Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Now that's what I call a prayer!


tea light my way.
Originally uploaded by rhoadeecha.
My two long term relationships have been as different as one could possibly imagine. However, my ex-boyfriend and BG do have one crucial thing in common: both were once nice Catholic altar boys.

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.

16 Comments:

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Nikky Egland said...

I am a Christian, but definitely not a Catholic. They mourn their faith rather than embrace it. Instead of rejoicing they condemn. And that German woman is not a Christian if she can spout such filth about her fellow man. Disgusting ignorant pig! I am sorry, I know as a Christian I am supposed to love and forgive, but if that bitch came over to my house and started talking shit, she would be history!

 
At 11:12 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Nikky:

Thanks so much for the comment! I just checked out your profile--great audio clip. Plus, you like the Cure--'nuff said!

I think there are doubless Catholics who practice charitable works, and see the lightness in their faith as well as the darkness. As far as forgiveness--well, I can't help but notice that resentment is hard wired into our human nature. Some of this is doubtless for self-preservation--if we never judged anyone, we would get conned and hurt by even more people than we do normally. How can I, esp as a Jew, forgive this Nazi sympathizer, now living in the USA, and spouting such bigotry? Perhaps I can strive to understand the forces which brought her to this sad philosophy, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna give her a big wet kiss anytime soon.

Again, drawing on limited knowledge, i think the Buddhist approach to the dilemma of wanting to love others while also protecting ourselves from those who would harm us is to try to attain a certain detachment--to observe and reflect without getting so personally immersed in psychodrama.

In any case, I've just bookmarked your blog. I also find comments to be a blessing, as it were--and I will definitely leave one on your site!

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger Danny said...

All I can say is...I agree!

 
At 10:15 PM, Blogger Walker said...

I was born Greek Orthodox and I wear a cross. That’s as far as religion goes for me. Unless there is a nun with big tits and a mini skirt, I'm sleeping during mass.
You want to talk strict; there are no pews in church in Greece when I went there. Easter mass is 6 hours long!!!
A couple of observations I have seen about Christianity or wait.... There are different types of Christianity, there's a good place to start. Let's talk about a religion that can't make up its mind what it is.
You got Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptists......... That’s not a religion it's a corporation. Priests can marry in one and can't in another. Some circumcise some frown at it. Some stand some sit. Some allow women to be priest some NO WAY!! Some priests fuck the altar boys some fuck the parish’s wives.
I know I’m blaming the whole religion because of a few hundred perverts.
Or is it thousands?

Hey, ever notice how god helps those who help them selves.
There’s one hell of a line and people eat it up.
“Oh god I have worked my ass off and have now finally paid off my house. Thank you for listening to my prayers and helping me”
I will not even comment on that.
Ever notice in court. They tell you to take the bible in your right hand and swear an oath. They don’t ask if you believe in God, their god anyway.
You can have a Muslim on the stand being sworn in with a Bible in his right hand. I can see it now.
“Mohamed Ali Jamal Joe Faroud do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god”
He says “yes a dooo”
He is thinking “who gives a shit about the infidel’s god, I say what I want”

There is nothing worse than a righteous AA’r. Preaching about the sins of drinking. I have been with a few.

Buddhism is a nice quiet religion and I like the tranquility of it. I do not know much it but what I have seen and heard I like. It’s a religion founded on living and not on martyred man.
I can talk for ever on this but I won’t
I have ranted enough I think.
I should stay away from religion and stick to getting into trouble.

Have a nice day.

 
At 10:22 PM, Blogger Brink Craven said...

Eivira-
I feel so honored that you included me in your fantastic post -Thank you! It IS a great prayer, isnt it? It is very beautiful and moving--wish I could take the credit for it..haha.

That IS very screwy about the German lady! Nothin like a case of raging hypocrisy is there?

I was raised an atheist. I spent years while I was a kid and teen visiting my friends churches and temples only to leave feeling more alienated and lost than I did before--for many years I gave up my search for spiritual truth. Then, in my early 30's I became a member of the Unitarian Universalist church and learned through thier diverse offerings of adult religious education classes the core basics of various religious traditions. It was there that I "stumbled" upon Buddhism-
The way I see it, it would be kinda silly to worship any God seeing that YOU are God and I dont think its very "cool" to worship oneself--lol. (and me and him and her and it too)-

But anyway, discovering Buddhism changed my life more than any single event or occurance has before or since. I am very grateful for that and also for my great friend Elvira!

