I expected the book I have in my head to pour onto the pages. It’s there, certainly, waiting to be tapped onto the keys from my mind, through flying fingers, onto the blank screen. Then all I need to do is hit the print button, and voila!
Writing raises all the important questions and those questions can be very demanding. The purpose of the book I have in mind is, indeed, to respond to those questions. But one question leads to another, and they get together and sit there, popping their heads up like puppets. But who is pulling the strings? “What’s this book about, really?” And, “Who needs this book, anyway?”
The little questions begat bigger questions, and they all join forces, put on spiffy uniforms and march toward the five-star general question–drum roll, please: “What’s life about?”
So I leave the keyboard to do some down-to-earth errands, including a quick stop at the supermarket. I take a carriage and wheel it past the bakery. But the muffins stare out of their little glass cages and tempt me. So I take one of those little bags, look around to make sure no one is watching, and pick up a corn muffin with my bare hands. Good. No muffin police. I turn around and this guy walks up to me and says, “Say, aren’t you Frank Hall, the minister of the Unitarian church?”
“Yes,” I respond, hoping he didn’t see me pick up the muffin with my hands, “I’m the minister at the Unitarian Church.” “But I’m on sabbatical.” I smile.
He says, “Oh, I don’t mean to bother you, but I’ve been to your services the last couple of weeks. I can’t figure it out…I mean, what are you about? I talked to your associate, Barbara, after the service last week. I asked her.”
“I know, she told me about that conversation.” He’s not sure if I’m pulling his leg. I wasn’t.
I listen as he asks the big questions, standing there in the supermarket with my mis-appropriated muffin in the basket and my grocery list in hand. I’m glad the ice cream wasn’t in the basket, yet. Forty minutes later I push the cart away, carrying his questions.
He was polite enough, but a little demanding, asking me about God, Jesus and the afterlife, as if I owed him a satisfying answer. Raised Catholic, now retired, the big question is making more demands on him. He says that he moved into the area recently and is church shopping. I assure him that there are lots of churches in town with the answers to satisfy his needs.
The man in the supermarket reminded me what we’re about–a rational approach to religion and to life itself, resisting the temptation to put those store-bought, muffin-like answers into the basket, filling it full of answers without troubling ourselves with the questions. I prefer the hands-on approach. Bare hands.
I drove home from the supermarket with a renewed sense of purpose and direction. I got out the special tape recorder I used to record Natural Selections, and started to record the Three Prophets of Religious Liberalism book. Two days later it was done. Voila! Now you can listen to the ground-breaking, controversial, Unitarian-creating sermons of Channing, Emerson and Parker, and the introduction by our historian, Conrad Wright, which puts it all in proper perspective.
Now I can get back to the book on poetry as religion.