Notre Dame

The following is series of images taken at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The captions are from Transfiguration, my favorite poem by Mark Jarman.


And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses and they were talking to Jesus. Mark 9:2


They were talking to him about resurrection, about law,
      about the suffering ahead.
They were talking as if to remind him who he was and
      who they were. He was not
Like his three friends watching a little way off, not like
      the crowd
At the foot of the hill. A gray-green thunderhead massed
      from the sea
And God spoke from it and said he was his. They were
About how the body, broken or burned, could live again,
Only the fiery text of the thunderhead could explain it.
      And they were talking
About pain and the need for judgement and how he would
      make himself
A law of pain, both its spirit and its letter in his own flesh,
      and then break it,
That is, transcend it. His clothes flared like magnesium,
      as they talked.


When we brought our mother to him, we said “Lord,
      she falls down the stairs.
She cannot hold her water. In the afternoon she forgets
      the morning.”
And he said, “All things are possible to those who believe.
      Shave her head,
Insert a silicone tube inside her skull, and run it under
      her scalp,
Down her neck, and over her collarbone, and lead it into
      her stomach.”
And we did and saw that she no longer stumbled or wet
She could remember the morning until the evening came.
      And we went our way,
Rejoicing as much as we could, for we had worried many


They were talking to him about heaven, how all forms
      there were luciform,
How the leather girdle and the matted hair, how the lice
      coursing the skin
And the skin skinned alive, blaze with perfection,
      the vibrance of light.
And they were talking about the complexities of blood
      and lymph,
Each component crowding the vessels, the body and
      the antibody,
And they were talking about the lamp burning in
      the skull’s niche,
The eyes drinking light from within and light from
And how simple it is to see the future, if you looked at it
      like the past,
And how the present belonged to the flesh and its density
      and darkness
And was hard to talk about. Before and after were easier.
      They talked about light.


A man came to him who said he had been blind since
      his wedding day
And had never seen his wife under the veil or the children
      she had given him.
And the Lord said, “Tell me about your parents.”
      And the man talked
A long time, remembering how his mother cut his father’s
      meat at dinner,
And how at night their voices crept along his bedroom
      ceiling, like--
But he could not say what they were like. And in
      the morning, everything began to tick
And ticked all day as if. . . . Now, he remembered!
And suddenly his sight came back and blinded him, like
      a flashbulb.


They were talking to him about law and how lawgiving
      should be
Like rainfall, a light rain falling all morning and mixing
      with dew--
A rain the passes through the spiderweb and penetrates
      the dirt clod
Without melting it, a persistent, suffusing shower, soaking
Making sweatshirts heavier, wool stink, and finding every
      hair’s root on the scalp.
And that is when you hurled judgement into the crowd
      and watched them
Spook like cattle, reached in and stirred the turmoil faster,
And they were saying that, to save the best, many must be
Including the best. And no one was exempt, as they
      explained it,
Not themselves, not him, or anyone he loved, anyone who
      loved him.


Take anyone and plant a change inside them that they feel
And send them to an authority to assess that feeling.
      When they are told
That for them alone there waits a suffering in accordance
      with the laws
Of their condition, from which they may recover or may not,
Then they know the vortex on the mountaintop, the inside
      of the unspeakable,
The speechlessness before the voices begin talking to them,
Talking to prepare them, arm them and disarm them, until
      the end.
And if anybody’s looking, they will seem transfigured.


I want to believe that he talked back to them, his radiant
And I want to believe he said too much was being asked
      and too much promised.
I want to believe that that was why he shone in the eyes
      of his friends,
The witnesses looking on, because he spoke for them,
      because he loved them
And was embarrassed to learn how he and they were
      going to suffer.
I want to believe he resisted at that moment, when he
      appeared glorified,
Because he could not reconcile the contradictions
      and suspected
That love had a finite span and was merely the comfort
      of the lost.
I know he must have acceded to his duty, but I want
      to believe
He was transfigured by resistance, as he listened,
      and they talked.

A Simple Prayer

This week, I found the website of my father's church. It's a simple website for a simple building off of US-62 where it almost shares a dirt parking lot with Route 66 gas station. It's covered with a dark gray tin siding and hangs a simple red sign pointing anyone close enough to Joshua 14:12; which to be honest, makes no goddamned sense.

I've been watching a lot of Big Love lately. It's an interesting series, no doubt fictionalized to a large degree, but I resonate with it despite the fiction. I resonate with it because I grew up in very fundamentalist Christian family. There was speaking in tongues and prophecy and Bible quizzing. Not so different than Mormons or Muslims or Catholics. I remember being surrounded by people who claimed to hear from God. The Holy Spirit, the audible voice of God, a revelation, a testimony. The devil was always ready to devour us. Hell was just a mistake away. The rapture was imminent. 

I grew up in a world of fear. My father and stepmother were (and are) religiously fervent. My mother wasn't. She smoked and drank and went out, sometimes leaving us with a babysitter on the weekends she had us. We were allowed to watch movies with language and sex. But there was always hell to pay when Dad picked us up again. We were drilled about what we watched, what we did. They would then watch the movies we admitted to so they could truly understand how much we had transgressed. This would cause more tension and we learned to lie. It became a war between the mother we missed and the father we feared as much as we feared God.

I feel like a fraud when I go home. Not because I no longer believe, but because I can't really talk to them about it. We don't talk about church and I won't admit that I've found a sermon from my father on his church's website. That when I listen to it, I hold my head in disbelief. Not because I'm embarrassed. But because the gap between us is so large that we can only talk about work and the weather and my upcoming travel trips. The possibility of them coming to visit California is so infinitesimally small. So is the possibility of talking over something meaningful without yelling and gnashing of teeth.

I wish that I could drink a beer with him. Maybe show him how to smoke a cigar. That I could speak in my normal vernacular without constantly filtering my speech. That I could admit to him my unbelief without worrying if it's going to send him into 40 days of fasting and prayer.

We want so many things from family. Usually impossible things.

My father is getting older. He's 58, but looks older. I keep thinking about the end. And when I think about the end, my first thought is how I'll be hopeless without him. And then my second thought is Aaron Freeman's advice for planning a funeral.

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.

This is a simple prayer for my father. For me. I write it down with electrons and light and pixels. And if there is a God that exists beyond my father's petty religion and my haughty unbelief, I hope that this God sees my words and hears my heart and answers my prayer.

And we all said.