Magazine article U.S. Catholic

God Is in the Gorgonzola

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

God Is in the Gorgonzola

Article excerpt

I was in an Italian grocer's shop in Soho when it happened. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I was buying supper. I was gazing into a large glass case, trying to decide between the dolce latte and the Gorgonzola, the coppa and the Parma ham when the whole business was knocked sideways by an overwhelming feeling of the presence of God. It was so sweet and so strong that I was almost unable to keep standing. All I could do was bow my head, as if investigating the prices per pound from a nearer perspective, and hope I would emerge in one piece.

Saint Teresa of Avila lived with this sort of thing continuously, but, being no saint, I can remember only one other instance in my case. That time, again, it didn't happen in church, as one might hope and suppose; it happened at a boardroom lunch in my office many years ago. I can remember now what I was eating (it was steak and peas) because it suddenly seemed imperative to try to anchor myself to the ground by concentrating on what was on my plate. I can remember, too, what I was listening to, which was the wartime career of the aged board member on my left. The whole place, however, was ablaze with light in which I felt I would combust at any minute. And just when it seemed safe enough to raise my head and try to look out of the window, three white swans flew slowly past.

Even as I write this, I am wondering whether I ought to mention it. I can imagine my colleagues having a field day with it, and indeed, I would have a field day with it myself if anyone else did the same. Like dreams, and the details of sex lives, religious experiences seem to demand to be kept in the dark. They are deeply embarrassing when they happen, never knowing their place; and they are just as embarrassing to report, suggesting the sort of hysterical religious enthusiasm that fueled the Salem witch trials or the exaggerations of the Flagellants.

Alec Guinness was bold enough to recount one such experience in his autobiography, Blessings in Disguise (Knopf, 1986; Warner Books, 1987). He describes himself, shortly after his conversion to Catholicism, literally running down the Aldwych to reach a church as the feeling overcame him.

That thought crossed my mind, too, as I stood in the grocers. Where was the nearest church? (Soho Square, probably.) Could I make it that far? And what exactly would I do when I got there? It is a peculiarly Catholic feeling to be convinced that God can be worshiped only in a church. But then again, it is peculiarly English to feel that you must carry on with the day as usual, no matter what is going on inside. …

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