Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts


Recollection: Catholic Confirmation at Mary Queen of Peace Church (c. 1990s)

Me, Archbishop Philip Hannan, and Georgette Pintado (Nanan)
Throwback post to 1997 - a Catholic Confirmation ceremony at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Mandeville, Louisiana.
In the Catholic tradition, young people get confirmed. It's the standard rite of passage for Catholic youth. You take some classes. You go on a field trip. You take on the name of a saint and you choose a sponsor to help support you in your Catholicity. At sixteen years old, I was confirmed at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mandeville, Louisiana. The pastor was Father Ronnie Calkins - a really nice guy who I later knew better when I joined the Seminary. But that's another story.


Story of a Vocation: There and Back Again

A Story from My Fifteen Year Old Self
I was fifteen years old: naive, mischievous and lonely, awkward with my body, my voice ~ and my words - my very being. The gash of Mom and Dad's divorce was still raw; I felt ripped apart inside, hurt and distanced, unsure how to appease the increasing emptiness in the pit of my middle. I read novels in a walk-in-closet. Nicholas, my little brother, would peek in on me and wonder what the hell I was doing! When I wasn't absorbing the back of a cereal box or a Vonnegut, I used my bicycle to broaden my geographical horizons. I befriended a beloved librarian, a resilient French survivor of the guerre mondiale, a cassocked conservative priest and an existential liberal Jew. Those were my comrades. Even, very briefly, a traveling antique salesperson who voyaged in a Volkswagen van became my friend. In between visits with all my friends I took refuge in the church, hugging the venerable wood pew, using my spiritual imagination to conjure some image of a future. I would ask my reluctant mother to bring me to Sunday Eucharist - at first she thought it was a phase, like my recent attempts to collect every matchbox car ever made, then she became more hostile when I told her I wanted to be confirmed. Then I told my family I wanted to be a priest!

A Warm Christmas Fire Was Burning
Maybe it was in those bike rides to confirmation class, or in those angry
battles with my parents about my life, about our life, about freedom. Or with my
great friends, the realization that someone outside your clan can love and accept
you for who you are - you grow to love and accept them, that I realized in a
process (that is still continuing) churning away inside of me like a warm Christmas
fire was the hearth of calling.

Now I teach philosophy and write about art. Is this my new religion?

Learning About Folk's Faith Journey I am interested in people's journey of faith. Where did it lead you? Are you the same "faith" as you were when you were younger? Why or why not?


Why do people despise religion because it is, “man-made”?

In this post, I think about why religion is often disparaged because "it is man-made" — a claim often made by evangelicals who espouse their own brands of religion that typically vilifies mainstream faiths to bolster their own belief systems.
Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City image: bbc news
Why do people despise religion because it is “man-made”? Does this presuppose a form of worship that is not man-made? Doesn't it sound odd to you that someone would tout this idea that their religious practice is not religious at all but is protected from man-made shenanigans?
Conversation With a Fundamentalist Christian
I was in the Safeway the other day. Someone was talking about the Catholics next to the $1.00 jug of Sweeeeet Tea for sale.

“I pray my rosary.”

“The rosary is idolatry. It's man-made.”

“So, what isn't man-made?”

“But, it is religion. Not true Christianity.”

“Throw out that statue of Mary in your room; that's man-made and not of God.”
Is Christianity Man-made?
It seems that the crux of the conversation revolved around getting rid of 2000 years of Christian history because it is all man-made.

Don't people realize that religion, no matter what package it comes in: non-denominational, Pentecostal, Wiccan, Zeus, Anansi, Sikh, Tao it is all man's approach to the concept of God?
Religion Is More Pervasive Than You Think
As far as I know God has not torn apart the skies and told us how she thinks. So, even if you believe your holy writ is God's word it does not place you in a nice cocoon of impunity. You're man-made like the rest of us even if you pray to God in the comfort of your room and eschew organized religion like most people eschew post-dated dairy products.
Religion and Power
Religion is about power. By religion I mean a body of knowledge that supports belief in some form of theism. Religious people bristle at the claim that religion is about power. “Religion? Sure,” they say, “religion is about power. But I'm spiritual. Religion is man-made.”


