Sunday, April 25, 2010

Random Sunday Morning Thoughts...

It's all about gratitude.  Being grateful.  Realizing one's plight is so much easier than it could be under different circumstances.  It's Sunday morning and a lot of people are getting ready for their respective churches.  A mystery to me.  I've never understood the idea of "worship."

Now, don't worry, I'm not about to go on an anti-religion rant/blog here.  The truth of the matter is a part of me envies the stalwart church-goer.  Some of my best and smartest friends are tidying themselves up right now to do just that.  I'm all for it.

In fact, for a long while in NYC I attended Catholic services on a fairly regular basis.  Not because I for a moment believed in Catholicism but because I liked the pomp and circumstance they embrace in their worship services.  Lots of robes and tradition and timing and candles and greek-chorus-like chanting.  Plus I had a good buddy, a priest, doing the homily.

I would travel over to Brooklyn for his services.  Once, I remember, we had a private lunch afterwards, just the two of us.  After a bit, I asked him, "Tell me something.  Do you really believe in all that gobbledygook you talk about up there?"  He paused for a long time and then finally said, "Yes.  I do."

We were close friends so I could get away with asking a priest that.  Plus, he was a frustrated actor so his services were sometimes very dramatic and filled with costume changes and good lighting design.

My favorite was a little white chapel on the beach down on Sanibel Island.  Used to go to that one on occasion when I was working down there.  If nothing else it was certainly beautiful.  If I got bored with the service I could just look around and admire the natural beauty all around me.  The little white chapel wasn't Catholic, though.  I think it was Methodist, but I can't remember.  After attending a few times I started telling people I was a Methodist actor.

In my late thirties, I began intensive solo study of the bible.  I wanted to get to the core of all this stuff that others took so seriously.  Of course, it disappointed me.  The bible is built to disappoint.  No rancor intended, it just is.  If one is incapable of making the paranormal, supernatural leap, it just becomes a silly, arcane book.  Alas, that is what it is to me.

But I do want to recount one service I witnessed in the little white chapel on the beach.  For others, I suppose, it was a service steeped in mystery, in divine knowledge, in the providential words of Jesus.  For me, however, it was just good common sense and an example of the good things religion can supply.

The Pastor, I don't remember his name, had a large easel set up with a blank sheet of paper displayed.  When we entered the chapel everyone was given another blank sheet of paper.  As he started the sermon he said he wanted everyone to draw, to the best of their ability, a picture of someone we really hated, someone that was making our lives miserable, perhaps a boss or a relative or a neighbor, whatever.  He said, let's get our aggression out today.  Let's not go through the rest of the week being angry at somebody.   Life is too short, he said.

So we all drew pictures of this someone that was bothering us.  He collected them all up and put them on the easel and then one by one we all approached the easel and threw darts at the pictures we had drawn.  It was fun and there was lots of laughing.  We finished, still lots of giggling and murmuring, and he began to peel away the pictures we had drawn, dozens of them, one after another, there were holes in all the faces.  "Feel better?" he kept asking.  We did.  We all did feel better.  And then he stripped away the last hastily drawn face and underneath them all had been a picture of Jesus.  The face of Jesus had hundreds of holes in it where we had thrown the darts.  He said, "What you do to the least of my children, you do to me."

I liked that message.

There is a wonderful book called A Month of Sundays, by John Updike.  It's about a preacher who loses his faith, has affairs; a man who deep down doesn't really believe in what he preaches.  At the climax of the novel, the preacher says, "It was just a band of roving nomads. A group of ignorant sand dwellers who somehow stumbled upon the idea of One God.  They didn't mean for it to get bent all out of shape like it did.  Judeo-Christianity is a mistake, don't you see? It was meant for one lifetime, not thousands of lifetimes.  It's word of mouth gone amuck!   It was just something to make a hard life in the desert a little easier."

Ninety seven percent of the senior staff with NASA are unabashed atheists.

Almost all of the founding fathers embraced Classical Deism.

On the other hand, Einstein believed unreservedly in the existence of God.  He said, "Just too much was left to chance.  Not possible."

As I've mentioned before, my own religious beliefs were sorely tested when I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor for The Salvation Army (see my blog "The Banality of Evil").  It was a jarring lesson in the complications of melding religion with capitalism.  It sickened me and still does.  But I often think back to that little chapel on the beach and remind myself that not all religion is bad.  Sometimes it is noble and kind.  Sometimes, I suspect in its most righteous form, it is a wonderful teaching tool.  A reminder to its followers to try and do the next right thing.  In essence, to be good, to be "Christ like."

In one of my favorite novels, Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger says, "Don't you see, Franny?  Don't you see?  The Fat Lady IS Jesus Christ!"  He's talking about the fat lady in the audience.  The fat lady who has paid her money to be told a story.  To be entertained and enlightened.  Salinger is saying Jesus Christ is the very NOTION of helping someone.  That He is the embodiment of reaching out to someone else.

I like that, too.

The closest I've ever been able to come to actual worship is the idea of gratitude.  Some call it karma, some call it fate and some call it original sin.  Regardless, it's very difficult to be pious and cynical about the idea of worship if one is filled with gratitude.  My life with Angie and the puppies is sublime on occasion.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I have spent decades fantasizing about the life I lead at this very moment.  And now, against all reason and formula, I am leading it.  And I often ask myself, "Did I do ANYTHING to deserve this?"  The answer, much to my chagrin, is no, I didn't.  Some grace, some incomprehensible and inexplicable spiritual pattern is no doubt responsible.  And I remind myself daily to be grateful.

And Jesus, in whatever costume He wears, In whatever skewered form of divinity He inhabits, is probably pleased with my daily choice to be grateful.

I'm a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Have been for quite some time.  In that expensive and altruistic club there is a saying.  It goes like this:  I know two things.  There is a God and I'm not Him.

See you tomorrow.