kindbegger's Diaryland Diary


'An Argument Against Mysticism And Meditation'

"Franny,... What do you think you're doing with the Jesus prayer?" he asked. "This is what I was trying to get at last night. Before you told me to go chase myself. You talk about piling up treasure- money, property, culture, knowledge, and so on and so on. In going ahead with the Jesus prayer- just let me finish, now, please- in going ahead with the Jesus prayer, aren't you trying to lay up some kind of treasure? Something that's every goddam bit as negotiable as all those other, more material things? Or does the fact that it's a prayer make all the difference? I mean by that, is there all the difference in the world, for you, in which side somebody lays up his treasure- this side, or the other? The one where thieves can't break in, et cetera?... As a matter of simple logic, there's no difference at all, that I can see, between the man who's greedy for material treasure- or even intellectual treasure- and the man who's greedy for spiritual treasure. As you say, treasure's treasure, God damn it, and it seems to me that ninety percent of all the world-hating saints in history were just as acquisitive and unattractive, basically, as the rest of us are." ...
"This last thing," he said abruptly, "will probably cause and explosion. But I can't help it. It's the most important thing of all." He appeared to consult the ceiling plaster briefly, then closed his eyes. "I don't know if you remember, but I remember a time around here, buddy, when you were going through a little apostasy from the New Testament that could be heard for miles around. Everyone was in the goddam Army at the time, and I was the one that got his ear bent. But do you remember? Do you remember it at all?"
"I was all of ten years old!" Franny said- nasally, rather dangerously.
"I know you were. I know how old you were. I know very well how old you were. C'mon, now. I'm not bringing this up with the idea of throwing anything back in your teeth- my God. I'm bringing this up for a good reason. I'm bringing it up because I don't think you understood Jesus when you were a child and I don't think you understand him now. I think you've got him confused in your mind with about five or ten other religious personages, and I don't see how you can go ahead with the Jesus prayer til you know who's who and what's what. Do you remember at all what started that little apostasy?... Franny? Do you remember, or don't you?"
He didn't get an answer. Only the sound of a nose being rather violently blown.
"Well, I do, it happens. Matthew, Chapter Six. I remember is very clearly, buddy. I even remember where I was. I was back in my room putting some friction tape on my goddam hockey stick, and you banged in- all in an uproar, with the Bible wide open. You didn't like Jesus anymore, and you wanted to know if you could call Seymour at his Army camp and tell him all about it. And you know why you didn't like Jesus anymore? I'll tell you. Because, one, you didn't approve of his going into the synagogue and throwing all the tables and idols all over the place. That was very rude, very Unnecessary. You were sure that Solomon or somebody wouldn't have done anything like that. And the other thing you disapproved of- the thing you had the Bible open to- was the lines 'Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.' That was all right. That was lovely. That you approved of. But, when Jesus says in the same breath, 'Are ye not much better than they?'- ah, that's where little Franny gets off. That's where little Franny quits the Bible cold and goes straight to Buddha, who doesn't discriminate against all those nice fowls of the air. All those sweet, lovely chickens and geese that we used to keep up at the Lake. And don't tell me again that you were ten years old. Your age has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. There are no big changes between ten and twenty- or ten and eighty, for that matter. You still can't love a Jesus as much as you'd like to who did and said a couple of things he was at least reported to have said or done- and you know it. You're constitutionally unable to love or understand any son of God who throws tables around. And you're constitutionally unable to love or understand any son of God who says a human being, any human being- even a Professor Tupper- is more valuable to God than any soft, helpless Easter chick."
Franny was now facing directly into the sound of Zooey's voice, sitting bolt upright, a wad of Kleenex clenched in one hand. Bloomberg was no longer in her lap. "I suppose you can," she said, shrilling.
"It's beside the point whether I can or not. But, yes, as a matter of fact, I can. I don't feel like going into it, but at least I've never tried, consciously or otherwise, to turn Jesus into St. Francis of Assisi to make him more 'lovable'- which is exactly what ninety-eight percent of the Christian world has always insisted on doing. Not that it's to my credit. I don't happen to be attracted to the St. Francis of Assisi type. But you are. And, in my opinion, that's one of the reasons why you're having this little nervous breakdown. And especially the reason why you're having it at home. This place is made to order for you. The service is good, and there's plenty of hot and cold running ghosts. What could be more convenient? You can say your prayer here and roll Jesus and St. Francis and Seymour and Heidi's grandfather all in one." Zooey's voice stopped, very briefly. "Can't you see that? Can't you see how unclearly, how sloppily, you're looking at things? My God, there's absolutely nothing ten-rate about you, and you're up to you're neck at this minute in tenth-rate thinking. Not only is the way you're going about your prayer tenth-rate religion but, whether you know it or not, you're having a tenth-rate nervous breakdown. I've seen a couple of real breakdowns, and the people who had them didn't bother to pick and choose the place they --"
