Sunday, May 21, 2006

Religious Instruction



Prompted by all the hoopla over the movie, The Da Vinci Code, a refreshing dialogue has opened up at visual-Voice.net, the blog of a friend of mine. Far beyond a discussion about the movie or the book, it's about faith, yours and mine and the current polarization over religion in this country.

I was reminded of the collection of poems that I wrote in an angry moment back in 1990 about my own introduction to religion as a six year old. The bottom line is that we left the Catholic church. My parents were too hurt to trust in any other organized religion and sent my brothers and I off on our own to a variety of Protestant churches every Sunday. My mother turned to the natural world for her faith, believing that a flower or tree are God's creations and need to be treated as sacred. The forest became her cathedral and the sea and mountains a world of miracles. It is mostly through her that I too created my own spiritual path that recently has begun to resemble a Buddhist path more than anything else.

My point is that the foundation of everyone's faith is built upon their experiences throughout their lives. One path is no better or worse than any other if it brings you to a place where you feel compassion for all living beings and treat them all as you would want to be treated yourself.

The following poems are the story of my earliest experiences that I can now look back on and be grateful for. I am very comfortable in my "hybrid" spirituality. Without those early experiences I would not be where I am today, at peace.


Religious Instruction

When I was six I went to church
where a nun prepared children
for their first holy communion
I learned about the body and blood
of Christ a white wafer
to be swallowed whole

She told us that money collected
on Sunday went directly to God
I dreamed of baskets filled with coins
sprouting wings ascending to heaven
where He didn’t allow dead babies
that hadn’t been baptized

The nun wore a long black habit
white gorget pressed around her puffy face
like a rubber band hinding her hair ears
and neck where a heavy black cross
swung on a silver chain bowing her shoulders
she rapped the knuckles dreamers
with a ruler producing red streaks tears

One Sunday after reciting the Act of Contrition
confessing a multitude of sins and pretending
to do penance I walked down the aisle
dressed like a bride in white


Confession

Sunlight filters parables of glass
stains the altar the Virgin Mary
above me Jesus hangs
from a wooden cross his face serene
He died for my sins
now I must gather them up
tell the priest hiding in the confessional
the turtles died when I forgot
to feed them how I hate my father
when he hits me all the lies I’ve told
I wait my turn to kneel in the dark
my stomach hurts I have to pee
practice the prayer about being sorry


Communion

I kneel at the altar
dressed in white
angels float above my head
the priest approaches
presses the wafer against my tongue
I choke as the body catches
bleeding in my throat scraping
its way to my soul where shut
in the dark it will not grow


Penance

Children hang in rows
on gilded crosses
beating their breasts
for priests who smell
like whiskey and stifle
the question
what have we done


Confirmation

They are living in sin
my brothers and I are bastards
the priest said so

They were married
by a justice of the peace
the night before my father
went to war

They are not married
in the eyes of God
my brothers and I do not exist
in the eyes of God
the priest said so


The photo above is from the series, At The Gates. I made it with a plastic toy camera.

3 comments:

Visual-Voice said...

These poems are poignantly beautiful. I'm so glad you found a way for your spirit to soar despite the ignorance of the church that hurt you. You are a wonderful poet!

gkgirl said...

that poetry
is amazing.

i feel drawn in
by the opinion/attitude/feelings
in an "i know what you mean"
kind of way,
but moreso,
it is the writing,
the wording.

wow.

Maryann562 said...

Yes, churches and people, can be hypocritical. But, to blame God is damaging to yourself. His ways are not our ways. I hear bitterness and regrets in your expressive poem. God is love, and always forgiving. There is more to the Catholic church than sins of man.