Friday, May 20, 2011
The big day has arrived. Everyone's abuzz with either cynicism or anticipation. While I publicly scoff at the notion of the Rapture happening tomorrow, I've quietly packed a small bag, just in case I get sucked up. Fat chance, but I like to be prepared. I labored a good twenty minutes over whether to bring a toothbrush, and finally ended up packing one, in the off chance that oral hygiene isn't covered in heaven. I hate to be turned away at the last minute because of extreme halitosis.
Speaking of extremes, were you aware that in the Catholic Church, there is a sacrament known as Extreme Unction? Dude. Check it. It's reserved for a select bunch of folks, who must answer YES to the following questions:
1) Have you got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel?
2) Have you been a major butthole all your life?
3) Does (or rather, did) the world revolve around you since you emerged from the womb?
4) If you weren't at death's door, would you be utterly unrepentant?
5) Is a priest hovering over your bed and clutching a cross, and are you concerned that there's not enough time for you to enumerate your long list of sins before you croak?
If you answered YES to all of the above, then you can request Extreme Unction on your deathbed and be absolved of all your despicable acts in one fell swoop. Don't ask me about the mechanics of it...there's some kind of anointed oil, muttered regrets, and hasty chants. They've got it down to ten seconds or less, for obvious reasons, making it the most popular sacrament among douche-bags. The outcome is that you're free to barrel down the exit ramp with a clear conscience, knowing that you've effectively erased a lifetime of being a full-on rotter. Croak in peace, brother.
Who comes up with this stuff? I mean, c'mon, people! This is not scriptural. It's not even apocryphal! It's the lazy man's version of living a life of integrity; an exit strategy for the person who's displayed the moral conduct of a single cell amoeba. Live selfishly, be a dipwad, and then repent in the final moments of your myopic life.
There's also some Catholic sacrament whereby one can pay the Church to redeem the souls of loved ones who have already passed. I guess this is for those who were completely unprepared for death and were taken out by something along the lines of a Boeing 787 crashing into their bedroom while they were double-dipping their neighbor's wife. While the widow may petition for the hottest chamber in hell, the grieving children may wish otherwise. The latter are invited to pay a substantial fee, and their late father's soul will be yanked from the fiery furnace and placed on the fluffiest cloud in heav'n. The implication is that the more cash that's forked over to the Church, the fluffier the cloud. Now, don't quote me on this. I know that it was in use during the Renaissance, and indeed these petitions became the capital with which Pope Julius II financed the decoration of the Sistine Chapel. But prayers for the salvation of the dead may have gone out of fashion over the centuries. While God is eternal and unchanging, it would seem that He likes to stay current with the greed of the times.
What I want to know is how anyone can be so presumptuous as to pronounce the will of God with such confidence? Where can I attain such pluck? It's all I can do to sit at the foot of God and listen for any glimmer of instruction, much less bring myself to pray for something. Who am I praying to? And why would the All-Powerful Creator listen to the prayer of a worm in the first place? It's not low self-esteem that keeps me humble, it's naked truth. We're worms, folks! In fact, that's an exaggeration – we're worm turds! I don't know if you've looked at a map of the universe lately, but it's big. Infinite, even. Our planet is a grain of sand on an endless shore. So what does that make us? Heck, we're not even worm turds, we're worm turd dust.
But enough of waxing poetic. Suffice it to say that this piece of worm turd dust cannot feature coming up with an agenda for God. And if I was God, I'd hardly ask a worm to be my personal assistant. As for the Rapture, didn't any of those Christians read the verse that says no one knows the day or hour of Christ's return? That he'll come like a thief in the night? I'm almost tempted to pray for God to mess with them a little, except that I hate to bother Him with such trifles.
I'm not one to get all excited over these events. The night before Y2K I grudgingly drove to the store and bought a gallon of water, just in case. Tonight, well, I've packed my toothbrush, a half a bottle of wine, and my Sizzlin' Sudokus, in case there's a long line at the Gate. But honestly? I got a feeling that Sunday morning I'll still be here, Rapture or no. It's okay, I'll be in the good company of my fellow worms, and as always, we'll help each other out.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
I love this painting. It's by Barry Reigate. His work is a commentary on our cultural inertia and exhaustion, rampant consumerism, and so on. But my reading of the painting, and my instant hit, is that he's painting God. No, really - I'm serious. This particular piece is how I think of God: a self-sustaining, cosmic entity that's endlessly tweaking and perfecting itself in order to understand its own nature. We tend to think of God as a Done Deal, because that's what we were taught, in so many words. God as a fait accompli who created the world in six days, took a day off, and then joined AARP. That's the western version of God, and the one with which we're most comfortable.
But to many, the experience of God is quite different. He, or It, is characterized by an ongoing awareness, as familiar as one's breath, who is present at any given moment. When your attention goes to It, It is there. It's not separate from us, watching down from on high, but present in every moment. It is a blink, a salt shaker, the sound of a siren, the laundry you need to do, you. There's nothing that's not It. If I take drink of water, that is God drinking in God; God nourishing Itself with Itself. The Hindus call this Brahman.
I know, it's whacked out, but I don't think it's as crazy as the notion of some bearded bloke up in the clouds, silently ordering us around like a cosmic movie director. Most people experience God as a presence; an energy that is here, now, at any given moment. There is no separation, rather there is penetration and coexistence. It's not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. We take for granted this presence, just as we take for granted our next breath. In the same way that you don't panic when you see these freaky looking blobs protruding from your body because you know that they're your arms, you don't take much notice of this presence that's always been there, because, well, it's always been there.
If you experience any of the above, and you agree that God is everything, everywhere, always, then it's not a stretch to imagine God as an ongoing project. God as an evolving mystery, who is intensely interested in discovering Itself. God as a state of perpetual wonder, of childlike curiosity, who is continually tweaking, probing, discovering, and awakening to Itself. Thus my instantaneous reaction to the above painting; it seemed to me to be a portrait of God in Its process of realization.
All of this may be an affront to those who need God to be already perfect and without need of evolving. A lot of you don't like to think of God as a work in progress. But why not? Why can't God, who after all is supposed to be in our likeness, be transforming Itself into a better God? Is that so threatening? Do we need to idolize perfection in order to have something to strive for? Can't we become better human beings on our own? One could make the argument that atheists are more virtuous than believers, because their ethics are based in experience, not dogma. They're decent to others not because it's getting them brownie points in heaven, but simply because they believe that all beings deserve respect.
In "On God", Norman Mailer posits that God is an artist, and His creation is imperfect. He cites evolution and volcanoes as evidence of God reworking His creative mistakes. Makes sense to me! I'm totally down with the idea of an imperfect God. It kinda makes me happy, even. Makes me feel like we're all in this together, including God, which is a truly catholic experience. If God is in everything, and everything is evolving, why should God be exempt? Hey, no one's perfect.
Above: Barry Reigate, Criminology, 2005, oil and acrylic on canvas.