|Jean Marie de La Trinite
An Extraordinary Voice
|I was thunderstruck,
completely bowled over. Here was a true masterpiece. It was essentially
undiscovered, and it was lying right in my hands. I immediately called Dr.
Chekwas and prevailed upon him, no, begged him, to set up an interview for
me with the creator of this remarkable, sumptuous, miraculous poetry as soon
as could be.
He was a little hesitant at first and tried to put off my request for an introduction and interview with the poet for consideration at some later date, "a more opportune time," he said, but finally, after some friendly cajoling, and reminders to him of a particular literary favor I had done him in the past, and which I had not called upon for repayment until that moment, he agreed to do his best for me. He knows how I love to be the first one on the block to introduce any new work of honesty and integrity that portends to be of genuine, long lasting value to readers of very high, very fine literature.
Marvelous to say, he got me the introduction and interview that very day.
I arrived in much anticipation at the poetís residence in Fresh Meadows, New York in the early evening. Who was he? What would he be like? My psyche was at full alert. I couldnít wait to meet him.
At last, I was ringing his doorbell, and he opened to let me enter. I found him both humble and lively. He seemed filled with a kind of hidden, secret delight that threatened to bubble over from within him at any moment. He was very gracious and forthcoming, and he answered all my questions in a thoughtful, considerate manner. And I must say, he put me completely at my ease.
I realized, however, why Dr. Chekwas had been hesitant at first in attempting to get me an introduction and to set up the interview with the poet for, as it turns out, Mr. de la Trinitť is a mystic and hermit. Indeed, the genuine article. He is not, however, a recluse in the strict sense of the term since he works in the world, in Manhattan, of all bustling cities, and is in regular contact with family and friends, which would not be the case with someone who is reclusion. No, he is a hermit living in the world in a marvelously wonderful mix of the active and contemplative lives, that he successfully melds together into one, ostensibly living each one to the hilt.
His poetry is steeped in the direct experience of God and overflows in a rich and vast outpouring of mystical insight, exclamations of love and exultations of a heart that is truly engaged with sheer wonder in its journey in the quest of Divine Wisdom and Love. We talked for about an hour and a half, too much for the allowable space of this article, but here are some excerpts from that engrossing and enlightening conversation.
Mr. de la Trinitť, let me get directly to the point and ask you, what is the source of your inspiration? The excelling language of your book took me quite by surprise, I must say.
Please call me "Jean-Marie" or simply "John." I think that is friendlier, donít you? And thank you very, very much. I do appreciate your kind words about my little book. Well, the source of my inspiration? That is a wonderful question, and I can tell you in a single word, God. God, is my inspiration.
What do you mean by that? Do you have a direct experience of God?
We all have a direct experience of God. We have it every day and all day long. But we are very busy, and too often we do not recognize our experience as an experience of the truly Divine. But it is there, for me and for everyone else. We just have to open our eyes and look around us. Beyond that, we simply have to be quiet within and look into our own hearts in silence, and we will discover a vast and endless terrain of divine experience and, yes, the direct experience of God.
How does this direct experience of God work? How is it manifested in your writing?
Well, if you mean, what is the creative process for me? I can certainly answer that. I donít so much write my own works. What happens is that I sit at my computer or before my blank notebooks, and I pray, and then I write what I hear in my heart, what passes through my soul. Suddenly, a current of song, of words, a kind of inaudible but very clear linguistic music occurs within me, a music of words, and I write it down. Thatís all. Thatís essentially it. O yes, I look the writing over very many times, and I make small changes here and there, really just grammatical things because I have written the words very quickly and have made mistakes. Everything happens so fast. But there never are any considerable changes to be made. I just write down what my heart hears. Thatís all.
Do you mean that God speaks to you?
Oh, yes. God speaks to me and to all of us, but we are too busy to hear Him. Sometimes He breaks through to us with great force to get our attention, perhaps through a loved one, a family member, some crisis or unforeseen event in our lives that makes us sit down and listen and, if we listen very carefully, we realize that it is God who is talking to us through our friends or loved ones or in some extraordinary event in life. Perhaps it happens and we hear God in a walk by the sea, working in the garden, reading a fine book, in a marvelous dream, listening to beautiful music, to the beautiful voice of a superb singer, looking at a painting, seeing a sunset, gazing at the stars. Perhaps we even feel Him in the rush of the wind upon us, or hear Him in rain falling on leaves. In the song of birds. Personally, I think the perfume of roses is a wonderful witness to the existence and the very real presence of God. It is the rarest of scents, wouldnít you agree? The scent of roses really does place my soul in an other-worldly context that verges on the purest beauty imaginable. I find the beautiful scent of roses a kind of foretaste of Divine Peace. Surely it is the flower of Heaven. The desert gives it to us very well, and the silent falling of snow. I mean this sense of the Presence of God. Perhaps we are touched by the suffering or the joy of someone we know, someone we love, and we experience God. We experience joy in a catharsis of beauty, and we melt into tears. That is God. Oh, yes, God. With me, as a writer and a man of prayer, itís a little different though. You see, I am used to listening to God, or perhaps better put, listening for God. Iím very used to waiting upon God. And, yes, God speaks to me, and I hear Him very clearly. Itís difficult to explain.
