Monday, September 07, 2009

Prone to Wander

Last night I dreamed I renounced Christianity.

I ripped a gold cross I was wearing from around my neck and flung it away.

In the dream, DK and I were about to get married. The preacher made a snide remark about DK being Jewish.

I told the preacher that I was a Jew and a Buddhist and that he was the opposite of an evangelist, driving people away from the church.

At breakfast, I told DK about the dream.

"You spend too much time thinking about religion," he muttered.

Maybe he's right.

Yesterday I drove from an Episcopal service and LEM visit to a RC Latin Mass listening to a Zen podcast on the identity of the relative and the absolute.

If that is not a metaphor for my current spiritual situation, nothing is.

I had been reading Matthew Fox's "Original Blessing." At the point where I hurled the book across the room crying "faugh" -- his scorn of "introverted religion" -- I was already growing uneasily suspicious Fox was too crunchy even for me. I am not a dance, mime, clowning, ecstatic, play & story, Goddess kinda guy. And neither was Meister Eckhart, I bet, despite Fox's claim.

But the Latin Mass did a lot toward purging me of my chronic Roman Catholic infatuation. Don't get me wrong -- it was magnificent -- but aside from snippets of familiar Latin floating down from the choir loft, I was at sea. Most of what the priest said was inaudible. There was no written text provided for the curious visitor. I'd been to this church before for a vernacular Mass. They had a service leaflet the size of a phone book, and enormous batches of missals and hymnals, so I figured there'd be at least a Latin text. But, no. Or at least it was not immediately apparent as I stood at the back of the church looking lost -- and probably reeking of brimstone. No one even made eye contact with me, never mind offered help. I was among the hardest of the hard core: I was on my own. Sink or swim, sister. Stand on your own two feet.

Seated in a back pew, I realized that I probably DID stick out like a sore thumb, and not in a good way: my head was uncovered. I gazed out at a sea of mantillas. Lace mantillas, ranging from hankie to kerchief-sized, some white, some black. One was even green. How did I even know the word "mantilla" ? From what 1950's brain stratum did I dredge it ?

"Omigod," I thought, panicking, scanning the room, wishing I had done more research, "I am committing a boorish, rubrical faux pas if not a venial sin !" Did my hairclip count ? Should I drape my sweater over my head ? Would that make me even more conspicuous ? It would probably burst into flames. Eventually I was able to locate 3 or 4 uncovered female heads amidst a vast sea of lace, and panic subsided to mere unease. I sat back and watched every pew but the one where I sat fill up. This was a popular Mass, and I was the proverbial stranger, the sojourner.

Eventually, when the church was packed, some latecomers sat beside me, at either far end of the pew.

The altar party was huge, and, of course, male -- acolytes great and small, deacon, subdeacon, priest, torch bearers, crucifer, thurifer, boat boy -- the whole deal. But all boys and men. Where were the girls and women ?

In the pews. In their mantillas. This was not beginning well. I tried to clear my mind of contingent, temporal quibbles. I was about to experience something I'd been wanting to witness for as long as I can remember, something, as an Episcopalian, I could now claim as part of my heritage, although I suspect everyone in that church would loudly beg to differ were I to suggest it aloud.

I sat there feeling detached, and, to my dismay, even a little bored. I was an observer, not a participant. I had the brief subversive impulse to present myself for communion, but I pushed it down. I was a guest -- the phrase "spy in the house of love" floated through my brain -- and, at the very least, I would mind my ecclesiatic manners. Play by the house rules, at least the ones I knew.

I -- and my knees -- were relieved when the Mass was over. I fled into the sunlight, and sped home. It was a beautiful day, bright, cool, breezy, and I had spent the whole morning indoors. Unaccustomed to the light, my eyes teared. I squinted. Newton Upper Falls blurred like a drowned town. Religions were contingent forms, all of them; modes of expression; languages, color schemes, choreographies, all pointing to the same Mystery. Is that a damning belief, a disqualifying belief, in and of itself ? There are plenty of Bible passages that have God railing against ceremonies and sacrifices when they become an end-in-itself and not the means. There was a lesson in there for me that I kept learning and forgetting. What language did I want to speak ? I had just been in a roomful of people who had found their voice. But for me there was no pure tongue that seemed to suffice: I was babbling in a strange creole, a pidgin. No wonder people stared, then backed away.

What was the source of my restlessness, my discontent ? I was getting closer, but the heart of it was still eluding me. Maybe DK was right. "Thinking about religion" is a sorry pursuit, indeed. James, in the morning's Episcopal epistle (the RC epistle, in English, was Galatians on fornication) could just as well have contrasted "thinkers of the word" with "doers of the word" instead of hearers and doers.

Was Christianity, thinking of my dream, even mine to renounce ? Shouldn't it be renouncing me, ripping me from around its neck and flinging me into the outer darkness where, as we all know, I am most comfortable ? Where I have no problem conflating Christ and Guan Yin ?

So what should I do now ? Is that the question ?

To be attached to things is illusion,
to encounter the absolute
is not yet enlightenment.

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