Monday, April 18, 2011

Religion, Myth, and Magic*

Religion, Myth, and Magic*
The writer, Chris Albani says you can come back from torture, rape, violence.  He should know having survived Nigerian prison, not once, but three times.  Resurrection is the theme of this week.
That leads me Palm Sunday.  I was raised Catholic but for decades only attended church for weddings and funerals.  Since I returned to Buffalo, I reconnected with an old friend from my UB teaching days who had since become a priest (progressive, of course).  Mass is familiar from a childhood of mouthing the words.  Yet there are some differences: no male pronouns are used and the Holy Ghost has become the Holy Spirit.   I’d forgotten Palm Sunday is a solemn celebration.  It touches on the modern themes of betrayal (Judas) and abandonment (my God, why have you forsaken me?)
Albani was also raised Catholic which might help account for the theme of redemption in “Graceland” where as he puts it, “everyone is redeemed”.  From there he went to Buddhism.  As my Korean student who attended a Buddhist university put it, in Buddhism, you become the saint.  Instead of the “I am not worthy to receive you” you have a pervasive basic goodness and the goal of an enlightened society (in the form I’m familiar with).  As my Iraqi student says there is no God.  You’re on your own.  And my question is where is the witness that has been part of our modern therapeutic culture? 
In the end, Albani tattooed the traditional Igbo deities on his arm.  Besides Catholicism, I was raised with the distant remains of Pre-Christian Latvian culture with spirits inhabiting all of nature. My personal gods are my grandmother and a polar bear.  I like to think of the polar bear as a totem animal from the far north of my mother’s ancestors. My grandmother is the muse of my first published poem. 
Yet, I still love the saetas- the songs of love sung to the statues of Mary (or Jesus) in the processions of Andalusia and the shouts of “guapa” (pretty) when she passes.  The processions go on all night and the drums are heard long before they appear.  They can be solemn or the waiting time for the procession to appear can be spent in a bar.  My apologies to the faithful.
I love the geese of the 16th century Barcelona cathedral and the L’ou com balla- the egg dancing in the fountain on Corpus Christi. 
Ritual, tradition, and repetition.  Does one ever really escape them?  Or even want to?
* the title of an anthropology class I took

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