Peace ya'll!

 
At 11:05 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Danny:

Ah, that's music to my ears (lol)! Thanks for stopping by...catch you later chez your blog...

 
At 11:14 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Walker:

Greek Orthodox sounds heavy duty, all right. Is this one of the relgions that celebrates Christmas after "Christmas?" Which reminds me: my father--who was a sort of renegade Christian, or something--always said that Christmas was a pagan holiday, because Christ was not born on that day. But I digress.

It is interesting that Christianity has so many divergent branches. In Judaism, you've basically got your small, medium, and large--reform (very laid back); conservative (less laid back), and Orthodox (lots of rules and rituals). Oh yeah, and then there's the ultra orthodox, and some different rival offshots thereof. But that's basically it.

I never thought of that about swearing on the Bible. I wonder what version they normally use? But since so many people are atheists, agnostics, or just apathetic, I imagine swearing on the bible just doesn't pack the punch it once did.

I enjoyed your rant--there's no need to stifle here--rant as long as you want!

 
At 11:32 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Brink:

Thank you again for sharing that wonderful prayer.

I didn't know you were brought up as a athiest--wow, interesting! I think I know what you mean about not finding what you need through organized/Western religion--I think a lot of people feel that way.

Whether attending church or temple, I never felt really "moved" until I attended the blessing of the animals mass for the Feast of St. Francis. It was held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. The Cathedral was breathtaking; Carl Sagan spoke; there was singing and dancing; and a Protestant mass. People brought their pets, and there was a magnificent procession of beasts brought up to the altar--including an elephant, a llama, and a vessel containing microorganisms. I found myself experiencing a genuine epiphany--a truly joyful and spiritual experience.

As I said, I know very little of Buddhism, and I'm grateful that you've given me some basic insight into this philosphy/religion. If I do pursue it further, I suspect it may have quite a beneficial and liberating effect on me--and perhaps lead me to more spiritual epiphanies as well.

Thank you, my dear friend!

 
At 4:03 AM, Blogger Danny said...

hehe...The organized religion hotbutton...LOL I won't start, but I will say this - when I was in high school, I joined a local church and played lead guitar in the youth band. We were pretty good, but people looked at me as if I was evil, because I played too loudly, and used the evil "whammy bar!"

When all was said and done, I quit going to church and went through periods of atheism, hatred for spiritualism, and ultimately coming full circle. I am now more spiritually aware than I have ever been, and it has indeed helped. :)

By the way, I still don't go to church for reasons that you cited in your post.

 
At 6:02 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Danny:

Don't you know those evil whammy bars are the work of Satan? And that they only play loud music on the devil's playground? Sheesh.

I know they now have a lot of rock/metal? bands that sing for Jesus, and seem to have quite a following. From what I've seen, they look like a rock band, they sound like one, but their lyrics are all about the glory of the Lord. Seems like an oxymoron, because I seem to remember that the whole point of rock was sex, drugs, rebellion, and sin.

Pat Boone came out with a metal album about 7 years ago, by the way. It was called Pat Boone in a Metal Mood, Pat really did it up, sporting a (fake?) tattoo and leather jacket. Some of the covers weren't too awful--but he massacred Stairway to Heaven, as I recall. I still have nightmares about it...it's just SO wrong!

Coincidentally, I saw a show about David Koresh recently (I think it was him; I confuse him with Jim Jones sometimes) and it detailed how he loved to incorporate his music into his "spiritual work." Kind of like Manson did.

I'm glad you found the spiritual path that was right for you. I think nowadays, people are much less willing to just adopt the religion they happened to be "born with." It's smacks too much of coercion and rote, blind obedience. Folks want to think and decide for themselves.

I also think it's cool to do what Brink did and investigate different religions so you can explore which approach best fits your own philosophy. Many religious people will only accept that their's is the "true" religion. BG used to try to "reason" with his mom by asking: You mean to tell me that anyone not born Catholic or saved/converted to the faith doesn't get a shot at heaven? That's a heck of a lot of people missing out!

