Jared Witt | April 2, 2020
(For the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blogs that is all about how beautiful, abundant, and chock full of Divinity this world is. This will be a fear and pessimism free zone. Save this sentence, you will not see words like COVID-19, coronavirus, quarantine, social distancing, stimulus or the like. Those are such a tiny minority among the things of this world: 99.99% of which are good and true and lovely. I think the true and lovely things deserve more air time than they’ve been getting. Philippians 4:8.)
It’s about one in the afternoon and the pavement in the French Quarter is molten. Never mind all that. I’m in the mood for some rabbit’s foot jambalaya at Coop’s Place on Decatur. The hotter, the better. Coop’s also has the benefit that you can’t get there without strolling by the four piece ragtime outfit that hunkers down near the flea market.
I only visited the Crescent City for the first time a couple years ago by happenstance. Within the year I had been back twice. I can’t get enough of this place. It’s like the news stations forgot to transmit here, and no one ever informed them that this world is a place for stern and serious folk, the sorts who fret about rising transportations costs and make long sighing noises when they pick-up the Wall Street Journal. It simply never occurred to New Orleans. Try telling them what the fed is going to try to do with lending rates, and they’ll just stare at you unmoved like you’re reporting the goings on of a far off planet.
“Seeking God” is not typically the first reason people list for why they’re traveling to New Orleans, not with the stranglehold that repressive moralism has on all God-talk in our society. But I knew immediately, this is exactly the kind of place where the God of the six wine casks would want to be found. Those who have spent years achieving all of their conventional life goals in the world of serious folk, only to see them go swirling down the gutter will truly understand what I mean. And when all the conventional religious channels for seeking God have been poisoned by political agenda, defilement codes, and intellectual dishonesty, one seeks unconventional means.
But maybe that’s always to be expected. The church reformer Martin Luther used to say that God’s glory comes to us “hidden beneath its opposite.” In other words, we should expect to find God only in the last place we would ever expect to find God.
So Nola must surely be teeming with the Divine. Orleanian amorist Andrei Codrescu can hardly even mention his adopted city without risking Gospel themes:
New Orleans is, above all, a town where the heady scent of jasmine or sweet olive mingles with the cloying stink of sugar refineries and the musky mud smell of the Mississippi. It’s an intoxicating brew of rotting and generating, a feeling of death and life simultaneously occurring and inextricably linked. It’s a feeling only the rich music seeping all night out of the cracks of homes and rickety clubs can give you, a feeling that the mysteries of night could go on forever.
If you hear the term “God” and you think of a judgmental puppet-master in the sky, I’m fully aware that nothing I’m saying is making sense to you right now, regardless of whether you’ve adopted or rejected that image. But the description for God that I’m working with here is more like the livingness of life.
The sheer amount of life packed into the city is undeniable. And by that definition alone, it should be considered a pretty Godly place. If not, then what is it, pray tell, that animates the upright bass player to go on plucking away as if the fact that his instrument is missing two strings is a feature and not a glitch? What, if not the same energy that turned five loaves and two fish into a banquet for thousands?
What is it that keeps the handmade artisanal gas lantern guy from bowing down to the gods of capitalism and kneeling at the altar of the economies of scale if not the Holy One whose ways are not our ways?
From whence the enthusiasm in the homeless man’s eyes when he talks up the health benefits of chicory root, if not the same spirit that gave us Psalm 104?
Or the Commander’s Palace Maitre D’ when he enforces the no shorts policy like a Swiss Guardsman charged with all the sanctimony of St. Peter’s Basilica?
By what right do the bus boys feel at liberty to shoot wadded up napkins into the Hurricanes of some drunk and obnoxious suits each time they look away, if not the right of the Magnificat? “[The Mighty One] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”
New Orleans was way ahead of the progressives. Nowhere else will you see a grown male sing with perfect pitch in a trans-falsetto to make Mariah Carey blush and frat boys trying earnestly to emulate him.
And for you pious types, I’ll insist that there was more holiness in the prostitute whom I saw carrying her worn out friend’s heels down Royal at 3 am than I’ve ever seen at a clergy ordination ceremony.
If God is, in a manner of speaking, the opposite of death, then this town is full of God. So much so, even their dead come back to life from time to time, it’s said.
For those of us who are overcooked on the religion of the temple, even God sitting in the holiest of holies on a unicycle could be explained away with the woodwork. But if God should happen to appear in the temple of Moloch, that would be rather undeniable.
One requires, at times, to believe that there can be beauty and goodness in the midst of chaos. Or perhaps that’s not stated strongly enough. Chaos is a necessary environment for beauty to occur, and one needs reminding of that when one’s binary life-plan has hit a dead end. One needs reminding of the randomness by which Homo sapiens evolved into what she is and by which the Earth on which she stand finds itself at just such a copacetic angle and distance from the sun. Only with a bit of big bang chaos do the menage-a-trois lovers who make up a water molecule ever find each other. Life itself requires not just an impressive degree of order a la Genesis 1, but also the opposite of order. Requires it.
New Orleans is a small city, but it seems spacious because it is always full of people…like a crowded barroom at night. At dawn, a deserted barroom seems small beyond belief: How did all those people fit? The answer is that space and time are subjective, no matter what the merciless clock of the late twentieth-century America tells us. And there is more subjective time and space here in New Orleans than almost anywhere in the United States. Which is not to say that the sad ironies of dehumanized commerce and violence do not touch us here…But the city puts up a fight, a funny, sad fight composed sometimes of sly stupidities and Third World inefficiency. The city can drive a sober-minded person insane, but it feeds the dreamer.
Cheers and peace,
A blog that is too churchy for your drinking buddies and too drinky for your churching buddies.