decide to join in when you might just as easily have decided something else? People have died over the choice of one ritual as opposed to another and personal choice cannot equate the direction of God. (Not that Gurney believes in God—he was studying hypocrisy.)

His was a position of integrity, but inflexible in my opinion. I was arguing for softening it. I said that maybe communion and whatever else are the details, and that the seeker may already have a vision of the Spirit that they are hoping to settle in a community that shares it. He argued, correctly, that Catholics wouldn’t agree to consigning their ritual to "detail." I said that regardless, people from different religions can understand one another elementally, apart from their ritual. Gurney and Ammon said heatedly that they could not.

I said that sometimes when I am writing in a restaurant in the early morning, which is a time of the Spirit for me, I feel as if I’m in Quaker meeting and all the people ’round are in meeting with me, whether or not they are centered or focused (people in meeting sometimes are not); even if they couldn’t look lonelier, or because of it; even if they were barely awake; even if they were not kind to the waitress; even if they carried who-knows-what burdens and looked it, or because of it; and I listen to restrained vocal ministry here and there.

Ammon said that I sounded like a Mormon, turning ancestors who hadn’t been Mormons into Mormons so they’d be safe. I said, That’s right! I’m a spiritual terrorist, saving people without their knowledge or permission! (And in fact I do!) Look out, Gurney, I said, I’m saving you right now. Gurney looked at me askance.

Bible thumping zealots can’t hold a candle to me
because I am so easily successful.
Because no one sees the work I do
it can’t be undone.
I am likely not noticed
as I come and go,
doing my work:
watching, willingly, people do theirs.

Receiving stories,
breathing in & out.

It would grieve me to learn
it made no difference,
that watching with kindness
bears no objective influence at all; none.
But I won’t learn that
because this is a realm of mystery.
I save others
but others can only save themselves.
And then there is a gentleness
that must, must include them—into a simple community,
how could it not?
I save them
because I know my failure to save them
and their failure to save themselves . . .
because our failures are irrelevant.
We are saved by the story that includes us.
I cannot do without these others,
so I’ll take them with me;
saved together.

Then I might write something down on my paper.