My grandmother died last week. She would have been 98 this coming Saturday. Four of my brothers and sisters and me drove to New Jersey for her funeral. It was just the five of us, the rabbi and the funeral director. All of her friends are long dead, my grandfather died six years ago, also a mere two weeks shy of his 98th birthday. The guys who dug her grave threw all of the dirt onto my grandfather’s grave so we couldn’t even see his headstone. Don’t you think it might occur to them that the family members who will be attending the service might want to oh I don’t know at least pretend that it matters that their grandfather is lying under all that dirt. Apparently not.
Something interesting about a Jewish burial ceremony, they place the casket over the grave and gently lower it down into the hole while everyone is standing there. I had to turn away when they did this. For some reason I could not watch that. All I could think about was that it was bad enough that my grandmother was being lowered into the mud, I could not imagine how I might feel if it was my child. I think I probably would have had to throw up. I was left with an oddly unsatisfied feeling walking away from that cemetery.
I went to church this morning and for some reason I felt very agitated. I attend the local Catholic parish here in town, not with any regularity but when the mood strikes me. I like to go during the Christmas season because the choir is terrific and the church is decorated beautifully and I just like the whole ambiance. You can say what you want about Catholicism but they know how to do mystery and they know how to do solemn and they know how to do quiet reflection like no other. A Catholic church is a great place to go when you need some solitude. It is one of the few places you can be alone without actually being alone and it’s ok.
I cannot quite put my finger on it but there are times when I feel drawn to this church. I have no explanation for it. I am not particularly possessed of the Catholic doctrine in fact I frequently disagree with their interpretation of scripture – quite frankly I’m not all that sure about the validity of scripture anymore as ‘the’ word of God - but there is something about the Catholic faith or perhaps it is nothing more than being in a Catholic church that speaks to me. I think the smell of the incense, the sound of the choir, the whole visual effect probably ignites all sorts of unconscious stirrings of childhood. That would be the psychological explanation. Whatever. I go because I like to go and because the sound of the choir moves me. Today it annoyed me. The priest annoyed me, the people in the pew annoyed me, the choir was mediocre and the service lasted too damn long.
I seem to be losing my religion, not that I really ever had any to begin with. Baptized Catholic, attended church every Sunday, every holy day, confession, communion, confirmation, the whole shebang. Not my choice of course but coercion. Parents are good at that. I would have remained happily, blissfully and ignorantly pagan. I was Catholic but I had no idea what that really meant and no inclination for many years to try to figure out what it meant. It was, I would say, an uninterested acceptance… Jesus, Mary, sin, our father… whatever.
Funny thing is that at this moment in my life I am more sure of the existence of God than I have ever been before, which to be sure I never was at all. It is all the rest of it that has been completely blown out of the water for me. And on the one hand my confusion has (oddly enough) taken some of the ‘good’ mystery out of attending church while at the same time causing me to be completely and utterly mystified by the whole thing.
I read in a prologue to St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul the following:
“The constant and simultaneous succession and recurrence of certain distinct yet similar phenomena, taking place in all centuries and in all races, might lead us to the conclusion (in the lack of other positive knowledge) that behind all Form, Dogma, Ritual and Ceremonial, there is hidden and profound and mysterious meaning which constitutes the Root Religion, whence as from a spring or fountain head all others had their rise; and this Root Religion cannot have been other than the close and intimate communication of man with the Universal Soul-the Body Soul-the Suchness, the Becoming, the Divinity, give it what name you will; so that so far from having gradually evolved into intellectual light through a scale of beings inferior to him, as the evolutionist maintains, he would rather seem to have begun as the inhabitant of a higher sphere, to boast a celestial genealogy.”
In other words the one true ideal, the root that all of our religions spring forth from is our original union with God and that we did not start out as specks of single-celled, mindless, formless ‘things’ in some puddle of mud or radioactive chemical but rather we were with God. This I actually believe to be true. Beyond that I’ve got nothing.
I've decided that it's true... everyone DOES need therapy. If for no other reason than it might help them to stop annoying the hell out of me. Just kidding. (not really).