God is in Everything in Richmond Hill

Interior of Sikh Temple, Richmond Hill, Queens
Visiting the Sikh Temple in Queens, I am reminded that God is in everything. Why is that a potentially uncomfortable statement?
         Standing next to his uncle in the kitchen of the Govinda Café in Richmond Hill, Claude slices sandwiches into triangular pieces while explaining why the deities, Krishna and his brother Balarama, are not on display today. “They’re being painted. Their eyes,” he says, pointing to the temple room where clearly the curtain has been drawn. Steve explains to me that when the deities are being prepared no one is allowed to look upon them except their caretakers. Hare Krishna devotees believe that the statues of the deities on display in their temples are manifestations of the God himself. This concept makes me a little uncomfortable. I am used to images and statues in churches and in a holy place. In Greek Orthodox Christianity, icons, or images of the saints and God are venerated as physical portals into the divine. To pray to the icon is to pray through a window peering into the divine. The Hare Krishna devotees feel their holy places are graced by divinity itself. Not only that, but they offer food to the deities every day. “Krishna eats first,” one devotee explains, “then we wash our hands and eat.”
  Claude smiles as he finishes up preparing the sandwiches. All the food prepared in the café is vegetarian. To eat meat is a profanity against Krishna. God is in the food. God is in the strawberry flavored chai. God is in the people around us. The panentheism the devotees profess is dogmatic. To think of anything in the material world as not made of God is tantamount to heresy. “God is in everything,” Claude says, smiling again, “even in the prasadam” (the name for the food offered to the gods). I buy an iced Snapple for two dollars.

   Steve tells me he wants to take me to the Sikh temple two blocks away. We say our goodbyes to Claude and his uncle, disappointed that we can not see the deities. Claude says to us, “You go to the Sikh temple. It’s dirty.” Later I ask why the Sikh temple is considered dirty. Steve explains to me that the Sikhs are a syncretic faith combining both elements of Hinduism and Islam. The women do not cut their hair. Nor do the men. And some do not bathe as frequently as is customary in the West. The Sikh are from the Punjab region of India. Their language is Sanskrit. It does not have the same lilt as Hindi; as I am used to hearing Claude and Sham speak two blocks away. I am struck by Claude’s discriminatory remark but assume it is only natural to want to criticize a faith that is so similar to your own but marked by different customs. It is similar to the attitude of Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians or Hasidim and Orthodoxy in Judaism.
       Passing in front of the “Punjabi Bride” shop, the colors of the dresses tell a story of attention to imagery. The Sikh seem to marry the imagistic imagination of Hinduism with the cold monotheism of Islam. While the women’s dresses are colorful and bombastic, the interior of the Baba Makham Shah Lubana Sikh temple (or gurdwaras, as it is known here) is blue and muted. In front of the temple portico, men discuss with each other in their own tongue; I am not privy to what they say. Loudspeakers mounted onto the outside walls project the religious chant being sung inside. Steve and I take off our shoes before entering the temple. “Cover your head with a bandanna,” Steve tells me, “You can’t go into the temple with your head bared.”
       I take my shoes off and place them in a cubby hole. Men, women, and children come in to take off their shoes. No one bothers the other. A man sits next to me slowly taking off his shoes. I notice no one stares at me. I am immediately aware that I am not seen as an outsider. In fact, no one asks me why I am here or whether or not I believe. The temple is open twenty-four hours a day. The poor and homeless often come to seek shelter and food. Seated behind the Sikh holy book, men take turns reading from the sacred texts non-stop, day and night. I follow Steve's lead. Bowing to the book, I think of my own love for books and wonder if it is the same thing. I do not worship the physical book, but merely its contents. And even then, I am trained to be critical of what I read, and never take anything as absolute truth. Again, I feel out of place, but no one reads my mind nor do they ask me of my convictions.

