Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home

In response to my recent post on Joan Didion's essay "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," Maclin Horton directed me to his conversion story, which was published in the National Catholic Register in 1981. In it, Maclin relates with eloquence and humility his own journey from the counterculture to the Catholic Church.

About the phenomenon of spring 1967, he says:

. . . it really seemed, for a month or two that spring, like a new world. The flowers were brighter, the new leaves greener, because a darkness had lifted. There were other people in the world who felt as I did. We were finding each other, and soon we would change the world or perhaps build another, where the strange haunting joy that seemed to hover near us would come to rest and be ours.

Soon, however, the utopian promise of the movement degenerated into hedonism and nihilism. Maclin says that at the time he followed "a hodgepodge of more or less pantheistic, vaguely Eastern religious beliefs," but observes that

[t]here is no essential distinction beween the One of Eastern contemplation and the Abyss of Western nightmare; the differece is that the Eastern mind attemps to respond to nothingness with a smile, while the Westerner wants to scream.

Of his gradual journey to Catholicism, he writes:

there was the puzzle of confrtonting smething which seemed wiser than anything around it and yet marred by strange superstitions such as transubstantiation and the infallibility of the Pope. And again there was the slow realization that things which appeared to be deformities were absolutely essential to the structure of the whole, and that things which appeared to be irrational were in fact the foundations of rationality, without which reason itself would wither and die.

Perceptively and provocatively, Maclin notes of his gneration:

It is a strange twist . . . which has made the term "conservative" applicable mainly to the partisans of industrial capitalism. Many of us -- the wandering religious fanatics, the agrarians and communitarians, the artists -- were part of a movement so conservative that there was no longer even a name for what we sought . . . We wanted a world in which fundamental realities -- spirit, earth, light, death -- would be visible in all their simplicity . . . . So we marched off to war and fought for the wrong side . . . But our army scattered in the night . . . Now I find myself at the gate of an old fortress, one of those we had attacked and which we had thought to be a place of darkness -- it had looked so grim in battle -- and I find it alive with light and music . . . . It proves to be the castle of the King . . . . sometimes I wonder why all the ex-hippies in the world aren't flocking to his service. . . . There is simply nowhere else to go.

Please read this wonderful essay. I wish that Maclin would turn it into a book, as he had originally planned to do; I want to read more.


Maclin Horton said...

Thank you. I'm honored.

Pentimento said...

Maclin, my husband accidentally published my post before I was done - please take a look at the revised version.

Maclin Horton said...

Now I'm really touched.

The book...yeah, I missed an opportunity there, and perhaps it could still be done. But I really couldn't see a way to do it without going into details that would not only reveal more personal stuff about me than I want to make public, but, more importantly, would require doing that with other people. To write about one's family, for instance, in honesty is bound to hurt some feelings. Or everything that I packaged under "made a wreck of my personal life"--that would have to include, e.g., the story of a very bad marriage, which I just don't think I have the right to tell in public, especially as it would be from my point of view.

I don't know...I just finished re-reading Surprised by Joy, and Lewis manages to describe his spiritual life without being too specific about personal things...maybe I should think about it again...

Pentimento said...

Mac, I understand your dilemma. I too would like to write more explicitly about my life and conversion, but fear that would harm others still living. Even Dorothy Day left a lot of salient events in her pre-conversion life out of her autobiography. I think that perhaps private conversations with specific individuals about these topics are the place to reveal the details, if the details will help someone else to know God's mercy, that is.