Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hair on fire

This evening, as I was ransacking a hard disk for some old files (all vanished now into the bit beyond, I fear), I ran across a hasty essay that I had written for myself some years ago -- in effect, a blog entry before this blog was ever dreamt of. I will give you a short sample here. The piece is unmeasured, screedy and downright unfair; but it captured my state of mind and made me laugh to read it again years afterward. Hope you enjoy.

Today I attended an "interfaith" worship service. It was held in the College chapel, presided over by our interim rector, but it could not really be called Christian. There was some stuff about God, true, and a couple of elements of a Christian worship service. We chanted part of a Psalm. A reading from James (in Russian). A hymn -- "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" -- bowdlerized (even from poor Henry Emerson Fosdick’s lyrics) so that Christ was not mentioned. ("Thou our Father, Christ our Brother" became "Thou our Father and our Mother".) In the readings there were mentions of the Tao, of Buddha, of some American Indian version of the deity.

OK, I understand the point, maybe. The idea was to invoke the blessings of many "spiritual traditions" on the installation of our College’s new president. But the exclusion of Jesus was remarkable. Especially at a College founded by a bishop, especially under a chapel ceiling bearing the arching words "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever."

Well, I felt like the turd in the punchbowl, sitting there not getting a whole lot out of it all, or really thinking much of it. It did not help that some of the readings (like a couple of the passages from some speech by a previous president) seemed idiotic. One of them essentially said that our College had lots of people with leadership potential and we developed this by providing lots of extracurricular activities. Pretty feeble stuff. Oh, yeah, and there was a strong undercurrent of "knowledge and wisdom leads to peace" with "peace" equaling about what you’d expect if you saw the word on a sign at a leftist political rally. In short, the whole thing seemed a mishmash, a fuzzy cloud, whose sole guiding principle was a strict exclusion of the most basic beliefs of those who had founded the College, built the chapel, etc.

One musical piece -- really lovely music that I’ve heard before -- had a line like "We are the breath of the ancestors / We are the Spirit of God." And I thought to myself, No we aren’t. First of all, the ancestors who brought us here would probably think we had lost our minds. I can imagine my grandmother (the one who was the daughter of the Civil War hero, who was the county president of the WCTU and played the piano for the church for about forty years, raised five children on the farm and lost one when he was only sixteen) listening to that "worship" service in a kind of despair. And the Spirit of God would blow away all our pretentions and our comfortable syncretistic sentimental smoke, and we'd be left naked in the cold sharp light.

At the end there was a sort of candle ritual where we all light our tapers from the flame that signified knowledge. And then my daughter's hair caught on fire and her mom had to beat it out. The Spirit of God would be like having your hair catch on fire -- alarming, dangerous, but really really real.


Anonymous Dave C. said...

I'm pretty sure I remember this service, if I have my interim rectors and new Kenyon presidents straight. If not, I can ask my sister. (Have the last two new presidents have coincided with interim rectors?)

I don't recall having much of a reaction at all. I suppose that's entirely the point of your rant. It was a new rector at Kenyon who introduced me to the concept of "apatheism"--an approach to God which has become ever more common and upsetting in this country.

7:15 PM  
Anonymous Teena said...

"We are the breath of the ancestors / We are the Spirit of God."

Ok, my brain is a little strange. I read this and thought, "well we breathe the same air as our ancestors did; maybe we breathe the spirit of God too"

10:39 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Seems to me that when the chapel ceiling has "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever" in large letters over the proceedings, it's hard to make a convincing argument that Christ was excluded. Perhaps someone thought that was enough invocation of Christ for an interfaith service?

11:10 PM  
Anonymous GM Roper said...

"And the Spirit of God would blow away all our pretentions and our comfortable syncretistic sentimental smoke, and we'd be left naked in the cold sharp light."

Amen, and Amen!

I'm glad I wasn't there, the gaffaws would have been too hard to control!

I can imagine spirit the President of my old "Catholic" University there and him uttering "Oh, the humanity, the drivel."

10:59 AM  

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