In That Very Shame I Suddenly Begin a Hymn

I’m going to be honest: I don’t know if I believe in God. Often. The Christian story is compelling to me for many reasons, but I find myself in the league of Thomas, far more often than with the conviction of St. Paul. I am often disenchanted with the failings of my brothers and sisters, and my own as well. I doubt. More though, I relate intimately to today’s quote.

It’s a bit beyond words in some ways, when we find something that captures where we find ourselves. I could almost as easily substitute my own last name here, and modernize the language a bit and find it telling the story of my life for the past year and some months.

“. . . I’m a Karamazov. . . . when I fall into the abyss, I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I’m even pleased that I’m falling in such a humiliating position, and for me I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin a hymn. Let me be cursed, let me be base and vile, but let me also kiss the hem of that garment in which my God is clothed; let me be following the devil at the same time, but still I am also your son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world cannot stand and be.” Dmitri to Alyosha, The Brothers Karamazov, Book III, Chapter 3

I too, when I fall into the abyss go straight into it. I am often, like Dmitri, pleased at my shamefulness. I might even find a measure of aesthetic bewilderment, a surprise at myself. I actually had to describe the feeling once, to a friend when I felt i had to share this. It’s almost like in the act of being surprised at myself I distance myself from the acts enough to grant myself some sort of justification. As if saying to myself, “But this is not how I would normally act,” suddenly casts the guilt on the construct of myself carrying on in that particular moment. However, that is not the case, because as Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

I’ve experienced this torrential flood of back and forth more often than I know how to put into words. I’ve been practically Catholic, and then found myself in the company of atheists, agnostics and others. I’ve been lost at sea, cast myself out, wrecked myself, dashed myself against the rocks in penance, and in pride. I’ve beaten myself into dust, and built towers, monuments in my own honor.

I honestly can’t say where I stand today. I don’t know. I do know that in the faith of my upbringing, there is an emptiness, in the faith forged in college, through study, and meditation I found peace. Nowadays, there’s a hollow scorn that seems to ring out from the pages of the gospels, a graceful sneer. Maybe I’m just disillusioned, or ignorant, maybe I need a community, maybe I need to grow up and put childish speculations away. I’m sure my varied audience has opinions on all these matters. But regardless, I know one thing, “still I am also your son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world cannot stand and be.


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