Saturday, March 03, 2012

Cuppa Magna

...come and learn now the way of our God.

You'd think that our choir director's recent penchant for large C Catholic music would meet with my approval, given the fact that my initial catapult over the mighty fortress wall of Christianity was fueled by the deep appeal of Thomas Merton and Roman Catholic monasticism, and that, subsequently, I have spent inordinariate (pun intended) amounts of time on the banks of the Tiber gazing o'er. You'd think.

In my stricken wanderings through the deserts of the internets I'd heard much mention of the composer Marty Haugen, and much of that mention -- especially from those more traditionally oriented in matters liturgical -- seemed to be negative. Now, I have no dog in the pre- vs. post- Vatican II wars, being at least a nominal large P Piskie. If one cares to be entertained by the howling fisticuffs of bloodsport theology, we have our own schisms to entertain us, viz.

The Episcopal Church is in apostasy and can only be seen as an ecclesial parasite living off the money of dead saints.


Perhaps the most egregious case is the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA which has traveled the path of apostasy from evil to evil until now it can no longer be considered Christian in any meaningful sense.

to quote from some Anglican dude with a website with the obligatory Latin title. (Full disclosure: Last summer I learned the Salve Regina, solemn tone, in Latin by heart. For sport.)

So, anyway, our choir has been dipping/dunked into the opus of Mr Haugen for good or for ill depending on your musicology/ecclesiology, and I've been practicing the alto line of #389 from Gather, "Return to God."

Something about the text of the following line made me wince --

...come and learn now the way of our God. --

specifically, the phrase "our God."

That one little possessive "our" seems to take the Infinite Ineffable And Mysterious Ground Of All Being and reduce it to a local deity, a Roman household god a la lares et penates. As in this dude here is our god, and that one over there is your god.

A small quibble, I suppose, and quite possibly based on a little word simply thrown in by Mr Haugen to make the text scan better, but still. This may simply be my inner universalist screaming to the surface: if the word "God" does not signify a universal cosmic or ontologic reality, then I don't want anything to do with it.

As a lenten discipline I have been listening to an RCIA podcast series from a RCC parish in Virginia. Already I have learned odd things about the evolutionary discontinuity between homo erectus and homo sapiens which is apparently the little gap into which Adam and Eve with their freshly minted and (a la Twinkie creme) newly injected immortal souls are introduced. And I was able to hear someone, with a straight face, promulgating the dictum that, since The Church is a Girl, and a priest has a nuptial relationship with her, women can't be priests since that would, perforce, be a lesbian marriage.

I imagine that if I get through the whole series I shall be cured for good of any desire to swim the Tiber.

I recently heard Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in a debate with the famous go-to-Atheist-dude Richard Dawkins discussing this very notion: the nature of the soul, including its immortality. (video 20-25 min)

Rowan mumbles on a great deal about the soul in relationship with "the unconditional creative force we call God" and about "narrative" and "stories" and "self-reflexive consciousness" until he is pressed by Dawkins on the main point: does this soul survive death, at which point he answers "yes" and the argument gets all faithy and handwavingy and (to my ear) unsatisfactory.

I have to hand it to the RCC: they lay it ALL out, and hand it over to you. Take, for example, the Resurrection of the Body. One simply turns to Catechism 988-1019.

1017 By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our souls. Just as Christ is risen and lives forever, so all of us will rise at the last day.

That's what the Church teaches, and what you, as Catholic, must accept. I remember the discussion of "Resurrection of the Body" in my confirmation classes 5 years ago. The discussion was very Rowanesque: that this clause in the creed serves to signify how crucial "embodiment" or "incarnation" is in Christianity. Which is, of course, palatable, and representative of the feats of translation I myself am continuously doing, but, God forgive me, I am growing as impatient with constant invocations of "narrative" and "relationship" and "story" and the "body" as I am with odd notions of Twinkie creme souls, and Zombie-movie Eschatons. (The RCIA priest did reassure us that our risen bodies would be our physical selves at their most buff and comely.)

I am having more and more difficulty with things that should be second nature to a Christian. When I am reassured from the pulpit -- endlessly, it seems -- that God loves me, God adores me, God dotes on me more than I shall ever know, I want to run screaming from the church. I think the problem is this: the anthropomorphization of God in, by and through Christ. The notion that Christ is all I can ever (or need ever) know of "God." That the so-called "Christ Event" is a cosmic, intelligently intended manifestation -- revelation -- of the Ground of Being, not just something that may be used as a symbol or signpost for a subset of social or metaphysical concerns. That "God" is exclusively pre-occupied with human affairs (especially with the minutiae of reproductive physiology and the variants of erotic expression) and that the only true deposit of the Fullness of Truth of these matters resides within the Vatican (although other "ecclesial communities" may contain some elements of it) and is probably best expressed in Latin.

The lovely, peerless Meetingbrook website recently quoted Jesuit Zen Roshi Robert Kennedy, in a passage that was like a ray of light in my recent bowl of Nachos Obscuras:

I suggest that nature is teaching us that we are saved by that which ignores us, and that nature's indifference to our designs can be a source of our joy. Nature's disinterest in us mirrors God's disinterest in us that frees us from all our precious prayers and pieties. Nature's silence mirrors God's silence, and awakens silence in us. Nature's indifference to us brings us to awareness of God's indifference and refreshes our courage with the purity of his detachment. Does not our own experience of life suggest the truth that God is indifferent to our plans? How could we worship a God who paid any attention to all our everlasting whining? It is not the purpose of God to glorify us. Is it not rather that we are made to glorify God, to pour ourselves out in darkness and silence, until the heart breaks? Is it not true that we are saved by that which ignores us?
(--p.97, Kennedy)

The passage is like a bit of driftwood to which I am clinging after falling overboard in the midst of my current Lenten naufrage. If you find me singing Ave Maris Stella, could you do me the charity of not pointing out the irony ?

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