        Steve says hello to those he knows and introduces me as his friend the philosopher. I stand up and Steve suggests I partake of cereal food given to me by a Sikh holy man. The sweet cereal paste is moist and delicious. I thank him and he nods. Mothers sit with their children in the temple area. One smacks her child on the behind gently so he won’t roam the temple area. Older men sit with each other and listen to the readings uttered in monotonous glory. Younger adolescents with turbans but wearing Westernized T-shirts and shorts enter the temple and sit. The space is peaceful. The word that comes to mind is non-judgmental. Although I read about a recent brawl in front of the temple only a few weeks ago, today, there is no hint of animosity or discontent. What the people do here everyday is interwoven into the fabric of their everyday life. The holy man serving me the cereal paste most likely has a job, maybe it is an electrician or building contractor. He dedicates time to serve God in this temple. Steve and I sit in silence for one minute. At the most. Getting antsy, we both get up to be served prasadam. 
        Entering the serving area adjacent to the temple space, a few dozen Sikh eat prasadam. Portraits of Sikh gurus adorn the walls. One is decapitated and holds his own head. Another is a photography. A more recent holy man. A gentle West Indian from Guyana serves Steve and I. He speaks to me in Hindi. I say I do not understand. He then speaks to me in broken English. “I go to the Krishna temple too. But I come here.” Steve tells me he recognizes him from the Hare Krishna Temple. I ask him if it is okay that I eat the prasadam even though I am not an adherent of Sikhism. “God is in everything,” he says simply. That seems a simple enough answer. There is no hint of proselytizing. The Sikh have carved out a space for themselves in a small pocket of New York City adjacent to the A train in Richmond Hill, Queens. I sense a strong familial bond between the people. Outsiders are not a threat because amongst themselves there is a strong sense of communal identity. The caste system already dictates the place of people in society. There is no equivocation about one’s place in the world. Ostensibly, everyone is aware of their place. Any tension or anxiety about who they are and what they espouse as belief is not present in these believers. The melody of the chant echoes through the serving room. The male voice is quite beautiful, sung with his whole body. 
       As I eat the prasadam: the dahl, the sappu, the biryani rice, I recollect the fact that I have not eaten meat for a week since hanging out with Steve. Am I becoming a believer again? To me, Krishna is a concept. God is a difficult concept. Krishna, Vishnu, Jesus, Balarama. All ways to articulate a concept that is abstract and hard to grasp. I can relate to the need to arrive at a temple like the one I sit in today. But I do not feel the conviction to go beyond God as a concept that is difficult to reason. Maybe impossible. For many here maybe there is no need to go beyond belief. To sit at the podium in the center of the temple and chant holy songs is as natural as combing the lice out of your son’s matted hair, or rising early to water your garden before the sun’s heat becomes too intense. One thing I envy is the eagerness I experience here. There is no apparent worry about the “why” or the “how.” 
       By 10:00 PM the temple becomes crowded. A young man with his hair bundled into his headdress sings to himself. A more urban male play fights with his buddy in the lobby. Two young women dust the benches in the portico. Two older men read the news. Steve and I wash our hands again. I drink warm brown chai. It is hot to my lips. My stomach is sated. I yearn for something. But I do not quite know. I know I do not have the faith to believe. But I envy belief. I envy faith. Steve drives me to the train station. “Roselli,” he says, “You were not out of place in the temple. You didn’t look anxious at all. Some people I take there are anxious at first. Not you.” I smile and suggest that I have traveled a bit so I am used to differences in culture. But, I say, it is also because the Sikh temple is inviting and the people kind.

Would you like to read more? Fetch Greig Roselli's book of essays, Things I Shouldn't Have Said (And Other Faux Pas) for more good writing, dammit.  
photo credits: steve e.


Film Still: Playing Chess With Death

In this post, I jot down some thoughts on when I first saw Ingmar Bergman's 1957 black and white masterpiece The Seventh Seal.
"The Seventh Seal" (written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and 
starring Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot)

        The Seventh Seal is a visually stunning movie. And it has a narrative that keeps the viewer fixated. Death has come to collect Antonius Block (played by Max von Sydow), a crusader who has returned home from war to find his home stricken by Bubonic Plague. Death offers a concession — beat him in a game of chess. And the crusader can cheat death. What transpires after this pact is a visual lexicon of human suffering and hope for that which is beyond all hope. Filled with religious symbolism that is concurrent with the era of the plague — Europe in the Fourteenth Century — the film plays on themes of chance and deceit to deliver its message. In one scene, the Crusader goes to a church and confesses to a priest, all the while, revealing what his next chess move will be. The curtain is revealed, and it is death itself pretending to be a prelate. 
       Ironically, the movie offers a sublime treatment on the theme of death and despair. And presents a couple of transcendent moments as well — including what appears to be a vision of the Virgin Mary who appears to Jof (played by Nils Poppe), a lovable roving theater actor (which I found to be shot in soft light, a trick of the camera that enunciates the ethereal moment and leaves the event to mystery. Was it really the Virgin Mary? Or was it just a mirage that the actor saw through bleary, morning eyes?
        I first saw the Seventh Seal as a teenager. I had checked it out from the local public library and I know it had an effect on me. It was the first movie that I had seen that played with visual allegories — like an early scene where Death cuts down a corpulent human who has tried to escape by climbing up a tree! I remember trying to show the movie to a couple of friends, but they were bored by it and could not relate to its what seemed out-of-date imagery. I think I related to the idea of Antonious Block, preventing death from taking him, so he could carve out one meaningful event in his life after having lived it so vainly and disagreeably in war. At one point, Block asks, (and I am paraphrasing), "What is there?" and Death gives a matter-of-fact answer: "Nothing."
        What I felt the movie was saying was that life is fleeting, and beauty is captured in a moment, then gone. The famous final scene — all of the cast carried away in a dance towards Death — seems to me, a visual for life lived, of the fragile connections we have with others and the suddenness with which life comes to an end. That is why Bergman chose the Plague as his setting. In a time of disease, death is everywhere; one can smell it, taste it, know it. And it forces one to come up out of one's everyday dealings and contend with finality.
        Deep stuff.
PDF Copy for Printing


