Monday, October 31, 2016


Psychological religion.
Well, not just religion.
I used to think the entire
swath of living was made
of people each on their
own private 'psychological'
quests. I probably do still
think that away. It wasn't
just me, or Leo Benjamin,
and me, or my situation, or
the seminary, and me. It
was everything all bundled
and jumbled together: a
massive, crying, scream
to be heard, by a million
different voices of
humanity all at one
time. Using symbols
and objects instead of
just saying what's on their
mind. It was part of my
freeze-frame, check-mate
layout of time. How could
I go anywhere or do
anything when frozen
solid in that outlook? But,
that's where I ended up, 
and I believed nothing else.
There was one activity I
took on, in the seminary,
one year, which was great.
I don't know how I was
selected for this, or I
forget it all anyway  -  it
may just have all been
coincidence; can't recall  -
but this activity, in its way,
really helped me gets this
envisioned idea of what
I later called 'psychological
religion' formalized and
made concrete. As this
task went, whenever one
of  the students, kids, friends,
pals, whatever I should call
them, in the school took sick,
or got a bad toothache or an
attack of this or that or broke
a finger or something on
an athletic field  -  whatever  -
when they needed medical
transporting to nearby-enough
Camden, for a medical visit,
hospital, check-up, dental
emergency, any of that, I'd
get to go along. It was usually
that new black-guy priest,in
his 64 Ford, new then, who
would be the driver, and,
along with me, came the
patient. I was, perhaps,
'peer guide' or 'comfort kid'
or something. No big deal.
I got a free ride, often at
night, an adventure, a real
problem ('how much more is
that going to bleed, or swell
up?' Stuff like that). It was
usually an hour or two later,
after the 'wound' when we
got there. (Nothing happened
in the seminary, 'fast'; and
perhaps the idea of slow
'seminary time' is to be
something  I can go into
in a future chapter). We'd
arrive, Camden being, back
then, by the terms of the
seminary farmland, a big
city. There'd be brick 
buildings, busy corners,
roadways, etc. I can well
remember, for instance,
one dental-visit night, going
up to the glass-brick and
illumined corner office of
some dental clinic and 
stepping out to wait by 
the car. (I never much
went inside, it being more
the job of Father Alexander,
or whatever his name was, 
and the patient, of course. 
I'd just stay there, taking in 
whatever sights and sounds 
there were  -  it was all like 
a secret, shrouded poetry
to me already at age 13; 
everything I saw had 
wonderment and
excitation).  A year or 
so later, whenever that was, 
there was a big hit song, 
by Petula Clark, called 
'Downtown'. Whatever that
song was about, I'd didn't 
really care; she seemed 
perfectly apt speaking to 
me, and what I saw on 
the fierce and busy 'city 
trips.' Man, if being in 
Blackwood had a fringe
benefit, that was surely 
it. Or one. When I stood
out there, on a darkened 
and unfamiliar 1964 city
street, I was in Heaven.
'Religion' could have the
rest. I never realized how
downtrodden a really bad
city could be. It was already,
economically, dead. The
housing stock looked beat,
the old buildings of the areas
where business and factory
work was done seemed 
smashed, really hurting,
or already abandoned. 
Factory gates, I could see,
just listlessly swung open, 
a hinged entry to nothing.
There hadn't been a shift-bell
in five or ten years, for sure.
Nothing at all. If there were 
guards, they'd long ago left 
on the last train out. or so 
it seemed. This was poor 
and destitute stuff. I always 
figured at least it gave us 
something to pray for, the
vision of helping the poor 
suckers, bringing back some
blood to a long blood-dead 
place. Mostly scary was 
the image I'd get  -  on all 
these big old, wood-frame 
leftover homes, with their 
big old porches and chairs 
and porch-swings and 
mattresses on them, yes,
there'd be black people  -  
seemingly dead, vacant, 
comatose, never moving, 
Just staring out. In the 
same silence that we 
drove through to get to 
these places, they sat. 
Any five of them could 
have been the pepper-pickers 
I'd seen, but these people 
had no life, no energy at 
all. It sure looked to me 
as if America had long ago 
left them behind. I'd wonder
why. And who or what had 
done it? Eisenhower? 
Kennedy? The lost 
'promise' of Kennedy's 
Camelot? Johnson? Was 
all this the planned result 
of some killer's random
Dallas bullet? How could
it be? That was only a year 
ago, then. Ruination like this,
I said to myself, takes a 
generation or more. Eight, 
ten or more people per 
household, Five households 
per house, maybe, I was 
just guessing, but none of 
it was pretty. America wasn't
'great,' as I saw it; it was a 
black revolution waiting 
to happen. All that strange, 
dark, ghost had to do was
stir. Little did I know.
The idea of psychological 
religion, I think, began right 
here, It' a sort of combined form
of sentimentality, good-wishing,
positive-thinking, idealistic ideas,
charity and feelings of good-will,
all combined. All those poor people,
arrayed like death-masks on their
porches. So bad; oh, they deserve
redemption. That poor child, the
boy in pain and tears, crying
into the dentist's chair, he needs
a calming and comforting hand.
Come to think of it, they both
need the Savior, the
comfort of Mother Church, the
hope and uplift of deliverance.
All the sick, and the hurting, 
and the downtrodden, I want
them helped...Yes! That's how
religion speaks. That's how the
psychology of religion rings
forth its personages and stories
and endings. Faith, faith, faith
is in the choir! I suddenly
realized  -  there was nothing
behind anything. Nothing
but the spatial filling up a 
void with the only the very 
best psychology of positive 
attitude and good force.
In fact, Naivete! And
that's what any of this
support-group religion
came down to. That's why
it always ended up 
depending on the childish, 
sweet, the lamb, the innocent, 
the slaughter, and the 
redemption! It was nothing
more than support. A support-
network of like-minded people
intent, together, on a task of
upholding each other.
And, just as swiftly and vividly,
I'd realize I had no part of it,
in it, with it, nor any desire
to partake 'of'' it. My host was
all inside, within me, and I
was hosting my own sort
of show.

No comments: