Holy Week Kickoff 2011
Just a few random bits of life: I report that my fast is going quite well. Not as well as it could have gone, perhaps; I still have too many drugs like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, but I have at least managed to stay away from junk food for the most part- no fast food and no crazy artificial ingredients. I have managed to stay away from gluten about half of the time. I felt the difference in my life and in my body almost immediately.
I have also increased the intensity of my yoga asana pratice, and that made the difference even more noticeable. It has been a long time since I felt this wonderful. It is as though all points in my life are converging and becoming more intensely awful and wonderful at the same time. I felt like this the other time I fasted, but I have not felt this good since I was a child, walking to the park during the first warm days of the year, intending to swing and picnic and read, losing myself in a fantasy amidst the flowers and green grass.
As Crowley says, every act is truly an act of Yoga, for every act is truly an act of Union with God. As he also says, there are no rules. And again, as he also says, Yoga is not something to be revered as something mystical and unattainable- it is merely the way things are. So, you do not have to perform Asana or revere the poses. However, if you desire more immediate success in your magic, it only makes logical sense to perform them. In one of Crowley’s Yoga lectures, after discussing YHVH and the Tree of Life and Union with YHVH, and arranging one’s own personal fasting/discipline/what-have-you to attain this, he says of a magician’s union with a deity: “Its practice is enough in itself to bring the devotee to high attainment. This is only for the few. But every student should make a point of saluting the Sun (in the manner recommended in Liber Resh) four times daily, and he shall salute the Moon on her appearance with the Mantra Gayatri.” Since there are no rules one does not have to do this. But I do far more than four sun salutes per day. It is excellent. Of course, I must also, as Crowley says again, not allow myself to become holier-than-thou merely because I have come so far in this regard. That ruins everything. Here is an example of a Sun Salutation of the variety I practice:
When Lent began, I attended Ash Wednesday Mass. The Gospel reading covered the passage which advises us not to display our “devotion” just so that everyone can see it. On Ash Wednesday, everyone can see that we are Catholics. But we are not to devote ourselves for this reason only- just so that everyone can see how “holy” we are! The reward of religious practice is in itself, not in being seen for being religious. It is in Matthew 6 (I am using NRSV today, for the most part, rather than translating the whole thing myself, because I feel a lazy bastard today):
“Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Indeed I try to take joy in my fasting, and I pray and practice in private, though I do not hide the fact that I am religious. I do not hide it, because Ganymede and I feel the need to share. I am not sounding a trumpet for praise, but instead I am sharing, because, in days long ago, when I felt bereft of anything holy, I would have wanted to look at someone like myself to see perhaps what might be done. I would have very much wanted to read a blog just such as this. I do not pray on street corners, but on the internet, I do share my practice, and when I speak to others in life, I share the practice of yoga, so that they might learn if they so desire. Also, I do this so that I might learn from myself and not forget. That, I think, is the main aim, if there is one.
Yesterday, I kicked off the first day of Holy Week with Palm Sunday Mass. Jesus rode on into Jerusalem and I fanned him with my palm reeds, as did everyone else in the congregation. The massive, colorful church was decorated with this week’s color, as every liturgical season in the church has a different color- Holy Week is red, the red of passion, of suffering, of martyrdom, of blood, and of love. All the idols (I mean, statues) were draped in red, the banners were red, and the priest was dressed in red.
We discussed that Jesus would ride in on a donkey, and the priest threw holy water upon us, sprinkling us and blessing our reeds to make them holy.
There was a reading from Isaiah, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame”
And a reading from Psalms, “‘He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’ Yet thou art he who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. But thou, O LORD, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! You who fear the LORD, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
And a reading from Paul to the Philippians, which I think is very much reminiscent of my dearest friend Ganymede, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God a prize to be possessed, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Indeed, though we are One with God, service is His glory.
Later on during mass, we enacted a passion play. The priest played Jesus, lectors played other characters, and we the congregation played the crowd. We had begun the service praising Jesus as a king (the crowd had wanted him to conquer the reigning regime), happily celebrating, but we were easily convinced by the high priests during the time of the play to yell out that Jesus should be crucified.
I mentioned once that one of my earliest memories was that of my mother telling me about Christmas. I wondered why Herod would kill babies. When I was very little, I also remember learning about our faith during the Lenten Easter season. No one could ever sufficiently explain to me why Jesus had to be crucified. All they could ever tell me was that he had to die for our sins. How horrid this seemed, how awful for that poor man. This made no sense and I never accepted it. At least, not until very recently. I now realize that it was not simply something God had decided must be done- it was something we all decided must be done. It had to happen only because it did happen. Somewhere along the line, we, as a human race, decided that we needed to crucify other human beings. We attracted it into being. Everything in the world had to happen the way it happened because that is the way it did happen, and it could have happened no other way. This became all the more obvious to me yesterday when all the crowd compulsorily cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion- not a single one of us in the congregation cried out that Jesus should be freed instead of Barabbas. We cried out that Barabbas should be freed, because our priest told us to read the script- just as Caiaphas told the crowd to do, those thousands of years ago.
Although, I must say, Eddie Izzard was right about Mass. The priest told us to read enthusiastically (from the Greek ἐνθουσιάζειν, to be divinely inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy), but I felt I was the only one in my section putting any real spirit into it, and truly even I reigned it in a little because everyone around me was so monotonous and quiet. If only everyone were enthused with the spirit and wanted to be at Mass as much as I and some others.
So here is a better version- a play most excellent, with truly enthused actors. There is a reason why theatre is also my church, and not just Catholicism.
I also read a quote at church. The darker parts of the passion aside, Jesus truly did try to celebrate and enjoy life. “I realize that I am not used to the idea of God throwing a big party.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen