First of all, apologies to all who are still reading my blog for the ridiculously long time since I last posted. I've been caught up in other things, mainly making music. I seem to find it hard to keep up both music and writing equally, so either one or the other tends to suffer.
I'm just back from Mary Magdelen's church. It's an eccentric church, so it doesn't surprise me that I was drawn, via various links, to that one. The priest isn't exactly run of the mill, and the congregation - well, they're a motley crue of oddballs, eccentrics, underprivileged young people and addicts.
I rarely leave church without having shed at least a few tears. It's powerful on many levels, and some of those levels are in fact a strong sense of alienation from some of what Catholicism teaches and preaches. This, combined with quite an overwhelming sense of devotion and my heart feeling moved in ways it hasn't before, makes it potent and unsettling.
I was talking to a Buddhist friend last night about Catholicism, and he was talking about his views on the Christian God. In his mind, God is a powerful force, but one which is essentially still an other power, and therefore ultimately limited. On the other hand, in Buddhism, sunyata or emptiness, the Buddhist vision of reality, transcends all dualistic notions of self and other. Therefore, the notion of a God being somehow outside of ourselves, or something/someone to worship no longer makes sense within this Buddhist framework, because there is nothing to worship and no one to 'do' the worshipping. I guess that follows then that there is no sin, no sinner, no saviour, no heaven or hell.
However, I'm not so sure about this. To be honest, I don't think I've yet met a single person who seems to have transcended this 'dualistic' state of mind. And I think inevitably, even within Buddhist thinking, non-duality, like everything else becomes a concept, one we can talk about, even debate or argue over. It can become as clear in our minds as God can be to a Christian. Buddhists have their beliefs just as Christians have their beliefs, noble beliefs, I think, by which they can structure their lives, but I personally feel it is very hard to talk about such subtleties and mysteries of reality at all, and once I get into the realms of what my friend was talking about, I'm not entirely sure how relevant it is to me at this point in my life, or how easy it is to work out.
The sense I have during Holy communion, despite not even being able to take it myself, is of a power or spirit or divinity coming through. And yes, these terms, spirit or divinity and so on are limited in a way by their language of 'otherness'. But my personal experience of what one might call God has felt profound and mysterious, in some respects even more so than any experiences I've had through meditation. I've felt such a powerful element of surrender in Catholic Mass, and of something else stepping in which does not enter through one's own will or effort, but simply by being open to it. A force of love entering oneself, and purifying all that it comes into contact with.
I have said to some of my Catholic friends that my interest and intrigue in Catholicism has nothing to do with wanting to feel like I belong or needing a sense of community with others. I've already got that in my life in so many ways. I'm not looking to have a conversion, I've already had that when I first discovered Buddhism over twenty years ago. Some Catholics have said to me that when they came to Catholicism it was a coming home, and that they find supreme comfort in it. For me, I've felt like the last thing I want from Catholicism or any other spiritual path is to 'come home'. I'm more and more wandering away from 'home', away from the places I thought were the answer, because as soon as I feel like I've arrived, like I'm home, I get comfortable and want to put my feet up and stop searching. Once I think I know the answer, generally, I'm in danger of becoming a bit blinded. However, as I kneeled in church today on that hard wooden block, and Fr Ray lifted the bread high into the air and muttered, I realised that I'm not sure that this is totally true.
When Mum had this last stroke which brought her near death and has kept her in a perpetual near death state for the last year, nothing really could touch the vastness of that situation. And I wanted Buddhism to be the thing that came along and took hold of my grief and gave me a sense of something that could meet this huge event. And I guess, in some ways it did. But really, it was, by various turns of events, Catholicism that offered itself up and somehow met that need in me for something that could hold what was happening to my Mum, to my family and to me. It wasn't dwelling on sunyata that did it, it was experiencing God in some funny convent chapel with a load of eccentric nuns, next door to the house I grew up in. It was in the feeling that came upon me when I left church one evening and was walking down my street, that I was truly loved, and that this love was greater than anything I've been able to imagine before, which made me almost fall to the ground. And when I go up to the priest and receive a blessing, when I pray, when I witness communion, I have to say, yes, I do feel comfort, a deep comfort, a comfort I never thought I needed. And it does help me to be able to get on my knees and just pray for my Mum and for my family, for myself in a sense, because I realised in Mass today - my family and I need all the help we can get at the moment. It does bring me some consolation, and I don't think that is a bad thing. In fact, I think consolation is a beautiful thing.
The situation with Mum is so heart-breaking on some level, it doesn't really help me ultimately to think in terms of karma, or the four noble truths, or even impermanence. To an extent it does, but the truth is, on some level I'm starting to more deeply understand what life is, what death is, and it's a fucking hard one to face, but I'm facing it. Impermanence is there at every turn. What I really need is love, a love that knows no limits, that seeps into every crack in every broken heart and eases the pain. I want my Mum to be prayed for, given consolation, a balm upon her weary forehead, and I want holiness to surround her. At the moment, going to Mass puts me in contact with a much needed sense of benevolence.
I don't see God as outside or within. I don't know if it's both or neither. It is a mystery I cannot explain. I'm happy for now to leave it like that. This mystery they call the Holy trinity, the body and the blood, crucifixion and resurrection, the wounding and the healing, this brings me comfort at a time when I thought comfort was gone forever, and that it was a luxury or privilege for those who haven't yet had to contend with the reality of death.