Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Resurrection Day

Shortly after leaving the Zen Center, I went down to Belen to attend Easter mass with my mom. I hadn't been in a church for close to a decade, and I was surprised how much my attitude towards it has changed. Mostly, that has been influenced by own openness to spirituality. Ten years ago, I was a firm believer in the Japanese concept of "jiriki,' or self-power. This was apparent in the paths I walked, as a martial artist and a practitioner of yoga and zen. It was only after my son died, during that 'lost year' when my soul was open and stripped bare, that I found myself in numerous situations where I felt guided, and had experiences that even today I can't explain. I began to accept that while I was free to play the game of life according to my own strategies, the game board itself had been set up for me. Over the subsequent years, I began to identify the richness of a spiritual world, in particular as it relates to place.

So it was in the little Spanish church in the little village of Tome on that Easter weekend. As I entered the church, I bowed deeply, then bent over to take off my shoes. The residue from a month in the zen center was apparently still upon me. Hands in shasshu, I slid into an empty pew, the seat wooden and hard with a back at nearly a right angle. While self-flagellation is now frowned upon by the modern church, those little touches of discipline still remain. These seats would allow no sleeping, and little relaxing. Then the music started up, hymns sung in Spanish. I always found it funny how not only the churchgoers but the musicians themselves sing these verses in what is almost a mumble, as if embarrassed. One of the hymns had me humming along, as the melody was similar to Bob Marley tune, with that trad Mexican-style of picking on the downbeat.

As for the mass, I was surprised by how much of the ritual I'd forgotten, despite years of indoctrination. One change new to me was the collection system. When I'd been young, it used to be a small basket that was passed around. (When taking this from the hands of a neighboring stranger, I'd always wanted to say, "No thank you," but never had the guts to actually make this joke.) Today, two man came down aisle by aisle, their baskets at the end of a long pole. As they'd lean in so as to reach the innermost seats, they 'd smoothly thrust their arms forward as if shooting pool.

Most expectedly, I found myself remembering the Lord's Prayer, reciting it as automatically as I now chant the Heart Sutra. The rest of the mass went on as it always has. I really enjoy the priest here, with his common-sense approach to spirituality, and unwillingness to get caught up in the more radical dogma, as expressed in those right-to-life signs out on the front lawn. (When I met him a couple years ago and relayed the story of Miki confusing a confessional for a bathroom, he threw back his head in laughter.) During the sermon, he compassionately acknowledged an apparently epileptic young man having a seizure in one of the pews, yet continued on in order to keep the flock on focus. This seizure was evidence of my jaded view of Catholicism; how it maintains its strongest presence in countries with the most poor and disenfranchised, where the population has little but their faith. While thinking this, I looked over at the woman in the pew in front of me, sitting there attached to her oxygen tank. From the perspective of Great Faith, how does she relate to a God who would put her through such a trial?

While I think it would take a major effort for me to lose such a cynical stance to organized religion, I did feel a profound shift, from the feeling a decade earlier of crushing repression, to one of welcome. I think that I found much joy and peace in the community that had gathered for this holiday. Heading home, I managed to walk out the doors without bowing, carrying a strange desire to reconnect.

On the turntable: Frank Zappa, "Sheik Yerbouti"


  1. As a child I was raised without religion, but often went to church with friends if I happened to sleep over at their house on a Saturday night. It was always an interesting and pleasant experience, because I went into it knowing nothing. In fact, I knew more about Eastern and Pagan religions than Christianity. As someone who was raised with Catholicism (?) and has a lot of experience in Zen temples, I wonder what differences you see between them. Interesting stuff.

    I had no idea about your son. I can't even imagine the effect it must have. Incessantly the path continues ne. It is always a joy for me to read your blog entries. Thank you for sharing.

  2. ...such intimate thoughts and insight. (ghetto Japanese high school computer cut me off)

  3. Cheers Zack. My approach to religion is pretty anthropological. Including Zen. I'm in the midst of frustration with the American brand. Ironic, since I completely stopped practicing in Japan about 5 years back.

    Now spirituality, that's another story. From what I read, you're picking up a lot of that up there in the hills...


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