Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul… I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.—Moby-Dick
The weather is indeed wet and grim, though I am a landlubber whose only acquaintance with the sea is the occasional ferry trip and vicarious travels via Jack London and Herman Melville. At any rate, I find myself strangely drawn to the famous story of the White Whale. It is one of the most metaphysical pieces of American literature.
Life’s tempo changes. The Feast of All Souls and the fading of comfortable autumn days and impending cold and damp only reinforces the mood. Along these lines I appreciated the commentary by Fr. Mulady in the recent issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Discussing spiritual reading, he says we should not “just seize on the book like one would a novel or textbook to study something. One should not be anxious to finish a passage or to ‘get through it’ as soon as possible.”
Though a work of fiction, Moby-Dick is an exception to Fr. Mulady’s rule about the genre. It is impossible to read in a hurry. The novel muses at length on nautical mysticism and whale blubber, and one senses that the author is always a little daft. Yet there is never a dull sentence in its nearly six-hundred pages. Like the vast ocean itself, the story rolls slowly but inevitably onward to its appointed destiny, thus mirroring the course of our own lives, as we perceive it in the more reflective, November moments of our soul. In the words of the main character Ishmael:
Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the less of my better being.
For more on Moby-Dick, see my earlier commentary.