Friday, July 22, 2011
Tradition and Its Ills
As a spin-off of my last blog entry, I've been thinking about all the things that God isn't. I believe that our misconceptions around God are what keeps us from knowing It. I believe that the reason we can't know God intimately is that we've surrounded Him - It - with impenetrable layers of ritual and tradition. I got no problem with tradition, as long as it's relevant. There's just no reason to continue a custom if its application is defunct. When someone performs a ritual without an internal awareness of its symbolic content, it becomes superstition. And superstition is a form of grasping that's done in desperation to come closer to God. Hail Mary's, pilgrimages to Mecca, yoga classes, a daily meditation practice–without a felt connection to the underlying tradition, they don't amount to squat. Your time would be better spent drinking Mai Tai's on the beach or shopping at Nordstrom.
Case in point: here's a story for you. A newly wed couple. Young wife cooks her husband a roast. He's surprised that she's cut the ends off the roast, which are his favorite part. Why'd you cut the ends off, darling? (he asks). Why, that's the way my mother cooks it! (she replies). A few months later they're having dinner at her mother's, and sure enough, she made a roast and cut the ends off. Mother, (he asks with trepidation), why do you cut off the ends of your roast? Why, that's the way my mother cooks it! (she replies, in a snit). A few months later still they're eating their holiday dinner, and frail gramma is there, so husband figures he ought to ask the question while he has the chance. Grandmother dear, (he asks deferentially), why do you cut off the ends of your roast? Because my pan's too small! (she replies, then chokes on a mouthful of roast, and dies on the spot).
And that, my friends, nicely sums up what I think of tradition.
Above: Muslim Prayer to Allah, letters cut from Bibles. 2011. Size: approx. 3" square on a paper 8.5" square.