25 December 2012

Reflections on Christmas Eve Mass

 Christ Church, Episcopal - Riverdale (Bronx), N.Y.     
I have just returned home from the 10:30 Christmas mass at Christ Church of Holly Springs. My friend is rector there; and another friend is organist.

I walked home, past the nativity scene on the courthouse lawn (How soon after tomorrow will they remove it? Wouldn't a true Christian leave it up all year long? I mean, isn't the birth of Christ of utmost importance every day of a believer's life?). Quiet streets. Clear night; I saw the moon. My heart was a little heavy. My thoughts churned.....

I remembered a radio interview I heard on NPR about "habits."  What I liked about the premise of the writer's theme was that it asks you to think about the fact that you think! This is a huge step for many people but the theory set forth in Charles Duhigg sets out bravely in his "The Power of Habit " confident the reader will come along. .
I didn't feel brave or confident coming out of the mass. I was actually thinking "Fuck! Humanity is doomed."

In song and prayer and responsive reading, over and over again throughout the service, the people are called to confess their sinfulness. Their unworthiness. They speak of God's "just wrath". The message underlying everything, an endless loop of "I am not whole yet...I am not whole yet..."

We are doomed. Religion holds believers to a treadmill, contemplating the tragic, gruesome death of Christ on their behalf, a debt that can never be repaid. Believers can never  be free of the debt. The liturgies are iterated year after year....  Religion bonds people to self identities of imperfection and an unending quest for redemption.

There is also connection with others and sometimes the beauty of music and the comfort of familiar symbols and gestures. There is a call toward the ineffable (which I think yearn for even as we fear it) There is space and encouragement to step toward Mystery.

But not too far.

Not so far as to consider that Christ did not attend church, was completely unorthodox in lifestyle, attire and philosophy and frequently taught that the Truth and Light their lives want is within them, not in Scripture--words written by someone else centuries after the fact -- or sermons, words spoken by someone who sits no nearer to Christ then they themselves. .

The repetitive ritualism of religion makes it so dangerous. It's hypnotic. For devout believers, it's a lifetime of rehearsing how to stand still, how to keep consciousness treading water and heaven or enlightenment always just .....out....of .....reach.

But it's not just religtion.  It's also thought systems like Landmark Education. To varying degrees, the thought systems, just like religion, require belief (that there's an answer and it lies somewhere outside/away from me) and conformance:  to a dress code or a food regimen or jargon, for example. ..

I grow impatient with some of the people posing questions at the Eckhart Tolle TV website because they seem to hold the Tolle teaching the way MS Christians hold church doctrine. "How can I remain present when I hate meditating?" someone will ask. Still trying to learn which ways of thinking and feeling are good (i.e., productive, enlightened, holy, compassionate, etc) and which ways of thinking and feeling are wrong (evil, inauthentic, fear-based, etc) --- and collecting as many helpful hints (all those quotes by famous people or dead people that are so very very popular on FaceBook) as possible to set as a screen saver or turn into a refrigerator magnet.


What is to become of us?