Friday, 3 June 2011

Ascension, continued: Extraordinary Form, or, 'Dude, it's awfully quiet in here. When does mass start?'

As I crossed the forecourt, the Paraclete Express kept chugging my way. I ran into a friend who looked surprised to see me and after exchanging greetings, he said:

"You know, it never ceases to amaze me that you come to the masses [which you're going to find most difficult]."

"I know. But I keep thinking if I can do this, it'll make me a better person. It doesn't always work, but..."

In the middle of my answer, I heard the still, small voice: "Irim, stop the war." Finally, I really heard myself on the subject for the first time.

In Stephen Cope's book, The Wisdom of Yoga, he talks about samskara and vasana, or reactive patterns that develop from our taking in a situation, evaluating it, and then reacting to it. One of his teachers referred to such patterns as "those etched in water, those etched in sand, and those etched in stone."

My need to struggle, to push, to challenge – so ingrained that my mantra is ‘growth needs resistance’ – is so deeply etched in stone it is akin to an addiction. When using my favourite image of a butterfly beating its wings against a chrysalis, I forget it is only temporary, and that afterwards, the butterfly is free. Resistance is meant to be temporary.

But going up against resistance, stepping into conflict, is my crack. I heard it in my voice: tense, invested, frustrated. Attached. I need the war - for the same reasons an addict needs his drug of choice.

But the war doesn't just affect me. As Jack Kornfield says in A Path with Heart, an internal war will always become an external war. That had been exemplified at the weekend, when a friend was telling a story over lunch, and I judged the behaviour of one of the characters (let's just say it wasn't exemplary) quite harshly. From my left came a gentle, but strong, reminder: "But it is very human, and therefore, very understandable."

And there was the addict's response, "Yes, but it's up to us to be better than that."

As the Paraclete Express hit me yesterday in the forecourt, I knew it was time to stop the war. But how?

I went in, sat and waited - and it came to me. Maybe I couldn't end it immediately, but I could refuse to engage this battle. I could do that in a very simple way - by staying present. Then, when I moved away from presence, bringing myself back with awareness, without judgment or recrimination.

As mass started, this proved very easy to do, since I can't be on autopilot during the Tridentine the way I can during the Novus Ordo. Yesterday, I had to juggle the Trid missal and the sheet with the special collects and prayers for the Ascension, so there wasn't much room for brooding.

As I stayed present, something interesting happened. I felt clear. I could feel the full range of emotions - touched, irimtated, amused, curious - stay with them, and let them pass through me. I did that and followed my breath, and suddenly, I had space, and more room to be clear.

I was no longer attached - and suddenly, I understood.

I don't HATE the Tridentine mass. It will never be my favourite mass, because I firmly believe that in not participating in the mass - e.g., reciting the Confiteor aloud - the congregation is denied that most necessary element of the spiritual life - taking responsibility for it. I also feel that it cuts the priest off from the people - and because I picture the mass as a triangle: one leg is Priest-God, the other is People-God, the base is priest-people. Take the base away from the triangle, and it doesn't work.

As I stayed present, this was simply an observation - no anger, sense of futility, or frustration attached to it. It simply was - and is - how I feel, which is absolutely fine. Letting that feeling be what it was allowed me to see what I really appreciate about the Tridentine mass: there are parts of the text that I prefer to the Novus Ordo, I think the priest is more deeply present when distributing communion, and I love ending with the prologue from John. All in all, I think that if the Tridentine had been allowed to evolve naturally, the Catholic Church would have had a liturgy beyond imagination, with undisrupted, solid roots, and plentiful branches, lush with greenery and fruit.

Suddenly, like stumbling through an open door, I realised: the Tridentine mass is simply that - A FORM of the mass. Everything we associate with it - right wing agendas, intolerance, smugness, rigidity, resentment, slavish adherence to the past - none of them belong to the mass itself. They are projections ONTO the mass by us, because of what we desire, need or fear it to be.

In this moment, engaged with the sermon in which the Paschal candle is extinguished and Fr Jerome says, "We extinguish the Paschal candle as a sign that Our Lord's visible presence is removed from us - from now, we are only to meet Him in silence, in shadows, in the sacraments."

