PARABLE: Pray Together — Stay Together by Daniel Berrigan

Pray Together — Stay Together by Daniel Berrigan

From Love, Love At The End

The family Katzenbauen was famous throughout seventeenth century Bavaria.  They displayed to all the nation a precious example: fidelity, affection, faith, discipline.

But there was more.  The Katzenbauens were a circus family.  They had developed over the years a truly astonishing feat of resolution, symmetry, and daring.  It went like this.  As the band played, the father, mother, three sisters, and three brothers, dressed in matching lederhosen, skirts, and blouses, would step forward into the ring.  Then, on signal, in perfect timing, the oldest son would leap to his father’s shoulders, the next to his, then the next; the mother would follow, then the elder sister, and so on up.  Finally, like a climbing star, a golden haired little girl would miraculously appear on the top-most rung of this living ladder, this line of life and strength and harmony.  The sight brought the crowds to their feet again and again, in a spontaneous tribute of adoring joy.  Our family!  The crown of the fatherland!

But that was not all, there was a further climax.  The throngs settled down again, the last note of the gockenspiel and drum died away.  The lights dimmed.  Then came the moment, always awaited, always new.  From bodice and pocket, each of the Katzenbauens drew a card.  The message flashed through the darkness, “The family that prays together, stays together!”  The words held for a long breathless moment, and then dissolved.  The lights went on, the band flourished, the Katzenbauens stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the ring, their hands joined, bowing and flushed and triumphant.

The perfection of their act had of course exacted years of practice.  And practice remained essential, lest the edge wear off its surprise and daring.  So the family retired periodically to the high Alps, where papa Katzenbauen would bring his flock for a holiday.  There on the heights, it seemed as though all nature joined in the message of fidelity and unity; pray together, stay together!  From time-to-time, together in the high bloom-studded pastures, their joy would quite overcome them.  They would leap, singing, spontaneous, to one another’s shoulders, with no audience save the birds and the high clear heavens.  To pray together, to stay together!  An entreaty which the gods themselves could not but favor.

One day, the gods could no longer refuse.  The day was perfect, all nature rejoiced.  In twin mirrors of Earth and Heaven, shone the perfect face of noon.  As though in response to a law of their being, the Katzenbauens leaped joyously into formation.  The golden child mounted her father and mother and brothers and sisters, a noonday star; the line of life stood taut as a guywire.  Then, without warning, as the family stood and prayed, together and together, it thundered on the left.  The line shuddered and held, its ecstasy unsundered; hands clasped to thighs, life held to life in a grasp of stone.

The thunder rolled away, its echoes followed.  The family stood, like a single being.  The sun faltered imperceptibly in its brightness; the family stood, as one man stands, lost in thought or thoughtlessness.  The light receded.  The shadow of the family lengthened, as though its life were draining away upon the Earth.  Evening came on, the Katzenbauens seemed turned to stone.  The father stood, his great legs planted like pillars, his arms bent upward, crooked at the elbow, grasping in their terrible will all that life, all that unseen love, bulking upon him like time’s thousand weight.  The sons stood one on another, like lesser prophets on the shoulders of the great, seeing further, but comprehending less.  The daughters stood; less weighty, more serene and tragic, remote, stricken with virginity, strangers to a fallen Earth.

After 300 years they stand as they stood that noon.  Only now, the father’s feet are lost in the shifting earth, his shoulders are flaked and stony and thickened, his mouth drawn together like a frog’s, his whole being a frowning icon, a father who stands for fatherland.

Together, they form a totem of stone upon that mountain plain, a forbidding prehistory of sorrow and waste.  Few know their story; where it is known – the cries of triumph, the crowds, the adulation – the story is dismissed by rational men, who nevertheless have worn a path the long way round this dreadful presence.  No prince has come to kiss and climb and kiss their curse into life.  They pray, they abide, together and together.

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