in the church of God…
Most Sunday mornings my mom and I, both, go to church.
She to the Catholic one in town, with her sister. Each Sunday they take alternate turns driving. Afterwards they’ll sometimes go to the local diner for breakfast. My mom will stop on the way home and pick up the Sunday Star and bring it home to peruse over the course of the afternoon.
When my mom leaves for church I take the dog and we go for a walk through the back fields and into the forest. I have a 2 hour window until I need to be back for breakfast; so our very happy dog and I tramp over into the western fields and do a circuit of an old deer trail that goes through the valley and up over the back hills in the forest.
I have always preferred this church of God, to any of the ones I find in town.
The last few weeks have been absolutely glorious for such early spring walks, but today February made a very rude and unwelcome bitterly cold re-appearance, like some old evangelical minister who comes to your door to remind you one last time that life is about suffering.
Been there. Done that. It’s April. I have a date with my mistress, Spring. Go away.
I have always preferred Nature for exploring my spirituality, then “going-to-church”. (But I don’t exclude going either. One of the highlights of my recent 4 years in Halifax was going to evening compline at the King’s College Chapel. Listening to angels singing in Latin at dusk is as close to God as one can sometimes get. Last summer we stood in Prague cathedrals and synagogues 1,000 years old, filled with the smell of deep time, hope, and wonder.)
But in the week-to-week sense – in the Sunday Mass, organized religion, I’m a member of the Holy Catholic Church sense (or Anglican, Buddhist, or attending Mosque sense) – it is just way too tedious and almost completely devoid of any real exploration of spirituality for me. Especially if you have a Catholic priest, as we currently do, who can’t do anything but sleepwalk through the liturgy, even on a high holiday like last Easter Sunday when he reduced the highest day of Christian celebration to pure ritual and empty iconography worship of a dead Christ.
If you took a moist sweet smelling lump of fresh pizza dough – straight out of the bread-maker, and then took a rolling pin to it and rolled it down to the width of a piece of white blank paper and then you left it in the sun to bake, and then you threw it into a cold shower until it turned to mush, and then you flushed it down the bathroom toilet, you would find no better metaphor for what most contemporary rural Canadian organized religions do to one’s exploration of God and spirituality.
Last week’s Easter celebration was the first time I had been to church in a very long time.
And again, I left baffled by the congregations’ blind acceptance of empty ritual over spiritual substance.
We sat through a 1,000-year-old ritual play, where no one remembers what’s going on, nor, much cared. (Rural conservative Catholics are close to being some of the dullest Christians on the planet. (save for the Anglicans).
For me, most churches, mosques, and temples is where spirituality and religion go to die. There are magnificent exceptions to the rule, but overall, for every magical holy space created by man, there are 10,000 spaces filled with nothing more than dead air, empty ritual, and stale wafers.
I always thought that if Jesus himself came down to my little country Catholic church, I’d find him nodding off in one of the back pews, just like some of the old men used to do when I was a boy.
A great and mighty crucifix of Christ always loomed 40 feet above me when I went to church as a boy. High above the altar there was a huge wooden cross, and a lifeless Jesus held aloft by nails and sacrifice.
On one side of the altar stood a tired and resigned Joseph, Thor’s hammer hanging limply from his left hand.
On the other, a life-sized weeping Mother Mary, as well as a smaller bust of her when she was a young smiling mother, with baby Jesus in her arms.
That altar, father, mother, dead Jesus – that has been the sum of my Catholic Indoctrination. A massive dead Jesus looking down over me, his weeping parents sanctified at his feet.
So I sat through a dead Easter liturgy looking over a sea of grey heads from an aging congregation, watching as they slowly march on, with no more than veiled whispers of that time in their lives when the questions were still real – what does my life mean? where are we all going? – now listening to a priest snooze his way through the longest hour of my life; waiting my turn to exit as everyone shuffles outside; back into the sun, squinting from the move from the dark and back into the light; returning to their cars, and scattering back into the day.
My mother reminding me that we need to stop and pick up a quart of cream – along with the newspaper – on the way home.