Narthex

August 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s raining and lunch doesn’t start for thirty minutes, so two friends and I stop in the beautiful cathedral at Sewanee. There’s a stained glass window made to immortalize the birth of the Sewanee Review, the oldest literary journal in the country. This is why we are here. But still, I expected to see the lives of the saints, not the lives of the writers.

We have all come here with prayers though, or at least hopes that the novel or book of poems or stories, or play that everyone supposedly has inside them will come out of us and be admired by the whole world. There is lots of reading and studying and adoration, though our nights are far from monkish. There is reverence for those who have come closest to the truth.

Jill McCorkle talks about remembering the dead where we left them, living in our imaginations. Alice McDermott tells us about the intersection of writing and faith, and the room almost whispers amen, even the atheists. This is what we hope for: the evidence of things unseen. The words hidden in our heads, struggling, sometimes for years to make it to the page–immortality.

We are in this church, where writers are as close to saints as they can be, not inside the sanctuary, but in the narthex, on the porch of the church.

We walk inside to look at the architecture, feel the space, when a woman’s soprano pipes up. We can’t see her, just hear her voice, a clear version of “Amazing Grace,” and then other women join in, but still we can’t see them. Where are they coming from? There are no bodies, just voices. It’s one of those moments that hits me out of nowhere and I begin to cry. I cry for my parents, for homesickness. I cry because it is beautiful and this song makes everyone cry. The more I try to stop, the bigger the tears seem to get until I leave the sanctuary and stand in the narthex, where I can still hear the music, but can’t be seen.

I’m not religious, but I can see so clearly what Alice and Jill were talking about, that in art and life, there has to be faith in finding what’s invisible, some brush with spirits, some belief in voices coming from nowhere.

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