All Prayers Begin and End in the Heart

Perhaps it was Yom Kippur, the rancid noise in the political marketplace or just my reading list. I had exhausted myself, intellectually and spiritually, finishing a novel about a young woman from the Bronx, NY, trying to find shards of the feminine in the Catholic tradition ( The novel has been bubbling up for a lifetime and represents my wars, small and large, with the Catholic Church. One doesn’t poke this grand bear of tradition and power without consequences.

When I was well into “Chanting” I began following Pope Francis on Twitter and was taken by his encyclical on the “Theology of the Heart.” Francis found his way into my dreams and the book. Later on I would read “A Grief Observed,” written by the Christian writer C.S. Lewis about the death of his wife. The book’s represents his struggle understanding a distant God and eventually his coming back to the psychology of the heart.

About the same time I came across the writings of Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest and prolific author who spent most of his life in the U.S. The first words on his web site caught my attention: “The Church often wounds us deeply. People with religious authority wound us by their words, attitudes and demands. Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily.” He reminds the clergy that there is really no authority without compassion.

Hazel Motes, the main character in Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood,” wants to prove to everyone around him that he is a genuine anti-Christ so he establishes “The Church of Christ without Christ” and plucks out his eyes. O’Connor’s short novel is a gothic morality play about the transcendent and sometimes nagging role religion can play in the psyche. She is often hard to shake off.

In this spirit, I am awake in the middle of the night thinking about Pope Francis, a transcendent God and the insufficiency of prayer. I’m not yet ready to establish my own church or pluck out my eyes. The dream that follows offers a fine dose of compensation and just a little slap-stick revelry.

“I seem to be part of a parade or street fair, perhaps on a streetcar or trolley. I see revelers trying to shoot basketballs through half-closed, boarded-up windows in a run-down section of town. I notice Robin Roberts of the Today Show fame taking charge, rubbing a basketball into life as if it were a talisman, and making the perfect shot.

“I walk away from this noise, revelry and fascination with the long and difficult shot. I am soon joined by Cardinal Dolan of NYC, who seems to be instructing me as if I were a penitent or a priest in training. He seems collegial. He cautions me that I can’t behave that way, “using your fists.” I don’t fully understand but nod anyway, walking across his path.”

In the dream I sense I am hearing the voice of God and burst into tears. On waking I recall that Cardinal Dolan was a regular dream visitor while I was writing ‘Chanting,” serving as a bit of a scold and perhaps a foil. I have never met the man nor attended any services with him presiding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC.

But I know an archetype when I see it and the good Cardinal seems to represent what I have been trying to get away from, especially the institutional Church and policies that negatively affect women.

However, this supposition seems a little ponderous and doesn’t take into account the joy, bombast and improbably antics displayed by that weird dream crowd. By definition, dreams draw large, startling and improbable figures. Does the Cardinal think I’m being too muscular or too pushy? Am I looking for the long shot? Am I misled by celebrity and the theatrical? Am I a fellow traveler on this ego parade? Or does the man in the red hat represent a dose of compensation, a necessary reminder when a certain soul becomes too big for his boots?

I see the moonlight filtering through my bedroom window. I see the light on in my Jewish neighbor’s house. It is Yom Kippur. I think of this Day of Awe on this Sabbath of Sabbath. I think of forgiveness, repentance and the long arm of compassion.

I also think of C.S. Lewis mourning his dead wife, reaching out to a God who is missing, in hiding or somewhere in the mist.

The last voice I hear before falling back to sleep belongs to Leonard Cohen. New Yorker editor David Remnick has written a remarkable profile about the aging Cohen who is still introspective, feisty, and working on his craft while waiting patiently to hear the voice of God. (TNY, October 17, 2016).

The article reads like a prayer.