A Buddhist in Catholic Clothing
I went to Good Friday Mass this afternoon in my usual state of bemused and bewildered attendance. As the song says, Here I am Lord. Thing is, I’m not entirely sure why. I’m no longer filled with that blissy joyous heart that characterizes the early years of faith practice. Nor am I cast out into the desert of the dark night of the soul. The best I could come up with as I was driving over there this afternoon is that we are asked to take refuge in the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma … and Catholic Mass is, for better or worse, where I experience the Sangha and the Dharma. (As for the relationship between the Buddha and Jesus, well, that’s a different blog entry.) My attitude right now toward my faith seems to be mostly a strong sense that it’s important to show up. Here I am Lord.
In general, I’m much more interested in the practice of faith than I am in the object of faith (including doctrinal disputes), and so, Good Friday is a little odd for me, being as it’s really all about Jesus sacrificing himself for us. I’m not a very good Christian because I don’t actually believe that Jesus is the one and only road to salvation. I’m not so sure I even believe in salvation, in the traditional going-to-heaven sense (I’m enough of a Buddhist to think that being stuck in heaven with my own personality for eternity sounds dreadful). But there’s no point in celebrating Easter if you skip Good Friday, and my dark writerly sensibility likes the dark holidays. As I listened to our priest and two older ranchers do the dramatic reading of John’s version of the passion story, what struck me today was not the story of Christ’s sacrifice, but the righteous vehemence with which the crowd, that is, all of us, demanded Christ’s death. We sacrificed him. John’s Passion emphasizes the many many times Pilate offered to free Jesus, and his ultimate refusal to carry out the death sentence because he could find no evidence of guilt. Christ was frightening, and the crowd wanted killed that which frightened them. I couldn’t help but think of the violence with which many who have advocated peace these past months have been met, the thirst for blood and the righteousness of those who advocated this war. I mean in no way to suggest that Saddaam Hussein was not evil or was in any way Christ-like, but listening to the Passion this afternoon, what struck me was how very often we human beings are wrong about our judgements. How prone we are to lashing out. How easy it is for us to justify violence. How hard it is to be good.
This Good Friday, I’m planning to spend the afternoon rereading Elaine Pagels remarkable book, The Origin of Satan, which traces the evolution of scapegoating those who don’t believe in Jesus and branding them as satanic (I hate to think what google searches this entry is going to cough up). On the stereo for this rainy Good Friday afternoon are the following CDs: Johnny Cash’s God, Iris Dement’s Infamous Angel (what better for Good Friday than “Let the Mystery Be”?), The Roches’ fabulous post-9/11 project Zero Church, The Great Aretha Franklin: The First 12 Sides and Odetta: The Best of the Vanguard Years.
As with the precepts, what is important to me about Good Friday, what is important to me about all religious holidays, is that they ask us to look inside our own hearts and confront the hard questions. What would we have done? What have we done?