Right where I want Him to be - because I need to take that leap of faith.

Adsum, Domine. Follow the breath.

Done with the liturgy, but what of the people? There is no denying that stereotypes exist because there is often considerable truth in them - and the stereotype of Tridentine mass-goers as right-wing, angry, intolerant, isolationist, rigid almost to the point of snapping is no exception. Very few people can make me go incandescent like they can.

Liturgy is easy, it's inanimate. People, well - when you can keep that spiritual calm around people, it'll be your ascension we'll be celebrating.

Communion. Usually, I would have dismissed the server at a Tridentine mass as 'one of them', but in my presence in the moment, I noticed his hand shaking visibly as he held the paten - and my heart went out to him.

Post-communion prayer, and the Paraclete Express decided to reverse over me.

Over the past few weeks, as I've been walking into work, I've been practising Cope's version of the Metta, or loving kindness meditation. As with all meditation, one centres by following the breath, then beginning with oneself, one recites some version of the following:

May you be protected and safe,
May you feel contented and pleased,
May your body support you with strength,
May your life unfold with ease.

After directing that prayer of loving-kindness to oneself, one directs it to loved ones, then those for whom one has neutral feelings, then to those one finds...difficult - and finally, to all of creation.

I had been having no problem with those I loved (of course), nor with my parents, or the uncle who abused me. Not surprising, I think, since I am considerably removed from my relatives - so it's easy to wish them well and feel particularly proud - 'LOOK! I did my uncle! Go me, I must be done.' Ja. And Satan will be hosting the Winter Olympics in 2014.

The group I had felt real resistance to, the group that was REAL work, was the group encompassing the ones I bump up against all the time who trample my triggers, setting them off in series.

As I knelt after communion, I thought, 'What better prayer is there than to wish the others here well?' Thus I found myself reciting the Metta meditation as I knelt after communion in a Catholic Church.

Hey, you knew I was a spiritual patchwork quilt. So sue me.

Easy enough to begin with Fr J and the altar server for whom I'd felt that sudden protectiveness. Then John, Juliet and George were easy. Someone in the front served as neutral. And then...

...there was the mother who hadn't taken her child out. There were the rigid faces with the slight contemptuous twist that put me on a hair trigger. They were my crack, the people I wanted to square up to and push against.

It was time to walk my spiritual talk. I could feel the resistance, so I went back to neutral and came at it again - first with one difficult person. Then another.

Suddenly, Metta was magick. Wishing them all well in that moment, in that space, was effortless and felt amazing. Finally, I got it:

But it is very human, and therefore, very understandable.

They're not evil. They're not my enemy. They're afraid.

It's how they create certainty in an uncertain world; how they feel rooted, attached. The way they act - adaptively or maladaptively - is organised around that need for security, attachment and love.

Very human, indeed.

As I left church, I felt at peace. I was no longer prisoner to my projections on the Trid mass - I could come to one or not as I pleased, knowing that I could remain centred in what was real.

When I passed church again, having come back from buying lunch, I passed a gathering of the younger 'Trid boy' types in front of the archway, posturing. One of them said, in a manner reminiscent of a stereotypical Oxford don, 'I have some sympathy for that position...' A week ago, I would have wanted to smack him. Yesterday, the teacher in me saw the boys I'd taught, standing in the school hallways, in those same positions, using that same tone of voice - and I grinned.

...though I may not have the answers
At least I know what I'm looking for

Yes, I can do without the sorrow
There's a day after tomorrow -
So I'm leaving it behind

I'm free, I'm free -
Things are only as important
As I want them to be...


Cloister said...

Truthful reflections of inner battles are always so moving, and I think this double post was beautiful. Thank you :-) I have never been to a Tridentine Mass, never had the need to, but I did have to rethink my ideas about how people express faith when I moved to Oxford - the city of religious politics! Lovely writing :-) Thank you.

Silvana said...

I've only just caught up with this post, having suddenly noticed the epilogue. Very moving. I'm sure that prayer will stand you in good stead on lots more occasions, if you let it.
As we prayed in today's sequence: -

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.

May your heart gently burn within you...