Lenten Promise

So I gave up wine for Lent, and I’m real cranky about it. Now, seems as good a time as any to review my progress. I do not enjoy this business of imitating Christ’s suffering. If he wanted to fast in the desert for forty days and grapple with Satan, that’s his decision. What does it have to do with me? Still not sure what benefit I am supposed to derive from this practice, except that I get to observe how angry I am when I can’t have a glass of wine with my dinner. Sure, observing one’s own anger is always useful. Yep, there goes my anger again. I’d recognize that anger anywhere. No mistaking it, that’s my anger, all right. Hey, know what would help my anger? A glass of wine. Thank goodness for the loophole. Ya’ll know about the Great Catholic Loophole, right? You can break your fast on Sundays during Lent because it’s a sin to fast on the Prince’s Feast Day. Sometimes my Sunday comes on a Thursday, but I figure if I make it up later, then I’m in the clear. It all comes out in the wash. For the love of Christ, Easter can’t come soon enough this year.

(Being Catholic isn’t a struggle. Being polite is a struggle. Catholic is easy. It gives me something to write about for all my life.)

Speaking of art forms that spring from repression . . . I went to hear Zachary Richard, the Acadian activist rebel poet, play last night. He told us a story about his earliest memory of music. He sang in an all-boys church choir in Lafayette. The bishop had envisioned something like the Vienna Boys Choir in Southeast Louisiana. Richard was first soprano. Later when he got to be a teenager, he decided he preferred the Devil’s music and started a garage band because he thought that would help him meet girls. The history of rock and roll could be written with that one sentence.

Entirely by chance, I received this comforting note from Emily this morning.

#1101, c. 1866

Between the form of Life and Life
The difference is as big —
As Liquor at the Lip between
And Liquor in the Jug
The latter — excellent to keep —
But for ecstatic need
The corkless is superior —
I know for I have tried

When she writes the difference between “Life and Life”, she means the difference between potential and expression. The inner life and the outer life. Both are alive in that they have force and movement. Both are informed by spirit. Without clubbing us with her joke, she puns on spirit(s) so both resonate at once—the alcohol and the eternal aspect of ourselves, the ghost in the machine. Further to be “inspired” is to be intoxicated with spirit, or out of your everyday head space where mundane tasks are accomplished.

Get drunk on joy, she advises. Allow yourself to be overtaken by this expansive wave of power and creation. It carries you (against your better judgement) out of the usual sober sense of duty into a realm without boundaries. Here is a place of perfect indulgence, where you can’t put a foot wrong. You move perfectly in time to the music. Everyone likes you, and your jokes are always funny.

Emily has been there, she says. She also says that we need this indulgence, this departure from sobriety into unalloyed happiness. That it fails to resemble a workable everyday life is not the point. The point is to be released from restrictions to make real what had existed as potential. Emily says, you must drink deeply of yourself and become intoxicated in order to write that poem. Or converge toward whatever center your life demands.

She calls this an “ecstatic need”. Imagine if we treated transcendent joy, the pure pleasure of being alive, as something we needed, like vitamins? Emily says we are nourished when we release the contained self outward into expression. Probably a lot of us keep that potential creative expression stoppered-up in a sober safe container because if we do drink deeply of ourselves and go on that antic joyous spree . . . we’ll be out of control and probably look silly. Then what? We’ll have some explaining to do. Some mopping up, maybe. Big deal. Fortunately, no one has ever really died of embarrassment.

Emily says, it’s a waste of fine spirit(s) to hold your creative gifts in a state of contained potential. Lose yourself, once in a while, to find yourself.

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