Thursday, December 20, 2012
Spectators, spectacle, no different
from any arena. Money and blood --
the literal, the metaphor -- will flow
between the shot clock and the dancing girls,
but now we wait and watch as Advent drains,
unnoticed, down the red and green hillsides
toward court and Christmas. Oh say can you see ?
We look. The armies gather, good and bad,
the nouveaux Manichees, gnostic as hell-
and-heaven, locked in death-grip and in scape-
goatery without ransom or rebirth,
just numbers in a stall. A good time ? Dial.
Our fingers freeze. December, the North End,
blue noses and blue teeth clamped to each ear.
Watch, damn you, listen, look, it's Advent, pre-
game, countdown to the show, our spectacles
are fogging over with desire. For what ?
We wish we knew. This twilight doesn't gleam
for me or thee, but overhead where God
(in ages past) hung helpless, now there hangs
the Jumbotron, panoptical, shilling
whatever -- fish, flesh, flash -- its roving eyes
devour on our behalf. (Behold ! Be whole !)
But look -- no, look ! -- it's you and you and you
elect in that big eye, all four facets !
I watch it watching you as you watch back,
its temporary apple; a flush of joy
crimsons your cheeks, your smile illuminates,
astonishes: how beautiful you are,
all of you, guests of the big screen, worthy,
if only for a moment, to be seen
just as you are, embraced, and then released.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
In my recitations of the Lord's Prayer, I had, in the years leading up to my apostasy, found myself rushing through Kingdom and Power to get to the Glory part, the only part of the concluding doxology's triad that I could stomach.
I understand the paradoxical usage, the subversion of the temporal structures that Christ represents. But "kingdom" is still foreign and "power" still utterly rankles, all the more so when one looks toward the ecclesial world and finds monarchical structures and hierarchies of power that closely mimic and are, in fact, in league with, the secular world's.
Do this, Jesus said, for the remembrance of me. And, before you know it, there are structures of kingdom and power and wealth that rival nation states in their ability to exclude and wound. Even when not established, religion cozies up to the state (and vice versa) to create Machiavellian synergies of dominance. From Ratzinger to Rick Warren to Fred Phelps, various dudes want to tell us what's what, who's who, and where to go, and, because things "of faith" sell, the assorted bullying pulpits of the media are always forthcoming.
Let's face it: God's a hot commodity, and the market has been effectively cornered. Oh, sure, the shareholders (usually at pledge time) receive their yearly slick prospectus, and get to cast a token vote now and then, but the power lies deep in the corporation. It's ontologic, see, conferred with ordination -- the particular change in one's being that allows one to channel the Holy Ghost into the unleavened bread to change its substance into the Body of Christ. And without the high power transmission line that is the apostolic succession, it's just broken bread no matter what pretty words and gestures surround it. Absolutely null and utterly void.
There is little keeping of silence anymore. Speech sells. Broadcasts move from hard news to the subsequent long wallow of commodified, voyeuristic infotainment with every fresh catastrophe. The heart sinks farther than it ever thought possible, and the corporate armies, laden with cash, rush into the breach.
If ever there was a time for custody of the eyes, it is now.
It's time to tell the long joke that begins like this:
Henry David Thoreau sat down next to Rev Lillian on a plane, and, noting her collar, said
ministers who (speak) of God as if they enjoyed a monopoly of the subject
would sometimes come to visit him at his cabin at Walden Pond.
And her pastoral reply ?
Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead?
So, carefully balancing her laptop and martini, she sidles down the aisle and sits in an empty aisle seat next to Papa Ratzi himself, the Bull Goose Looney of Those-Formed-By-A-Mighty-Cloud-Of-Witnesses -- who proceeds to remind her that, lacking a penis,
you, Madame, should not be sporting that clerical garb, and, moreover, your employer, in spite of calling itself the United Church of Christ, is not in fact a "church" but rather an ecclesial community, offering a most defective path to salvation ! The only True Church is The Roman Catholic Church !
He glares at her, blows his papal nose on a silken handkerchief especially blessed for the occasion, then returns to his breviary.
The joke goes on for hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles, undoubtedly including how gorgeous Monsignor Ganswein looks in his cassock, and never quite gets to the punch line.
It's a wintry afternoon, the last of the long slide toward the solstice. Mist, maybe sleet, is blowing sideways and I've already drunk too much coffee. This year I received a splendid, animated Advent Calendar -- Jacqui Lawson's Alpine Village -- that is a long marination in nostalgia for a Christmas-That-Never-Was. Nonetheless, I appreciate it like a fine confection -- a thin cookie dusted in sugar, a sugarplum -- and consent, for a few minutes a day, to its sweet dream.
