Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Just not getting it...

I'd like to be inspiring and entertaining tonight...but the fact is, recent events have had me a bit off my spiritual feed lately, and I have been struggling with some old wreckage from my past.

Despite having left the tradition some 15 years ago, I am grateful for the incredible spiritual gifts that Roman Catholicism has given to the Christian community (and you can start with my folk heroes, Brennan Manning and John O'Neill and work backwards, or start with Augustine and work forward). And I've also been blessed by a number of Catholic bloggers (notably my unsubtle brother at Unapologetic Catholic and my young friend Nick at This is My Song, and even my dear radical friends at Damien's Spot and Purple Scarf). Their experience, strength and hope enriches my life and my thinking, even when I disagree with it.

But there's a whole lot of the Catholic tradition that I struggle with - for a variety of reasons. And the Papal funeral ceremonies have brought a number of them in to sharp focus. I guess the biggest one, so far, has been the incredible pomp and ceremony surrounding the death of a man, and the reverence shown for his dead body.

In the same way that no one venerates a cocoon after the butterfly has emerged and flown away,I never "got" why there is such a fuss made over the Pope's remains. In fact, I found the incredible extravagance of the trappings of the Papal funeral to be, well, obscene. The Vicar of the One who extolled his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked was buried in a burst of opulence that likely exceeded the gross national product of some African nations. If four million Catholics just took their Roman travel budget and contributed it to mission work world-wide, how much closer would we be to the Kingdom of God?

My friend Michael A. said it Saturday night - at its heart, the funeral was a corporate expression of the grief felt by observant Catholics for their spiritual father (although Michael probably said it with far greater erudition than I could manage). And perhaps that's where I struggle - because I share with my Catholic brothers a belief in "the resurrection of the body and life everlasting." Il Papa has not left the flock forever - but simply "gone on ahead" to await the final trumpet. So why the big deal, if we are assured of hope of life eternal? Isn't this a good thing?

Admittedly, I am far to the left of most folks in this area. Both my parents donated their bodies to science, and directed that their ashes should be disposed of by the respective medical schools. There are no grave-sites, no tree-on-a-hill where my parents' ashes are scattered. And this has never really bothered me - because I know that even if there was a traditional grave, my parents wouldn't be there, anyway.

I guess I'm feeling the same kind of discomfort that happened when my former wife's family would go to visit the paternal grandparents' graves - because I just don't (and never did) get the whole "go to visit Grandma" deal. When I feel closest to my mother is when I hear a polka, or when I see someone sipping Drambuie - when the colors change in the fall, or when I have a really, really good meal...the kind of gastronomic extravagance for which Mom was well known. My father seems closest when I see Air Force jets (remembering his lifetime of service), or when I encounter some really beautiful wood-working like he would have done, or hear any song by CW McCall. These are gifts of memory that are not tied to space or place, but only to kairos time - time from God's perspective.

So I'm glad for my Catholic sisters and brothers, that they have had this public time of mourning. And I guess a part of me wishes I could feel it with them. But my road, and my experience, have led in a different way, I guess...and I'm grateful for it.

And when it finally comes time to do the final acts for me, I think Lee Jordan's words (quoted by Pete Seeger on the CD Precious Friend) will be enough:
If I should die before I wake,
All my bones and sinews take -
Put me in the compost pile,
To decompose me for a while...
Worms, water, sun will have their way,
Returning me to mortal clay -
All that I am will feed the trees
And little fishies in the sea.
If upon vegetables you munch,
You may be having me for lunch -
And then excrete me with a grin,
Saying, "There goes Steve, again..."
Yeah, that's just about as reverent as I'd want it to get.

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