I find that interesting and very moving. How you explain it, I mean. And the scent of the rose is extraordinarily arresting, I must agree, although I have never thought of it in the beautiful terms you use. Could you try to explain somewhat more what you mean by listening to God in your writing, or listening for God, as you put it?
Yes, Iíll try. You see, I listen very carefully and quietly to my heart. I pray, and then I sit attentively and wait for what will pass in my soul that will captivate me and that is of value to my mind and heart, to my intellect and my soul. I donít do anything in particular. I donít try to stir things up, so to speak. I just wait upon God, and I donít wait long. Almost immediately something occurs. Words begin to flow within me, and I am right on the verge of them as they occur inside me, at the height of my mind, in the depth of my heart, right at the source and the mouth of the well-spring from which they emerge, wet and gleaming, vibrant and alive, and they are not at all elusive, although they are as quick, and luminous, as mercury, and I write them down as rapidly as I can. Thank God Iím a very good typist. In fact, I call myself Godís secretary. Thatís really my profession. In the matter of poetry, I am the secretary to God. I donít really write the books, you see. They sort of write themselves, coming directly out of a Divine Force, a powerful and sweet Source of Light, Fire and Thought that lives within me and that gushes up from my inmost depths, as though I were standing at the mouth of a mighty river that is pouring through a gorge into an enormous sea. Some of the spray, the droplets of that stupendous outpouring into the sea of this tremendous inward river of my heart is captured in the mirror of my soul in sound, color, fire and light, in a kind of dazzling bejeweling of my preconsciousness that leaps into full awareness within me, and I write it all down in the instant that it springs upward from the inner depths of my soul into the full consciousness and light of my mind. I call that God. If you will, the Word of God alive and flowing and speaking in my heart.
That is wonderfully put. How did your experience of God begin, if I may ask?
Thank you and, oh, yes, please do ask. It is the most important thing. It began when I was five years old. At that tender age, I used to have this very clear sense of a Great Presence near me. This Presence was extraordinarily attentive to me and very, very loving toward me, and I toward It. I sensed great Love from It, and It accompanied me always, but It was especially present to me when I went to bed at night and when I woke in the morning. I would say goodnight to It, and I would greet It in the morning. I would say, "Good morning, God, good morning." Or I would say, "Excuse me, God, excuse me." Or little things like that. "I love You." Things like that, all day long. Little prayers of the heart throughout the whole day. And I have continued that practice all of my life. But now my prayer, though still quite simple in essence, is more elaborate and complex as far as words go. But I donít always pray in words, however. And, in fact, words have very little to do with prayer that is truly advanced. No, then quiet is really what is needed, that is, the prayer of the heart silently gazing with love upon God who has become the heartís Beloved, eventually to become the Husband of the soul in a spiritual marriage of the two such that they become One. Does that help? I hope that makes some sense. But itís all there in my writing, in all the books that I have written. Maybe one day I will get the chance to publish them all. I sincerely hope so.
From what I have read of your work and from listening to you now, I sincerely hope so too. How many books have you actually written?
I think 12 or 13, so far. Iím still looking at how to divide up some of the work. But I think about 13 books. Actually, itís only one book that is in 13 Parts. Dr. Chekwas has been kind enough to discuss all of my work with me in a very detailed manner. I get a very good feeling when I speak with him about my work. He is extremely optimistic, and it rubs off onto me, and I become optimistic too. He seems to understand what Iím trying to do, where Iím coming from, as we say. Iíve written two novels and a very long epic poem of over 36,000 lines of basically iambic pentameter rhyming verse. And Iíve written two theological studies of the subject that is dearest to my heart, which is the love of God and the Way of Divine Love, the way of the soulís ascent to God. All of this writing is on the theme of the superman, or the journey of the mystic, the journey of the soul to God, which is really the journey of anyone and everyone to God. We are all called to the same Divine End, and the ways of our ascent really do overlap one another when we have entered upon the pure mystical way of this enormous ascent to the Divinity. That really defines all of my work.
You are Roman Catholic, are you not?
