How Did Fish Become This Hour, This Narrative Memory?
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. – Job 5:9
By Desmond Kon
My priest likes the first miracle within the Johannine Gospel. He says his country's wine is good enough. If you want wine, please choose a good wine. Port wine from the Douro Valley. That's good enough.
Memory only allows itself to be accessed, with the admission. The personal yes to a yes, but not in the way you understood it those years ago, when you thought you understood these things.
To understand these things, this would be the kind of elevated diction frowned upon nowadays.
Today, there's no face of disapproval, none of the affectation of false fronts the world has grown into.
What is it like to read the land?
"Unless you people see signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."
John 4:48. You lift it from the epigraph, that original placement now looking at once coincident and attendant, the added speech marks suddenly evincing. If Jesus said it – if those are actually what Jesus said, highlighted in red in your bible. If the gospel writers allowed the memory to state itself. If the years in between didn't mist or make indistinct the moment, the good of the moment.
This early morning, the litany of ifs no longer hovers in the old indecision, that undecidability you used to love.
So, the speech marks don't need to be there.
You don't need the hint of history promised in an epigraph.
You don't need that reification, if the object of history has become real.
Even if merely in the language, that symbolic world, that universe of relational meaning.
Even in the painstaking, faultless detailing. Even good intent can miss the mark. Beauty, it seems, takes one more step, blithely inch-perfect. Fat dumb and happy, but always in the direction of truth, we agree. Not crudely or rudely so – but the bald bluntness does say it like it is, we also agree.
Over a year after, you look up real presence, the church documents making for clarity and the obedience you already accept as part and parcel of these important things. Of identity and proper formation, a steadying humility that begins again and again. And again, nunc coepi, which translates from Latin to mean: "Now I begin."
That clause doesn't need a full stop to punctuate the pause, or any end-stopped line in a lyric contemplation, this afternoon moment suddenly quiet. This afternoon moment has become its own breezeless, breathless pastoral.
What would Saussure have thought of what Pope Paul VI penned in the 1965 encyclical Mysterium fidei? What can theory do if all it does is unfasten and separate?
There is truth in this, you say. There is truth in transubstantiation.
Strangely, the games of language-making don't necessarily rise to the occasion.
To encounter truth as it is – to say it properly and reverently, as these things should be said.
To witness a Eucharistic miracle, its acknowledgement through the sheer numbers, the numberless adherents over land and sea, and land and sea again.
To live so close to nature, ear to earth, to the tremor of ground and the times. To see the lope of white-tailed deer so far away, across the ridge, as if from another country. This knowledge is an intuition and a definitive logic, another kind of familiar territory. Familiarity is a kind of recognition, of something old, now an echo, a mirror, a new wrinkle on your brow, the face that looks back at you from the pool.
The familiarity of memory, how it has turned into narrative memory in a moment, how peculiar and particular the experience of the moment.
But how beautiful the language can make of its own old, distant thought.
Not far-flung – just so long ago, you can't even remember the decade.
I have the St Joseph Pocket Prayer Book in my left pants pocket. I take it with me everywhere I go. It starts with an explanation of the Mass, subtitling it 'Essence of the Mass'.
People don't know what to do with truth these days, nevermind the recognition of it.
People like to think they walk on the safe side, keep far left on the shoulder and sidewalk. Left shoulder chafing against craggy wall. They speak of notions and the temporal and the perceived. Of phenomenology. But they don't know what to do with something as absolute as truth.
I still have four copies of Seven Joys & Sorrows of St Joseph. It is edited by Father Jose Luis Lopez Carpio. It is a beautifully made book, white as snow. There is an inscription in it by Father Joe.
Within my pocket prayer book is the Litany of St Joseph. Before it is the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After it is the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It's wonderful how calming the recitative can become, the cycle of rhythm and petition like good, kingly song.
Within my pocket prayer book are also several prayers of the Saints. St Patrick's prayer was just mentioned in today's homily, which arrives each morning through my phone. The intercessory prayers to St Peregrine and Stt Pio of Pietrelcina seem especially poignant for these pandemic days too.
Some kid told Father Joe the Mass was so boring, Father Joe mentioned in one homily. He told the kid: You are boring. You bring nothing to the Mass.
You can bring your intentions, Father Joe said.
There is so much to pray for these days.
There is so much work to be done in these strange and bizarre, truth-defying days.
What is it like to have worry, already a grief, over that Capernaum boy? What is it like to travel far to beg for a miracle?
What is it like to be a father? To have a son at all, and that sudden moment in his life made purpose, when doubt is turned into belief?
A willing suspension of disbelief, this is not the appropriate phrase to put to use here, we agree.
For whom again is the pond not a mirror today – or ever, has it ever been? They ask with genuine interest, strangely never of themselves to find the experience and answer. The pond of their knowing is not a still surface, to depict a symmetry of likeness, truth reflection, despite its own oblique portraiture. A mirage, no less. A refraction – its subtle, gentle parsing.
The pond of such knowing is not the same miracle.
Look for the miracle. Look for the sign and wonder, the greatest prayer there is.
Look for the miracle, and accept the miracle. Believe the miracle.
You understand this now.
My priest likes to cite the first miracle, when so much of it was already telling and a gifting of eternal gifts.
The turning of water into wine. The wedding at Cana. John 4:48. The same Cana, where the signs and wonders began. Why the return to an origin, the place of starting points?
That early source is a fount, its water pooled, this baptismal font.
Why do we return to first places? Why do we return to old memory?
Again and again. And again again.
Why do we look at first love, and say:
QLRS Vol. 21 No. 1 Jan 2022