Tag Archives: Catholic

The church on the hill


The Church on the hill

I went up the hill to visit the old man who lives there.
It’s been a long time, he said, Since I’ve seen you.
Yes, I said, I know. But I’d not forgot you.
Then, in welcome, he sang to me.
But what I had remembered as a youthful voice,
full of vigor and fit for forever, had turned into a croak,
a rasp, a sad affair of the heart.
When he dies, I thought, a little of me will die with him.
These bones go deep, he said with an effort,
proud yet, and then, How can you forgive yourself?
I thought about that as I kissed him goodnight
and laid him down to rest, up there on that hill.
In nomine Patris, I said gently. In nomine Patris.

In nomine Patris (in nom-e-nay pah-tray) is the opening verse of In nomine Patris, et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen, the Latin used by Catholics to say the sign of the cross: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Although raised a Catholic (I was even once head altar boy) I became a Bahá’í at 17. I had few occasions to visit a church after that, but one such occasion was the funeral of a friend’s brother. That church was up on a hill, but the hill of the poem is not a physical one.

My understanding of this poem has changed over time. My father, who is now 80-something-wonderful visited us some time back. I adore my father for the incredible man he is: the finest example of a Christian I know. But he is also very Catholic and while he has never challenged my conversion, I know it hurts him and worries him more. In re-reading this poem I realized that what I had also written about was our relationship: loving, strong, but with some hurt and some regret.

Thank you for reading The church on the hill. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled, appropriately enough, The church on the hill, and was taken from a set of photographs shot in the Poconos. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2012.11.21

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Memories of an altar boy

Pick a big coal and light it early, the bishop had said,
I want it to be hot and glowing when I need it.
Later, as we walked to the vestibule to receive the casket
I could see there was a white pall draped across it
in memory of the swaddling clothes that had brought
them to the church long before. When he was ready
he heaped the myrrh on the glowing ember and lifted
the metal thurible high to swing it against the chain,
the clanking loud like the tolling of a bell,
once, twice, thrice…then repeated, again and again,
as he circled around the coffin.
When he was done I carried the thing back to the altar,
acrid, pungent smoke belching from it, rising in a column,
bouncing on the ceiling and curling lazily along it;
I feared I would faint from the fumes…

The bishop—I can’t recall his name—was a hockey buff,
the Habs, I think. But he was also fond of the team
from my all-male, Catholic school in the annual crusade
to keep The Cup from the Protestants, a tally in which
to be honest, the good guys were lacking.
During one game, I remember, a fight broke out
on the ice, a real donnybrook of an affair.
I looked back and there he was,
up in the stands, booming out encouragement,
laughing and swinging his arms,
That’s it! Get ’em boys!

Maybe I should have stopped watching hockey then.
I didn’t, but still, I keep wondering…
I know that skates are still sharp, that sticks are still hard,
that bruises are still purple, and that somewhere
red blood still splatters the ice. But in the church—
is the smoke still curling across the ceiling?
I don’t know, but I do know this:
I can’t abide the smell of incense.

Funerals are good sources of poetic creativity. They are such stark, clear-cut, emphatic events with an intense matrix of emotions. This poem was started as I attended the funeral of a co-worker’s father, when being in a church brought back memories of when I used to be a Catholic and an altar boy.

This is a rare type of poem from me, a longer narrative one, although for some reason I seem to be working on several like that right now. I hope you like this one and those to come, whenever I post them.

Just a few notes: The Habs is the nickname for the Montreal Canadiens NHL hockey team, based in the Province of Quebec, Canada. A thurible  is a hand-held metal censer (incense burner) suspended from one or more chains, in which incense is burned during some services. A burning charcoal briquette is placed in the thurible before the ceremony begins and incense is added when required. Because it takes some time for the incense to really start effectively burning, some priests (as in this poem) heap it on to get immediate combustion. Myrrh is a highly prized and expensive, natural tree oil resin used since ancient times as both a wine spice and in religious ceremonies. It was, for example, one of the three precious gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi. Its scent is instantly identifiable, strong and unique. Not unpleasant, when mild.

Thank you for reading Memories of an altar boy. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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