Now that's what I call a prayer!
Though I'm Jewish--or at least half-Jewish, depending on how you look at it--I've learned a thing or two about a thing or two when it comes to Catholicism. Some of it I gleaned secondhand via literature and film. For starters, there's James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, whose first person narrative details the terrors of a young boy's first exposure to visions of the fiery agonies of Hell. In Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the free-wheeling heroine's Irish-American father is fiercely domineering, horribly repressed, and unspeakably guilt ridden in equal measure. Nevertheless, there is also a great deal of ephemeral beauty and tantalizing mystery to be had within the Catholic faith.
Having had the opportunity to compare and contrast, I now believe that Catholic guilt kicks Jewish guilt's ass, hands down. For starters, there's the unrelenting remorse of knowing that Jesus died for our sins. Where do you go from there?
Both my b/f's also spent a spell in Catholic school, and didn't seem too fond of the nuns. One theory we have about nuns is that their self-imposed celibacy can sometimes unleash some heavy duty sadomasochistic fantasies. Let's face it-- being married to the Lord seems like the ultimate unrequited bond. Mixing sexual repression with constant thoughts of Jesus's suffering can produce some whoppingly unwholesome obsessions.
BG's mom is a very devout Catholic. Last time we went down for a visit, I spied a little basket filled with religious brochures right by the washing machine. One of them, penned by a female saint, envisioned the horrors Jesus endured in excruciating detail a la the Passion of the Christ--things like having his beard pulled out whisker by whisker; being made to drink the foulest of human wastes; being forced to swallow moulten lead; and so on. Very kinky stuff from a fevered, sex-starved brain.
As a result, my old b/f is now an athiest, and my current b/f BG considers himself non-denominational--albeit with a lot of residual issues about his religion.
Another topic we've often batted around is the efficacy of prayer, esp. in the absence of good deeds. BG's mom prays all the time. As BG says, she loves nothing better than to church-hop--visiting and worshiping countless religious venues. She is also quite fond of sending us letters full of chapter and verse preaching.
I'm of the school that views prayer as a tad ineffective in and of itself. Which is ultimately more useful and generous--spending hours praying in church, or actually donating time and/or money to help those who are less fortunate? I suppose it can't hurt to do both.
My ex's parents were also practicing Catholics--and very good people. Despite all this, they went through a phase that absolutely infuriated me. At some point, they decided to join a prayer group where each week, the gang would get together at one of their respective homes where they would pray together and discuss a Biblical passage. One of the members was a German woman who despised blacks and Jews, and was very vocal about it. My ex's mom used to regale me with "amusing" bon mots from this Nazi skag--and one day I exploded and took her up on it.
How could you actually pray with someone who hates their fellow man, I demanded. How could you associate with her in the first place? What horrible hypocrisy. And as a Jew, it offended me on a very personal level as well.
Aside from that, I sensed that the prayer sessions basically helped members cultivate a sense of self-righteous entitlement. Did they truly imagine that Jesus was up there, attentively listening and suitably impressed by their entreaties? Did they imagine He would grant them all their wishes, simply because they asked nicely?
In the 14 months BG went to AA, he bought the essentially Judeo Christian--and I think more Christian than Judeo--mindset hook, line, and sinker. Prayer is considered paramount in AA, and BG was on his knees first thing in the morning and last thing at night. He prayed for those he resented (which included, at this point, many fellow AA members). The default setting for God was always male (the Lord's prayer was often said at the conclusion of meetings in lieu of the serenity prayer). In a nutshell, you entreated your Higher Power to help you conquer your sins and the "disease" that possessed you (an outside demonic force which rendered you "powerless"). It was essential to squelch resentments (turn the other cheek), and to make amends to those you had harmed (confess your sins).
Although BG was a model AA'er, when we got home he would not only complain bitterly about fellow AA assholes who tormented him, but often release his festering resentments via explosive temper tantrums. One day, on the way to a meeting he chaired, he fled from his "commitment" and headed straight to the liquor store and the cop man. He hasn't been to a meeting since.
I've often suggested that BG consider exploring Eastern philosphy and religion. I have not done so in any significant sense, but the little I've read convinces me that the Eastern way sets the western way on its ear. In a nutshell, I've gathered that our notion of "sin" is perceived via Buddhism as more of a soul sickness we all share to a greater or lesser degree. Suffering and making others suffer seems to be the result. There is much less emphasis on worshipping a patriarchal diety, and much more emphasis on seeking inner and outer peace. To my mind, it favors enlightenment over guilt, recriminations, and harsh judgments.
My pal Brink Craven of Maraschino Venom, who is much more immersed in the Buddhist philosophy than I--to say the least--sent me this poem which truly spoke to me. I read it to BG and he was very moved as well. From Brink:
Here is a prayer that I find especially poignant. The Metta Sutra from
ancient Buddhist texts
May all beings be happy, content, and fulfilled
May all beings be healed and whole
May all have whatever they want and need.
May all be protected from harm, and free from fear.
May all beings enjoy inner peace and ease.
May all be awakened, liberated and free.
May there be peace in this world, and throughout the entire universe
No mention of an all-powerful diety; no mention of sin; no mention of converting non-believers. Instead, merely a wish for contentment and harmony throughout the entire universe. To my way of thinking, this would include animals, plants, microorganisms--anything that could be considered a being. It implies a personal striving for balance and harmony, mindful of ones's interconnection with all beings--past, present, and future.
What a perfect, non-denominational, one size fits all karmic vibe. At the risk of sounding pompous, to me it seems to apply equally well to the plight of Hurricane Katrina's victims and the myriad victims of countless other disasters and misfortunes--as well as encompassing the universal striving for inner and outer peace, freedom, and fulfillment for all.