Sunday, July 06, 2014


It was the perfect July 4th -- 12 hours of rain, rain of all types from downpour to soaking mist. Gray skies, temperatures nudging downward, streams of water coursing along the street's gutters, hissing and spraying beneath the wheels of passing cars, coating the branches of the front yard's Norway Spruce with heavy cauls of water -- and everywhere the white background music of rainfall, a cocoon of hissing, tinkling, pinging sound.

Spoilsport, you will say, and you will be correct. Upended Frisbees gathering water on the lawns,  grills swamped, shiny nylon sporting outfits undonned, soggy lawn flags drooping on their poles: a post-apocalyptic vision that pleases me: a world of rain and thwarted nationalism.

Don't get me wrong. I am undeceived. Impervious to all weathers, in their deeply occulted, hermetically sealed chambers, the insatiable, incessant mouths of power continue to eat and bruit, eat and bruit. The bread and circuses of July 4th patriotism may be on rain delay, but, after all, in 2014, every day is bread and circus day in the US of A, with its branching roots still plumbing the underground tarpits of genocide and slavery.  From its pulpits, bully and ecclesial,   the oligarchs of nationalism, religiosity and capitalism deliver their sermons: exhortations of privilege, violence, piety, intolerance, revisionism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and sentimentality. Breasts stir in a unison that would make Leni Riefenstahl homesick. Praise God from whom all blessings flow ! One nation under God indivisible ! America the Beautiful !

Jesus is swallowed, and washed down with fast food, guns, SUVS, beer, shiny sweat-shop sports garments, and TV shows that cram as much ultraviolence, sex and ironic catch phrases as possible into the breaks between advertisements. The Corporation is ascendant, personal, and if it can co-opt the Corpus Christi and the personal God onto its team (in, let us say, an operational excellence initiative) well it's a win win situation for those that count. And the others ?

Let them keep eating their trans-fat-laden cake.

So it's summer. The weeds are in their glory: the world vests in green for the church of nature's long stretch of ordinary time. I have rediscovered, finally, my pew -- the rock beside the river, the shade at the edge of the meadow, the ragged wicker chair on my front porch. My cathedral ? The multi-columned rain, the limitless ceiling vault of the galaxy fields.  My scriptures ? An uncensored Borgesian library of them.

But who's that out on the sidewalk waving her Bible -- why it's Rev. Lillian ! -- the scolding flap of arms and snarky timbre of voice are unmistakeable, avatar of those people-of-the-cloth who are always importuning us on airplanes as we quietly make our eremitic, unaffiliated way across the empty skies. And whom I paraphrase:

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the pastor who finds out I am unchurched and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that there is no salvation outside organized religion Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the secular status quo.  ...

Thank you for sharing, Rev religious church person. You are now comfortably in the norm of bovinely pious American culture, shepherd of the bland majority of people who find ancient religions comforting, and who finds her own salaried and tax-exempt Constantinian power status uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a fathomless universe and a comfortless and dislocating existential thrownness instead ? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to accept the paradox of one's ultimate aloneness and need for solidarity outside of the sentimental pieties of religious community ?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, simply putting up with me, and eschewing all wheedling pleas to the Big-Dude-In-Triplicate-Upstairs.

That's the ex-cathedra message, across the board. That salvation comes to the specialized, the officially sanctioned, the well-schooled, the churched -- and the more you are expert, the more you are narrowly specialized, the more you are saved. 10,000 hours of Zazen ? Robes and rituals ? Holy Orders ? Adherence to every jot-and-tittle of the Catechism ? Yeah, baby. Their Kingdom come !

And the autodidact ? The sport ? The syncretist ? The cave-dwelling outsider ?

Objects of pity and scorn, of clerical snark, of self-righteous disregard.

But activism !  she shrills from the sidewalk.  Blessed are the poor ! Look at us and our Good Works ! Thank God we are not like you outsiders, you, you narcissistic sunset-lovers !

Sorry, Rev. -- your charities, fastened as they are to the maintenance of beautiful, expensive buildings, are less efficient than secular organizations. And your philosophies -- dependant as they are on a scandalously particular lie about one man's  alleged and well-promoted physical resurrection, a lie that cements the masculinity of God for all time -- obfuscate the harrowing questions of existence altogether.  So: bad at activism, bad at philosophy -- what the hell good are you ?

I get grumpy in the summer. The heat, the cheerful beachgoers, the shiny sports clothing, the rioting, greedy children upon whom I am expected to beam benevolently, maternally, grandmaternally. I am, if anything, a congregant in St. WC-of-the-Fields, and if you are old enough to get the joke you are, at least in part, ma semblable ma soeur; God, bellows our preacher, the numinous impersonal ground of being, is not love. And if love is your God, then it is a puny and idolatrous God, enshrining a particular, evolutionarily-determined human emotion -- admittedly culturally useful -- as a universal cosmic Truth. Climb off your high horse, humans: religious anthropomorphism is the deadest of dead ends. It is a ticket to the agora, the boardroom, the smoke-filled-room, the munitions plant, the honor killing. Revisit it in a few thousand centuries if and when you have evolved.  

What drew me in was the idea of monasticism -- hardcore, world-despising-and-eschewing monasticism of a sort that likely does not exist. Common wisdom always adds a smug footnote to contemplation: it MUST always be leavened by action ! There can be no Mary without a streak of Martha, although the vice versa is rampantly ascendant and universally hailed.

So here's the bottom line, straight from Thomas Merton's final talk, (and, interestingly, a paraphrase of the Dalai Lama) :  From now on everybody stands on (his) own feet.

And, if I'm lucky, the long hot summer (which, it snarkily reminds me, has only just begun) will someday end. With me still standing.