Memento: When I Was a Benedictine Postulant

A page from my scrapbook that dates from circa 2002
My Life Circa 2002
Taken from a page of my scrapbook dated circa 2002 — I had just entered the monastery of Saint Joseph Abbey as a postulant. I was about twenty-two years old (freshly graduated from college). I had started my scrapbook as a seminary college student. The page in this scrapbook marks a special time in my life. It was a time where I had an enormous amount of free time (ironically, since I was living in a monastery). A postulant is someone who has requested to be a novice in a monastery. It is the waiting period between "moving in" and being officially sworn in as a new member of the community.
In the Summer I Joined the Novitiate
After a few weeks of postulancy, the novitiate begins. That lasts for a year, after which the novice petitions the community to take the first set of monastic vows. During this time, the community of monks which I belonged to had voted on a new Abbot. His name was Justin.
An Explanation of the Pages Of My Scrapbook
On the left side of the book is the card that I had saved from Abbot Justin's installation as abbot of the community. I had written in the space below the holy card, "Justin Gerald Brown's Abbatial Blessing". On the facing page is a card that I had kept when I was a postulant. My name (as it is now) was "Greig". On the top is a postcard of a boy sitting amongst a hilly field accompanied by two pigs. My memory is hazy but I think I had picked up this postcard when I had been a student at the American College of Louvain in Belgium  I guess I placed it in the scrapbook as a memento.


Bathroom Graffiti

Graffiti from a desk in a church school in Bordelonville, Louisiana
Some of the Graffiti dates back to the 1950s. Some of it was more recent, like the one above.

Shawn B.






Opinion Poll: Do Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Virginia Woolf Look Alike?

For all you Virginia Woolf fans out there, here is a nice picture of her in youth. And then there is a photograph of Thérèse of Lisieux, the Catholic Carmelite saint. Am I the only person who thinks Woolf has an uncanny resemblance to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux?
Photograph of Virginia Woolf as a Child
Thérèse of Lisieux dressed up as Joan of Arc


Of Carmelites and African Greys

Brother Gabriel, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Joseph Abbey, tends to his African Gray parrot.
Brother Gabriel Rivet, OSB
In a mostly abandoned seminary building, I climb a flight of stairs, pass two meowing cats, and knock on the door of an old prefect’s office to rendezvous (as I do every Saturday afternoon) with Gabriel Rivet, a monk of Saint Joseph Abbey, a Benedictine monastery on the outskirts of Covington, Louisiana, a bedroom community of New Orleans. The office is musty, retired parrot feathers garner the air and there is a strong scent of vegetables, parrot mix and the lulling hum of daytime television. “Mostly to entertain her,” Gabriel tells me pointing to the African Grey who does, in fact, seem to be watching TV, her head cocked to one side, intent, soaking it all in. Newspapers line the bottom of Jocko’s cage, old Times Picayunes and church bulletins; Br. Gabriel is exceedingly insistent that I place three layers of print to cover Jocko’s cage and to make sure I secure the edges with scotch tape. While he prepares Jocko’s egg – a treat the avian companion gets every afternoon – we talk about Saint Thérèse, Saint Benedict, and monasticism. “You want your egg, Jocko?” Gabriel croons, motioning to the bird with a plate he places on top of the cage. Jocko knows the routine and determinedly climbs up to eat her fill of the yellow yolk. Usually, the monk, who will celebrate his fiftieth year of monastic profession this summer, offers me the white of the egg. “It’s not good for her. No nutritional value.”