Pardon me for being so reactionary, but religion itself was never as shaming nor as degrading as this society we’ve built for ourselves. At least the Christian religion (in its original form) had a mechanism to cope with these pressures; you speak to a priest, you confess your sins, you do penance and are forgiven of those sins so that you may live your life. But nowadays we’re not just asked to be our own priests; we’re told implicitly by society that if we do anything wrong whatsoever, we’d better damned well keep it a secret, because if the public finds out, we will be forced into a kind of shame and self-loathing that will make life so unbearable that death will seem preferable. And every single person we know, everyone we meet, everyone we see will encourage this perception of ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’ve freed ourselves from morality and moralism, that we’re no longer held hostage by those ideas from the past; what we’ve really freed ourselves from is mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love. And disturbs me in a way that I have trouble adequately expressing.
It happened one day when we was coming on to some holy feast or other. I was in the kitchen yard helping cut up a pig they’d slaughtered for it the day before. I’d been there for the slaughtering as well, catching the blood in a pail for black pudding when they shoved a knife in its throat and helping drag it over to the pile of straw where they got twists for singeing off the bristle. We poured water on the carcase and scraped it and singed it again and finally with a gambrel between the hind legs hoisted it up to a crossbeam. Then a monk with yellow braids sliced open its belly and groping around up to his elbows delivered it of a steaming tubful of pink slippery insides I carted off to the kitchen in my two arms. They left it hanging overnight to cool with a sack wrapped around its long snout to keep the cats from it and the next day after matins the yellow-braid monk and I set to cutting it up, Ita being at her quern across the yard from us. Hams, trotters, eyepieces, ears for making brawn with, brains, chops—we was laying it all out in the straw when Ita come over and drew me aside to where we kept a black stone on the wall for whetting. She told me with Jarlath’s leave she wanted me to go with Brendan though she didn’t so much as know my name then.
“It’s a smirchy sort of business you’re at with that pig, some would say,” she said. “There’s many a monkish boy either he’d beg out of it or turn green as a toad doing it. But it’s neither of those with you, I see. You could be laying the holy table for mass the way you set those cuttings out. That’s the deep truth of things no matter or not if you know it.”
Ita’s eyes disappeared entirely when she smiled.
“Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear,” she said. “I doubt Jarlath has taught you that. Monks think holiness is monkishness only. But somewheres you’ve learned the truth anyhow. You can squeeze into Heaven reeking of pig blood as well as clad in the whitest fair linen in the land.
From Frederick Buechner, Brendan, pages 34-35.
Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear.
I’m made for this summer logging," said Arn Peeples. "You Minnesota fellers might like to complain about it. I don’t get my gears turning smooth till it’s over a hundred. I worked on a peak outside Bisbee, Arizona, where we were only eleven or twelve miles from the sun. It was a hundred and sixteen degrees on the thermometer, and every degree was a foot long. And that was in the shade. And there wasn’t no shade.
I hefted the chain and swung it at the table like a biker taking out an unsuspecting member of a rival gang. It rattled across the surface and the nails and chainsaw pieces bit fast into the wood. Extracting the weapon, I examined my work. In just three seconds I had added forty years’ worth of hard-won experience and poignant memories to about two square feet of the tabletop. The center board had a terrific gouge from where a chainsaw tooth had torn up a chunk of pine from around a nail hole.
There are meals that come in courses. Meals that use broths boiled for 24 hours, cuts of pork kneaded daily for a week. Meals in which humans share their humanness and become open and vulnerable with one another. You could call my hamburger a meal, but then you’d have to call piss marks in the sand a work of art.
There’s a sweet spot on a rifle trigger where just an ounce more of pressure will fire it. There I held my finger, waiting for my shot. Twice, and then three times, the barrow paused, almost at the right angle but never quite. A fourth time, and he paced again. I grit my teeth and snorted, tense and rigid. He circled around the pen again and barely glanced at me.
Into the muddle of “dammits!” and “stand stills!” in my head, I fit a prayer for his swift death, then exhaled slowly. On his next circuit, he paused a fifth time, the spot just twelve inches from the muzzle, my eyes on it, his eyes on me. I gave the trigger that one more ounce.
In a thousandth of a second: he jerked his head as if startled by the pop; a black hole appeared on the bridge of his snout; he screamed and rammed the fence by Rusty, shoving his snout underneath the wire and lifting the entire panel.