Yes, I am, I am happy to say, and that comes out in my work, but I hope that I write from a general experience of Divine Grace that is accessible to anyone of any religious background. And I do think that I have achieved that to a certain degree. Protestants, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems and Jews alike have read or listened to my poetry and my prose writing and have all derived some good from it, they tell me. I am humbly very gratified at this fact. Iíve always wanted to write for everyone, no matter whom, no matter what religious background, or even of no religious background at all. It is always good to introduce someone to a slightly different way of thinking about the same thing, or introducing them to the possibility of experiencing something quite new that will be a divine benefit for them. Something beautiful for God and for their souls as they are related to God and seeking to find Him out, so to speak, seeking to really live with God. I think that is so important, donít you? I think, really, that I write for the secret, hidden lover of beauty and of God in all of us. And I dare say, beauty is one of the divine names, as Dionysius the Areopagite makes quite clear in his extraordinary little work On The Divine Names.
I see that you have many paintings. They are very striking. Really extraordinary. Did you do them?
Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks be to God, they were produced by my humble hand. Oh, yes. Iím a painter. I say this with much and very deep humility when I look at the beautiful works of other painters. Those artists who are truly painters, for whom that artistic exercise is their life work and the principal avenue of the expression of their particular grace of beauty. I truly think of the arts as pure graces of Pure Beauty and divine gifts given to us by God. I am perhaps more a student of painting, an amateur, in the best sense of the word though, someone who truly loves painting, the activity of the process, as well as the finished work. The journey, the process, can be as important as the end, I think. I paint, again, from the overflow of my heart, from my love of God and humanity. It is another expression of the same thing, the same fire that consumes my heart and my thought and that is the engagement of my every waking hour and, indeed, of my sleeping hours as well, and that comprises the sweet, eager joy of my soul. This all comes from prayer as union with God. You see, prayer, union with God, which is of the essence of all of my work, does not cease when one falls asleep. No, at a certain level of practice and development, prayer becomes continual and continuous. It becomes coextensive with oneís life. It is the air one breathes. It is the breath, the breathing of the soul. And finally, it is the very reality of love itself, that is, the reality of the very love of oneís heart, that exists within oneís heart, the love of oneís being and oneís will that is the inner fabric of the fire of desire and beauty within one. One of the great mystics has said that if you love, you donít have to worry about praying always, which is the wonderful admonishment of Holy Scripture, that is, to pray always and to never get tired, to pray without ceasing, because, this mystic says, the one who loves prays constantly. His love is true prayer, and his prayer is true love. I think it may have been the great African Bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, who said that.
So he means by that that love is prayer, and it doesnít matter so much if you say words when you pray. You donít have to worry about that, about words I mean, so long as your heart is filled with love. Is that right?
Thatís it exactly. Thatís exactly right. And his is an honest and very insightful statement. One of those statements that makes one say, "I wish I had said that." But, of course, Jesus has preceded us all in the teaching of love as the way of the divine ascent. He is my principal Teacher and my profound and sublime Beloved, the great Love and Joy of my being, of my very existence. He is my Divine Brother, Husband and Lover. He says to His disciples, "I am the Vine; you are the branches. As the Father Loves Me, so also I Love you. Remain in My Love. If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My Love, just as I have kept My Fatherís commandments and remain in His Love" That is what He says in Johnís Gospel. And His commandments are only two, love of God above all things, with all of oneís being, and love of oneís neighbor as oneís self, or beyond this, as He, Jesus, has Loved us. So love itself is this continual and continuous prayer of oneís being that has become a living flame of the love of God and neighbor, as St. John of the Cross says.
As it turns out, Jean-Marie de la Trinitť is a very good neighbor and an honest and very insightful poet who, in THE WEDDING FEAST, has written a palpable lyric masterpiece. I have kept it with me ever since I first received it, opening it here and there, reading passages of it to myself, and to friends and loved ones, and thinking on it in rare moments throughout the day, because, ultimately, it is not one of those books that one reads and then puts down and essentially forgets about. No, this one is to keep with you, to take with you wherever you go. It is the reincarnation of the pocketbook in the best sense of the term, a vade mecum, a "go with me" of oneís heart that sustains oneís love of life in its continual perusal in refined meditation and contemplation.
All in all, an extraordinary spiritual and literary achievement. To this reader, with this book, and the books to come from Mr. de la Trinitť, some of which he kindly allowed me to peruse during our visit, this writing heralds the appearance of the remarkable, profoundly gratifying spiritual masterpiece of the new millennium, indeed, I dare say, of the millennia.
Remarkably, a priest friend of mine knows de la Trinitť as well as anyone knows him since he was his confessor for a considerable time and still corresponds regularly with him. He said to me privately the other day, "I assure you, people will be reading him 500 years from now." I am convinced that this is no exaggeration and that he is correct in his judgment. His work will easily stand the test of time, and his writings will stand with the very greatest works of mystical-contemplative experience and writing in all history. When the great ones in all of the history of mystical experience and mystical poetry, theology and writing in general, homilies, meditations, novels, memoirs and the rest when they are all recounted, and from all the annals of the world, his name will be on the short list of the very uttermost excellent among them, and we will find him standing in the midst of them, as it were, in the Divine Fire in the Central Height of Heaven.
Gus Stratos is a freelance writer based in Queens, New York