As I’ve mentioned before, I’m reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, which I am predictably loving. My favorite character, whom I paradoxically like to read about the least, is Mitchell, a divinity major who travels around the world after graduating from Brown, and ends up in Calcutta, volunteering for Mother Teresa at Kalighat, her hospital for the sick and dying.
(By the way—Mother Teresa and her cult of Western followers in the early 1980s? Fascinating.)
It’s rare that authors these days—in an age where people see Christianity as being a religion for Republicans, idiots, and fanatics—to write a character who intelligently explores, or believes in spirituality of the Jesus-based nature. But from its origins, Christianity has been one of the most philosophical and revolutionary religions. Eugenides captures some of the transcendentalism of the foundations of Christianity, and thus writes a character—Mitchell—who is entirely unique in modern mainstream literature, being that he believes in God without malice, sarcasm, or shame.
I have a lot more to say about it, and I will probably elaborate in a later post, but for now, I think that this captures the way that I feel myself feel the presence of God (who increasingly, I realize, I believe in).
“He spent the rest of the day walking around the city. Mitchell’s concern that he wasn’t coming up to the mark at Kalighat coexisted, oddly enough, with a surge of real religious feeling on his part. Much of the time in Calcutta he was filled with an ecstatic tranquillity, like a low-grade fever. His meditation practice had deepened. He experienced plunging sensations, as if moving at great speed. For whole minutes he forgot who he was. Outside in the streets, he tired, and often succeeded, in disappearing to himself in order to be, paradoxically, more present.
There was no good way to describe any of this. Even Thomas Merton could only say things like ‘I have got into the habit of walking up and down under the trees or along the wall of the cemetery in the presence of God.’ The thing was, Mitchell now knew what Merton meant, or thought he did. As he took in the marvelous sights, the dusty Polo Grounds, the holy cows with their painted horns, he had got in the habit of walking around Calcutta in the presence of God. Furthermore, it seemed to Mitchell that this didn’t have to be a difficult thing. It was something every child knew how to do, maintain a direct and full connection with the world. Somehow you forgot about it as you grew up, and had to learn it again.”
(Michaelangelo-esque photograph by Mary Ellen Mark)