Friday, March 2, 2012

in spirit and in truth

The place where I hang out on Sunday mornings is a mix of cultures and personalities that mesh in a way that I rarely see elsewhere, a smattering of age differences, ethnicity, politics, economics, and personal tastes and conversations where our different understandings and cultural baggage come to light. The differences of age, taste, culture, tangle and are melded harmoniously mostly, with doses of snarky humor and a deeper understanding of where we come from, who we are, where we are going.

Those of us who kind of ended up in charge of picking music and such ponder these things together over dinner once a month, seeking truth and sight within our respective blind spots and the ways in which our personalities respond. A lot of other people came from more charismatic backgrounds as opposed to mine, and sometimes express dismay at the lack of emotional engagement on the part of many, but there's a lot of introverts where I go, some others who came from a similar tradition as me or others who were burned by a misplaced emotionalism in the past. Being introverted as a rule, and wary of gratuitous displays of piety, my prayers are rarely spoken, existing scrawled in notebooks in ballpoint, or scribbled on canvas with paint markers bleeding into acrylic, wordless spiraling from a guitar neck.

As much as I couldn't stand the deadness that was going to Mass and mumbling through a liturgy so rote that the words ceased to have meaning, I'm still profoundly wary of emotion for emotion's sake, when the lines blur between emotional and psychological euphoria, because that stuff is real, especially when everyone else is having this collective experience and inevitably you get swept up in it.

Sometimes it's in a religious setting, but I see the same dynamic at play in other crowds, be it watching your sports team score or when you're watching a really good band play and are absorbed with the crowd in the sound or when Obama's inauguration was on tv and everyone on campus was bawling and I found myself getting misty-eyed too even though I didn't vote for him or whatever, and I knew this was purely a collective emotional wave more than anything connected to what I was thinking. I can step back after the fact but there seems to be something to that shared experience that wells up. I never delved into psychology but I'm sure someone's subjected this to analysis.

One of my good friends in high school was really charismatic and the whole 'slain in the Spirit' passed out on the floor was a normal thing to her and I can't doubt what she says but when I went to her church, my lack of outward expression and movement was taken to be something akin to spiritual frigidity or utter lack of faith and led to some very weird prayers being said for my soul, probably out of the best of intentions, but I left feeling a little pissed off nonetheless. When my friends from more Pentecostal backgrounds want to know why others aren't more "into it," I want to say, how do you know that people aren't, and how do you know when someone isn't just showing off?  Who is anyone to say that maybe one's experience of God might be expressed differently? Heck, even when I go see one of my favorite bands play, I might sing along, but I don't move much. I'm just trying to take it all in.

I can't tell if that's just personality or culture, but ever since this whole faith thing went from my parents' religion to my own way of life, it's always been expressed in a way that's still emotional as anything but shot through with a whole lot of thinking, because my weird brain and my gut/heart/soul have a strange and tangled relationship.

I went to a small conservative college for one lonely year and there were people I met who liked the pray in public but sounded phony and canned like a tv preacher or a motivational speaker lecturing us rather than communing with something higher and greater, and others who avoided the microphone but when they did speak aloud to God it actually sounded like they were talking to their best friend who knew them as well as they did themselves. Who am I to judge either heart, there are only my preferences and I know I've been wrong at times.

But I've always had more of an inward meditation than visible expression, not that I don't talk about it, or that it doesn't come out in the artwork I do when I'm home by myself, or drenched in reverb from an electric guitar on Sunday morning, old words resung like Billy Bragg channeling Guthrie, but I don't want to be the focus, I don't want to be the center, and I just put what I do out there, and leave it to others to connect with the divine in the way that they see fit. I don't want to manipulate that, because it's beyond what I understand and what speaks to each of us is so different, and I respect that, and only want to please the only one to which it all matters as it is.


  1. You're such a robot.

    I don't think I've ever attended a mass that wasn't Roman Catholic, pre- and post-apostasy, and most of those were that rote blah, like practicing multiplication tables.

    Those super-charismatic liturgies should be called House of Pain masses.

  2. i still get bugged by people applauding worship music (not when kids perform i get that) in services like they are at a concert.