Maybe I should learn to look at the church -- in a broader sense than Ratzi's -- as a sweet dream, a play upon the world's stage, an epic poem, a musical comedy, a tragedy in far too many acts, an opera bouffe -- oh, who the hell knows. Maybe just admit it's an acquired taste that I tried and failed to acquire, in the end just not my cuppa, Rev Lillian notwithstanding. Who is, after all, as invested in the survival of her Ecclesial Community as the Pope is in his One True Church.
Jesus (take, eat) is somewhere beyond this fray, over the rainbow maybe, or maybe off in the cloud of witnesses or the cloud of unknowing.
Or maybe he's hiding in the dead tree on the grounds of the shuttered asylum, or under the finely woven skirt of a mushroom on a rotted log. It's all the bread of heaven, all God's body,
and it doesn't take a man of the cloth to make it so.
Sunday, December 09, 2012
I suppose I could construe taking pictures of weeds as a sort of practice or discipline, even a spiritual one if I could say the word without wincing. It is a peculiar grace of having lived this long that words do tend to fall away, mottled and torn with long use and misuse; I must remind myself that, for those newer to the language games, the words remain green, even photosynthetic, and that is lovely. The young should never be this weary, else babies would not be born, poems not written, blessings not uttered, the sick not tended. But, as the hymn goes, the green blade riseth, even in the surrounding deciduous riot. So it is, and so it shall be. Until is isn't.
The world goes on and will go on without me. My cat, for that matter, could outlive me, conducting its daily round of naps and meals and romps oblivious of my departure, a singular affront. This whole business of being survived by is, come to think of it, an affront, a universal affront, so the rude advice -- get over it -- is extraordinarily well-taken. It's a life's work, actually, that getting over it; or maybe it's a question of getting through it or under it or maybe even into it, it being the twin shocks of that I am and that I will no longer be.
Late fall by the river after rain, thick clouds and the waning day, atmospheres of cold and damp, decaying leaves dark and slick with water and stripped vines and branches beaded with clear drops: the stage designer has obviously studied up on Advent and knows his or her craft. The riverwalk is where I first noticed weeds: the sexual parts of switchgrass, to be specific, its feathery purple stigmas and tiny, orange-tipped stamens. Who knew that grass -- that ubiquitous green wash of the world -- flowered in such an outrageous manner ! What was this marvelous thing ?
I had found a place where I finally, completely, belonged, a sphere of unfraught reciprocity, a world where all the skies are overcast and all the hymns are in f minor and the congregation sings all seven verses without the least grumbling.
Now a bright morning is clouding over. A dog barks, cars pass. Footsteps upstairs, cat snoring on the chair behind me. Wallace Stevens would add oranges and a cockatoo; others would add incense, bread, wine, gathered humans. There are different ways through the question what is this; there are different answers to the question now what, and all (or maybe even none) are correct. One hundred bottoms on hard wooden pews; one bottom on a 30 year old zafu; boots in the mud in the woods.
With respect to matters metaphysical, the decidual option, the less is more option, has become the most attractive. Even YAHWEH, in his many moments of exasperation, was prone to bellow I hate your incense, your festivals, your solemn assemblies, your feasts ! I hate your sacrifices !
As to beauty, what can surpass the cathedral of the world ? The surprising streamers of the witch hazel in the december woods --
rosa multiflora holding on for as long as it can --
a seagull's inland exile --
a green leaf's silvery, spotted decay --
an astonishing, bilobe of yellow amidst a brown tangle --
a witchy "moon" appears behind locust thorn --
and leathery oak leaves, stippled with beautiful black mold, in leaf-fall mudras underfoot
and the much-despised knotweed, robed in rain.
If ritual is repetition, then taking pictures of weeds qualifies. Each iteration of the rite involves old and new, now and always, particle and wave. There is this one, particular dying maple leaf caught in in evergreen,
there are these five elephantine knotweed leaves like laundry on a line.
There is this moment of frozen flight,
and these stiff golden evening primrose pods that never fail to remind me of the delicate, yellow blossoms from which they derive: blossoms are blossom and pods are pods, or I am the resurrection and the life ? What shall it be ? Both ? Neither ?
The fact that I am drawn to the shadowy outskirts of the world is an accident of nature and nurture. It is neither a virtue nor a vice, although some might make it so. It is, rather, my own particular means of navigating the bright circle that leads away from then back to the clasp of darkness. Nothing more, and nothing less.
And, when I run out of words,
as I have now,
will take up