The Economy was studying the purpose of The War, which is to purchase and not have. The customers of The War (all of us, that is) purchase life at a great cost and yet lose it. And The War was just as busily studying the purpose of The Economy, which is to cause people to purchase what they do not need or do not want, and to receive patiently what they did not expect. Having paid for life, we receive death. By now, in this nineteen hundred and eighty-sixth Year of Our Lord, we all have purchased how many shares in death? How many bombs, shells, mines, guns, grenades, poisons, anonymous murders, nameless sufferings, official secrets? But not the controlling share. Death cannot be marketed in controlling shares.
I am, maybe, the ultimate Protestant, the man at the end of the Protestant road, for as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.
Finally Bill Mixter would lower his head, lay his bow upon the strings, and draw out the first notes of a tune, and the others would come in behind him. The music, while it lasted, brought a new world into being. They would play some tunes they had learned on the radio, but their knowledge was far older than that and they played too the music that was native to the place, or that the people of the place were native to. Just the names of the tunes were a kind of music; they cal l back the music to my mind still, after so many years: "Sand Riffle," "Last Gold Dollar," "Billy in the Low Ground," "Gate to Go Through," and a lot of others. "A fiddle, now, is an atmospheric thing," said Burley Coulter. The music was another element filling the room and pouring out through the cracks. When at last they'd had their fill and had gone away, the shop felt empty, the silence larger than before.
I whisper over to myself the way of loss, the names of the dead. One by one, we lose our loved ones, our friends, our powers of work and pleasure, our landmarks, the days of our allotted time. One by one, the way we lose them, they return to us and are treasured up in our hearts. Grief affirms, them, preserves them, sets the cost. Finally a man stands up alone, scoured and charred like a burnt tree, having lost everything and (at the cost only of its loss) found everything, and is ready to go. Now I am ready.
My social life changed. Before, I had yearned for company, especially the company of women, and had gone seeking it. Now I no longer went seeking, but taught myself (not always easily) to make do with the company that came.I felt older. I felt that I had seen ages of the world come and go. Now, finally, I really had lost all desire for change, every last twinge of the notion that I ought to get somewhere or make something of myself. I was what I was. "I will stand like a tree," I thought, "and be in myself as I am." . . . I went regularly about my duties, my meals, my lying down and rising. My days and tasks seemed not to be accumulating toward anything. I was making nothing of myself.
I enjoyed coming and going without telling or explaining, being free. I enjoyed listening without talking. I enjoyed being wherever I was without being noticed. But then when the dark change came over my mind, I was in a fix. My solitariness turned into loneliness . . . That, I guess, is why I got so sad. I was living, but I was not living my life. So far as I could see, I was going nowhere. And now, more and more, I seemed also to have come from nowhere. Without a loved life to live, I was becoming more and more a theoretical person, as if I might have been a figment of institutional self-justification: a theoretical ignorant person from the sticks, who one day would go to a theoretical somewhere and make a theoretical something of himself - the implication being that until he became that something he would be nothing.
From my college courses and my reading I knew the various names that came at the end of a line of questions or were placed as periods to bafflement: the First Cause, the First Mover, the Life Force, the Universal Mind, the First Principle, the Unmoved Mover, even Providence. I too had used those names in arguing with others, and with myself, trying to explain the world to myself. And now I saw that those names explained nothing. They were of no more use than Evolution or Natural Selection or Nature or The Big Bang of these later days. All such names do is catch us within the length and breadth of our own thoughts and our own bewilderment. Though I knew the temptation of simple reason, to know nothing that can't be proved, still I supposed that those were not the right names.I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply: the love, the compassion, the taking offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death. If love could force my own thoughts over the edge of the world and out of time, then could I not see how even divine omnipotence might by the force of its own love be swayed down into the world? Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death?Yes. I could imagine a Father who is yet like a mother hen spreading her wings before the storm or in the dusk before the dark night for the little ones of Port William to come in under, some of whom do, and some do not. I could imagine Port William riding its humble wave through time under the sky, its little flames of wakefulness lighting and going out, its lives passing through birth, pleasure, sufferning, and death. I could imagine God looking down upon it, its lives living by His spirit, breathing by His breath, knowing by His light, but each life living also (inescapably) by its own will--His own body given to be broken.
I came to feel a tenderness for them all. This was something new to me. It gave me a curious pleasure to touch them, to help them in and out of the chair, to shave their weather-toughened old faces. They had known hard use, nearly all of them. You could tell it by the way they held themselves and moved. Most of all you could tell it by their hands, which were shaped by wear and often by the twists and swellings of arthritis. They had used their hands forgetfully, as hooks and pliers and hammers, and in every kind of weather. The backs of their hands showed a network of little scars where they had been cut, nicked, thornstuck, pinched, punctured, scraped, and burned. Their faces told that they had suffered things they did not talk about.Every one of them had a good knife in his pocket, sharp, the blades whetted narrow and concave, the horn of the handle worn smooth.
In general, I weathered even the worst sermons pretty well. They had the great virtue of causing my mind to wander. Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons. Or I would look out the windows. In winter, when the windows were closed, the church seemed to admit the light strictly on its own terms, as if uneasy about the frank sunshine of this benighted world. In summer, when the sashes were raised, I watched with a great, eager pleasure the town and the fields beyond, the clouds, the trees, the movements of the air—but then the sermons would seem more improbable. I have always loved a window, especially an open one.
I always wished a little that the church was not a church, set off as it was behind its barriers of doctrine and creed, so that all the people of the town and neighborhood might two or three times a week freely have come there and sat down together - though I knew perfectly well that, in the actual world, any gathering would exclude some, and some would not consent to be gathered, and some (like me) would be outside even when inside.I liked the naturally occurring silences - the one, for instance, just before the service began and the other, the briefest imaginable, just after the last Amen. Occasionally a preacher would come who had a little bias toward silence, and then my attendance would become purposeful. At a certain point in the service the preacher would ask that we observe a moment of silence . . . And then the quiet that was almost the quiet of the empty church would come over us and unite us as we were not united even in singing, and the little sounds (maybe a bird's song) from the world outside would come in to us, and we would completely hear it.But always too soon the preacher would become abashed (after all, he was being paid to talk) and start a prayer, and the beautiful moment would end. I would think again how I would like for us all just to go there from time to time and sit in silence. Maybe I am a Quaker of sorts, but I am told that the Quakers sometimes speak at their meetings. I would've preferred no talk, no noise at all.