I always thought of purgatory as a kind of "green room"--or maybe like a dentist's waiting room but with no magazines. As far as I know, Judaism is not as obsessed with the details of the afterlife.

I also remember BG telling me that nuns would tell him all about what heaven was like as if they'd gone on a group tour. They said that you won't be reuinited with your family, and there's no sex of course because you leave your earthly body behind, I think--plus, everyone knows sex is an evil necessity anyway, right? Thank goodness you wont' have to deal with that nonsense in the afterlife.

Nevertheless, I try to respect other's beliefs--I just tend to resent when they try to impose their beliefs on me. It's worse than telemarketing...hey, I think that may become the next new religious thing--ministry and conversion by phone! (If you have seen the light and wish to convert now, press 1. If you are a heathen and need guidance, press 2. If you wish to make a generous contribution, please press zero, and an operator will be with you very shortly.)

 
At 9:29 AM, Blogger Justine said...

Now that's what I call a post!

"considers himself non-denominational--albeit with a lot of residual issues about his religion" - that is so my Dad. Catholic divorcee need I say more.

Walker - Someone should correct me here but I think actually muslims wouldn't object to swearing on the bible. Because they consider Jesus a prophet and call Jews and Christians 'People of the scriptures' or 'People of the book'. SOme of them think that Judaism and Christianity are incomplete forms of Islam. Personally, after I read the story of Jesus, Muslim-style, I laughed, thought it was a spoof, and haven't really taken Islam seriously since!

I used to be spiritual but couldn't stomach religion. But I actually call myself Christian now. Funny old world isn't it?

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger elvira black said...

Justine--

Thanks (lol)...

Just in my limited experience, I find there's no Catholic like a lapsed Catholic. No matter how deep the denial, visions of nuns with rulers slapping their hands for giving the wrong answer still dance in their heads.

Yes, that's a good point about the Bible. I'm still wondering what version they use, because although your point about Muslims is a good one, I think Jews might object a little more strongly to swearing on the New Testament. Muslims may see the older texts as valid and icing on the cake, but Jews generally don't like acknowleging the sequel.

Thank you again, Justine, for visiting and commenting. I have bookmarked you, and will return the favor shortly, with pleasure.

 
At 12:14 AM, Blogger Walker said...

Yes is is. January 7th is traditional xmas . Greek orthodox do the dec 25th but russioan and other slavic orthodox still go by the jan 7. Easter though is still determined by the stars and could be up to a week later. than everyone else.

 
At 4:05 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Walker:

Thanks for clarifying. I guess if I had my druthers I'd rather be Greek Orthodox then, because it seems very anticlimactic to celebrate Christmas after everyone else has taken down their trees and moved on (lol).

 
At 3:32 AM, Blogger JC said...

Believe it or not, there is actually a belief o matic. I tend to have rather odd beliefs, so I wandered over and took the test. I was surprised and amazed to find that I am 100% Quaker. (These are not the folks riding around in buggies in the midwest-those are the amish) It was really nice though to know that I finally "fit" somewhere. I had visited many churches but never really could say that I had the right beliefs to be there. I think that the Catholic faith, on the surface is very interesting. I guess I am interested in lots of religions. I currently have a favorites section full of blogs by folks who are Jewish and frum? They are warm, wonderful people. I agree with you though about the lady who was hating anyone at a prayer group...UGH!

 
At 4:51 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

JC:

I have a former friend who is a Quaker, and it does sound cool.

I'm interested in other religions, but think of myself as a Jew. Since my mom was Jewish (my dad was not) according to Jewish law I'm kosher.

The interesting thing about Judaism is that not only do they not troll for converts, but you have to go through some serious changes if you want to convert. It's definitely not as easy as immersing your head in a pond a few times and saying "I am saved!" We Jews make your pay your dues (lol).

A lot of Jews are non-observant, but there's still a sense of a common heritage and culture, and that's what I relate to. I also love Yiddish sayings and Jewish humor.

Yes, the Catholic Jew-hater...well, some Jews (mostly orthodox, of course) can be intolerant and close-minded too. My Orthodox aunt and I had a "don't ask don't tell" policy about my former boyfriend--I lived with him 20 years--but it was not cool with her, to put it mildly. She didn't hate non-Jews, but she wanted me to marry a nice Jewish boy, and it was not negotiable.

 

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