Thursday, March 05, 2009


Lately I've been reading a lot of Ann Patchett.

I read Bel Canto awhile back and really liked it.

More recently I read The Magician's Assistant and now I'm reading Run.

In Run, one of the characters is Father Sullivan, an aging Catholic priest spending the end of his life in an assisted living facility.

In the following passage, Father Sullivan is awake too early in the morning, unable to sleep, thinking about the faithful who regularly visit him, believing he has divine healing powers.

But now that his heart had become so shiftless and unreliable, now that he should be sensing the afterlife like a sweet scent drifting in from the garden, he had started to wonder if there was in fact no afterlife at all.

Look at all these true believers who wanted only to live, look at himself, clinging onto his life like a squirrel scrambling up the icy pitch of a roof.

In suggesting that there may be nothing ahead of them, he in no way meant to diminish the future; instead, Father Sullivan hoped to elevate the present to a state of the divine.

It seemed from this moment of repose that God may well have been life itself.

God may have been the baseball games, the beautiful cigarette he smoked alone after checking to see that all the bats had been put back behind the closet door.

God could have been the masses in which he told people how best to prepare for the glorious life everlasting, the one they couldn't see as opposed to the one they were living at that exact moment in the pews of the church hall, washed over in the stained glass light.

How wrongheaded it seemed now to think that the thrill of heartbeat and breath were just a stepping stone to some thing greater.

What could be greater that the armchair, the window, the snow?

Life itself had been holy.

We had been brought forth from nothing to see the face of God and in his life Father Sullivan had seen it miraculously for eighty-eight years.

Why wouldn't it stand to reason that this had been the whole of existence and now he would retreat back to the nothingness he had come from in order to let someone else have their turn at the view?

This was not the workings of disbelief.

It was instead a final, joyful realization of all he had been given.

It would be possible to overlook just about anything if you were trained to constantly strain forward to see the power and the glory that was waiting up ahead.

What a shame it would have been to miss God while waiting for him.

by Ann Patchett

The passage made me stop for a moment.

Driven by my interest in the ongoing narrative, I read on, but not before I dog-eared the page.

It struck me as one for further contemplation, one to ponder with a hot cup of coffee.


Joie said...

Ann Patchett sounds like one damn fine theologian to me. I think it is hard to go this route if ones life is full of suffering, hunger, oppression, etc. But that is also why I think Jesus told us that the Kingdom is "at hand." We are supposed to live into the glory of God's reign right now and this includes alleviating the suffering in our time just as Jesus did in his with those who came to him or he found. I don't know what awaits us after death. I do believe that God loves us for eternity and promises that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the Divine. As Elizabeth I might have said, "all else is trifles" (paraphrase).

Merrily Down the Stream said...

What I hear in this passage is live in the present. Something I strain to do. The past is gone and the future is just that - all that is is now. To quote Kenny Chesney 'Don't blink.'
PS - lunch stat - Friday...

Two Kids and a Husband said...

This passage could not have come at a better time for me...I hope you don't mind I cut and paste your blog today and emailed it to my husband who struggles daily with finding the beauty and abundance in life.

We were in bed talking about how he feels detached from life.. that the world is spinning and he is standing on the outside looking in not sure where he fits. And I told him that his place is here waiting for him to stop looking and start participating. That you get out of life what you put into it and that you find joy by paying attention to the good and letting go of the bad (I should mention he suffers from bipolar disorder).

In anycase! Thank you for this!

Angela said...

It was a lovely passage and full of wonderful imagery and full of hope. Have you read "Truth and Beauty" a truly haunting and powerful book about friendship, love and beauty, you must read it.

MeL said...

Wow. I've never read any of her works before, but it appears Patchett has exactly struck into words my own philosophy. I just never put it into those words myself.

My mother is a devout mormon, and the best I could finally do to come across to her was to tell her that, in the end, it didn't matter to me to find an answer to "is there a God or not?" because it wasn't going to change ME. Regardless of the answer to the question, I want to embrace this life and bring the most good to it that I can. Then, if it turns out there IS a God, after all, then I suspect I'll be covered. And if there's not.. or if the answer lies somewhere in between (my best guess is that it does) I will have embraced the glory of this life fully.
Funny enough, I started on this theory after reading "Stranger in a Strange Land". I felt an immediate, visceral reaction to the idea of "I am God, you are God, we are God, LOVE is God".
Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful passage. It reminds me of Abraham Joshua Heschel's statement: "Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy." At the end of his life, he was talking to a friend of his (who was collecting his writings) and said that he had asked for wonder and had been granted it. The collection is called, I Asked for Wonder.

amy turn sharp of doobleh-vay said...

I like her too. I just started this book after hearing a podcast on her this year. I am excited!

She She said...


Mary Beth said...

I love Ann Patchett's works. Each of her books is different and the way she evokes such vivid images with just a few phrases - I am in awe of her:)

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

As a further aid to this contemplation, I highly recommend downloading Peter Mayer's song Holy Now. (Not John Mayer - Peter Mayer, a singer-songwriter from Minnesota. The album is titled Million Year Mind.)

Sayre said...

My philosophy has always been that I will find out what happens next when I die. Until then, I am HERE.

JoeinVegas said...

And we get to come here and look into a little window of some more. Thanks

Mary G said...

Yes, something to have coffee and ponder. So many thanks for the info; I have never read Patchett, but I now will.
That's how I try to live my life but some days are harder than others.

Deb on the Rocks said...

I love her writing. I highly recommend Truth & Beauty about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy, and also Grealy's Autobiography of a Face. Breathtaking.

fruitlady said...

I simply adore Ann Patchett. Love this passage. She really cuts to the quick with the most beautiful prose.

I also highly recommend Truth & Beauty. My book club read it last month. I love it.

flutter said...

absolutely beautiful, Jess

kittenpie said...

I LOVED Bel Canto, and her writing. Run is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for its turn to be read.

colorbox said...

Thank you for posting was very timely! :)