To My Student, The Catholic Kid Who Asks About “The Spiritual Method”

I, too, went to bed amidst the howling of the autumn wind and
awoke early the next morning amid the chanting of the priests
Matsuo Basho

My Young Friend,

After almost sixty years, I have learned so little in life that I’m not sure if I can impart anything except sure methods for garnering angst.

Today I play catch-up. That’s my method just now. Catch-up. I run through the morning so that I can run through the afternoon so I can get to bed early tonight.

It makes no difference where I start prayer or how I pray. It matters that I start and that I pray. Except for the view, I find little difference between praying the “Hail Mary” in the St. Louis Cathedral before a statue of The Virgin, or praying the “Hail Mary” in The Golden Pagoda in Kyoto before a statue of Kuan Yin. I do like the mosaics in St. Louis.

Focus helps. It helps when I do a rosary or a litany or make love to my wife or make

sacred lyrics on my harp of paper. Yet focus is vastly overestimated. Better to pray the prayer of the prematurely senile. Draw circles in the dust. Let Jesus stretched out on the couch. Imagine the Buddha doing The Times crossword.

I like to meditate upon the “Nicene Creed”: in truth, I find it strangely vague.

You want method? Here’s method. Doubt everything. In the end, you will be left with a faith born of vast questions. Keep the questions. Let go of the exhaustion. Find comforte in never getting a burning bush. Miracles are for the uninitiated.

What is best in life is the question. An answer is a rescheduling of confusion.

In other words, method is good place to start. Indeed, method is truly central. But once you’re done with the center, nowhere is good place to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to the great saints. Aquinas. Gandhi. MLK. Teresa of Avila. But marvel at Blessed Bert of Belleville, Illinois, our patron saint of wisdom dinners with fried catfish, hush puppies. And the Venerable Sally of Sedalia, Missouri, our patron saint of late night Friday friends then sleeping in on Saturday. Bert and Sally have no answer. They’re only method is wonder.


Dr. T.

Filed under: John Samuel Tieman, Prose