"Just stop it, Zooey! Just stop it!" Franny said, sobbing.
"I will, in a minute, in just a minute. Why are you breaking down, incidently? I mean if you're able to go into a collapse with all your might, why can't you use the same energy to stay well and busy? All right, so I'm being unreasonable. I'm being very unreasonable now. But, my God, how you try what little patience I was born with! You take a look around your college campus, and the world, and politics, and one season of summer stock, and you listen to the conversation of a bunch of nitwit college students, and you decide that everything's ego, ego, ego, and the only intelligent thing for a girl to do is lie around and shave her head and say the Jesus Prayer and beg God for a little mystical experience that'll make her nice and happy."
Franny shrieked, "Will you shut up, please?" ...
"Always the heavy," Zooey said, a trifle too matter-of-factly. "No matter what I say, I sound as though I'm undermining your Jesus Prayer. And I'm not, God damn it. All I am is against why and how and where you're using it. I'd like to be convinced- I'd love to be convinced- that you're not using it as a substitute for doing whatever the hell your duty is in life, or just your daily duty. Worse than that, though, I can't see, I swear to God I can't- how you can pray to a Jesus you don't even understand. And what's really inexcusable, considering that you've been funnel-fed on just about the same amount of religious philosophy that I have- what's really inexcusable is that you don't try to understand him. There'd be some excuse for it if you were either a very simple person, like the pilgrim, or a very goddam desperate person- but you're not simple, buddy, and you're not that damned desperate." ... "God Almighty, Franny," he said. "If you're going to say the Jesus Prayer, at least say it to Jesus, and not to St. Francis and Seymour and Heidi's grandfather all wrapped up in one. Keep him in mind if you say it, and him only, and him as he was and not as you'd like him to have been. You don't face any facts. This same damned attitude of not facing facts is what got you into this messy state of mind in the first place, and it can't possibly get you out of it." ...
"The part that stumps me, really stumps me, is that I can't see why anybody- unless he was a child, or an angel, or a lucky simpleton like the pilgrim- would even want to say the prayer to a Jesus who was the least bit different from the way he looks and sounds in the New Testament. My God! He's only the most intelligent man in the Bible, that's all! Who isn't he head and shoulders over? Who? Both Testaments are full of pundits, prophets, disciples, favorite sons, Solomons, Isaiahs, Davids, Pauls- but, my God, who beside Jesus really knew which end was up? Nobody. Not Moses. Don't tell me Moses. He was a nice man, and he kept in beautiful touch with his God, and all that- but that's exactly the point. He had to keep in touch. Jesus realized there is no separation from God... Oh, my God, what a mind!" he said. "Who else, for example, would have kept his mouth shut when Pilate asked for an explanation? Not Solomon. Don't say Solomon. Solomon would have had a few pithy words for the occasion. I'm not sure Socrates wouldn't have, for that matter. Crito, or somebody, would have managed to pull him aside just long enough to get a couple of well-chosen words for the record. But most of all, above everything, who in the Bible besides Jesus knew- knew- that we're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside, where we're all too goddam stupid and sentimental and unimaginative to look? You have to be a son of God to know that kind of stuff. Why don't you think of these things? I mean it, Franny, I'm being serious. When you don't see Jesus for exactly what he was you miss the whole point of the Jesus Prayer. If you don't understand Jesus, you can't understand his prayer- you don't get the prayer at all, you just get some kind of organized cant. Jesus was a supreme adept, by God, on a terribly important mission. This was no St. Francis, with enough time to knock out a few canticles, or to preach to the birds, or to do any of the other endearing things so close to Franny Glass's heart. I'm being serious now, God damn it. How can you miss seeing that? If God had wanted somebody with St. Francis's consistently winning personality for the job in the New Testament, he'd've picked him, you can be sure. As it was, he picked the best, the smartest, the most loving, the least sentimental, the most unimitative master he could possibly have picked. And when you miss seeing that, I swear to you, you're missing the whole point of the Jesus prayer. The Jesus Prayer has one aim, and one aim only. To endow the person who says it with Christ-Consciousness. Not to set up some little cozy, holier-than-thou trysting place with some sticky, adorable divine personage who'll take you in his arms and relieve you of all your duties and make all your nasty Weltschmerzen and Professor Tuppers go away and never come back. And by God, if you have intelligence enough to see that- and you do- and yet you refuse to see it, then you're misusing the prayer, you're using it to ask for a world full of dolls and saints and no Professor Tuppers."
- Zooey reproaching Franny

2:26 p.m. - 2007-07-11


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