How often have I written here “Listen to your feelings”. The statement is an echo of one I learned from a very wise man. So I felt very good and also very bad in the Cologne churches and these feelings are telling me that the Church is very important to me. In one church, delighted with the atmosphere, I drifted off to sleep like some old tramp. But when I woke, there was a service going on and a young woman was talking endlessly to a congregation consisting mostly of old ladies. Then another woman with a lower voice started up and I thought “Why do you have to talk so much? Why can’t you just perform ceremonies and go through necessary rituals and sing?” Fed up with the noise of these people speaking, I headed in the direction of a small chapel at the back of the nave where there was a statue of the Virgin, part of an elaborate altarpiece (a triptych). A man was kneeling there. From behind I could see his jaw moving and it looked mad. I couldn’t see if he was going through some litany or simply had some facial tic.
I looked at the golden altarpiece and asked myself whether it was really medieval or just a stylistic imitation from the 19thcentury. I disturbed myself with this question and said “Why can’t you simply enjoy it, or not?” “Why is there always this issue: do I have permission to enjoy something: is it in good taste?” At that very moment the organist started up with a rendition of the Veni Creator. It was harmonized, yes, with that stupid soup of chords they use. “Okay” I said, “grin and bear it”. But to my indignation the musician then proceeded to alter the latter part of the melody, making it into something pentatonic and intolerable. I said later to Michael Bonaventure “Why alter the melody of something which is already perfect, in fact, one of the greatest melodies we have?” I was altogether disturbed by these thoughts in the chapel and I said to myself pointedly that if the result of all my education is that I cannot enjoy an altarpiece unless I know its status and cannot enjoy some humble organ playing because it is “incorrect” then there’s something wrong with me. “Excuse me, professor, thank you for all you taught me, but where is my enjoyment in this world gone to at such moments of ‘knowledge’?” At such moments I am like some regimental type getting all worked up over whether the flag is upside down and whether the medals are hanging in the right order. Some joyless dried up grumpy old bugger, in other words.
So I left the church disturbed and with relief enjoyed the stupid tinsel of the shops which don’t claim to be anything other than stupid. And we all like stupid at the right moment. As I walked towards my appointment at the cathedral steps, I put the sour feelings behind me. Indeed the soupy chords are there so that those old ladies can sing along with the Gregorian melody. It makes it palatable to them. The shiny altarpiece exists for that man to mutter in front of it. I on the other hand live with a god who is difficult to reach and endure much that is unpalatable, so in these respects I have the problem, not those I have described functioning well in the church.
I have been wondering since Cologne if I am really a Catholic. Hamish sharply asked for an “explication” of this. I can’t say much about why the Church is important to me as it is an emotional thing and, of course, reasonably, one would assume that no gay man or woman would set foot near all that. I state my attraction, yet the point is drowned out by a”litany of moans”. Explicating that would be tantamount to defining oneself, yet how complex a thing is our life and feelings. We are defined with clarity BY our feelings and should not cast doubt on them. They are the guide. Probably a squirrel has the same problem defining himself as I do, but I do note that he is sensible enough to begin harvesting a walnut tree on the day that the walnuts become ripe. So the creature feels, senses and functions exactly as intended by the Creator. The same goes for me.
Suffice it to say that during my Cologne trip my interest and attraction to the Church was alive at the same time as my annoyances in particular church buildings. After all the pretensions and posturing and lies and manipulation are stripped away, one is left with feelings that tell the truth. How I wish I had listened with more respect to this truth during my time.