Sunday, April 16, 2006

happy easter

[picture removed as requested]

(if you celebrate that kinda thing)

In case anyone is wondering, the picture used for the logo for the 40 Days of Lent postings (below) was taken in the Prado Museum in Madrid. All major museums have their less favored sections, rooms with beautiful collections that just aren't as popular with the public. The Metropolitan has several areas that would be highlights at almost any other museum, but are sparsely attended. The Islamic tile room, and recreation of a Japanese garden and a high ceilinged room full of Buddha statues come to mind.

Similarly, the basement of the Prado contains the cafeteria and three small rooms filled with beautiful objects, including a mosaic of Christ at Gethsemane. This isn't a painting, but a mosiac made up of small marble and stone shaped and fitted together. Even more incredible was the fact that it was about 12" x 12" - those were mighty small pieces of stone. The entire piece glowed beneath the lights.

Enjoy the holiday Sunday, everyone.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part Three

Feets, Get Movin'!

God, I wish I had thought of this, but sadly, I did not. Special thanks to Carol Sulcoski for bringing to my attention the Ten Plagues of Egypt Footware Collection.

Friday, April 14, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part Two

A Good Friday

I went to get my hair cut at the Beehive Salon today, which despite the name, does not specialize in beehive hairdos. Even though I was 15 minutes late, they still kept my appointment. The Beehive is in my neighborhood, but I still managed to get lost. I had consulted mapquest and thought I detected a shortcut - God, was I wrong. Another reason I was late was because I had run into Chris, a friend of a friend. I had told him about someone I knew who recently had her car towed because she misread the street signs. Chris told me about the time that "Law and Order" needed the space his car was in, so they towed it and reparked it a block or two away. It took Chris almost a week to find the car.

At the Beehive, I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Clare there, getting her hair done in the chair next to mine. My preference for no-one I know being witness to my tardiness was outweighed by the pleasure of seeing her. Leaving the salon, I saw a crowd and police cars with their flashers on a few blocks away. It was a Good Friday processional, complete with a band playing funeral music, a kid dressed as Jesus who was having trouble with his crown of thorns and more fortunate kids who got to dress as centurions.

Originally this posting was going to be about "I wish I had my camera with me." But as I was writing, I heard the funeral music outside. I grabbed my camera (as always, thanks to Fenway Partners for the camera) and my keys (surprised that I had the presence of mind to take my keys) and went outside to take a few shots. A good Friday.

I couldn't figure out why the little kid in white had fake blood running down his head. He couldn't be any of the apostles; none of them made the long walk to Calvary. Then it struck me: he's the replacement Jesus in case the other Jesus gets tired. The runner-up. The Vice-Saviour. The pinch Messiah. It all makes sense now

Monday, April 10, 2006

40 Days of Lent - The Apocrypha Part One

The Alpha

This is a photograph of my first memory.

My first memory is when this picture ws taken. I remember my mother placing me in the tub between my two sisters. I remember my confusion - this had never happened before. I remember putting the washcloth in my mouth and sucking water off of it. I remember Ann laughing, and my mother's joy, standing above us, and the flash of light coming from her head.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Forty

The Omega

Today's quote from the Bible:

I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
- John 17:3-5

To which I might add: I have family in town today, and family is important to me, so I won't have a chance to write a relevent final post. The Forty Days of Lent are over. Now begins the addendums and apocryphal postings...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Nine

Uh-oh, I Think I'm Getting Stigmata

No joke. Consider the undoctored photo of my left foot, taken just hours ago...

(a close up)

I have a feeling this was caused by my Lenten postings, and has nothing to do with the fact that I was moving furniture this morning and had a tendency to set my cd shelves on my foot. In all honesty, I should point out that that is not a halo around my foot, but the reflection of the camera's flash.

Speaking of undoctored photos, the following is of a highway sign on the Williamsburg bridge. It made me laugh.

Today's reading fom the Faithful Words Promise Box:
They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
- Daniel 12:3

Friday, April 07, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Eight

So Easter is this Sunday?

No. Even though that will be exactly 40 days after Ash Wednesday, Easter is actually the following Sunday, April 16th. Lent officially ends on sundown on Holy Thursday. You're also not supposed to count the four Sundays during Lent as being part of the season. This explains why by my online journal's count, Lent is almost over, but by the RC Church's estimation, it's another week to go.

I said I would post every day for Lent, meaning 40 entries online. Do I want to follow the letter of the law and finish posting on Sunday or the spirit of the law and continue until Holy Thursday? Foolish question. I will finish this Sunday, but will post addendums till Thursday on days that I have something to say. A wise solution I think, and I didn't have to threaten to cut any babies in half.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
- Acts 12:22

Thursday, April 06, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Seven

Where's Jesus Part II
Streets of New York Edition

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Six

Where I'm At

My friend Carol wrote in Day Thirty-Five's comments:
...I am always fascinated and respectful of people who are willing to try to hang in there notwithstanding questions and criticisms of their birth religion. Our friend Molly is like that; although she shares our difficulties with Catholicism, she's grappled with those questions and arrived at different conclusions. I respect her for that even though I just can't get to the same place.

I am in a different place from both Carol and Molly. I don't consider myself Catholic except as an identity that says more about my history and upbringing than it does about my current beliefs, but I would never convert to another religion. Of all the religious or philosophical systems I've studied, I would say Buddhism is the best. "Best" as in most useful in helping you live a good and rewarding life, and "best" at understanding what human life is really like. However, I don't consider myself a Buddhist. When I stopped being a practising Catholic, I decided I would never call myself any "thing" again. As I mentioned before, when I call myself "Catholic" it's about how I was brought up and what I was conditioned to believe.

When I had to go to church, I hated the weirdness and supernatural ideas of Catholicism. I wanted answers and sense from religion. I didn't want the mystery or "it's a matter of faith". I resented money being spent on decorating churches that could have been given to the poor. I wanted people to think for themselves rather than listen to a priest. Essentially I wanted to be a Protestant. Now I'm 180 degrees from where I once was. I don't go to church, but I love the craziness of the Catholic religion and am thankful that it is part of my heritage and my psyche. The weeping statues, bread that turns into flesh, scary demons that need exercising, a Virgin Mother who likes to visit Europe, babies floating around in Limbo...Catholic craziness is what gave me my imagination, and for that, I am thankful. (I'm a little less thankful for the terrifying nightmares it gave me as a child.) Falling away from the church gave me the desire to study other religions and an interest in their craziness. Just as Mr. Contrary experienced a spiritual awakening when he rejected the notion of soul and embraced materialism (see Day Thirty-One), he learns to appreciate the uniqueness of the Catholic church only when he is no longer a member.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Five

The Trouble With Islam

As I mentioned on Day Nineteen, I've been reading Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam, which was sent to me by Carol Sulcoski. (Thank you, Carol). Manji was raised as a Muslim but had questions which iniitally sprung from the woman's second class status in Islam but soon led her to question many facets of her faith. This tale of heretic youth is a familiar one to those who grow apart from their religion. There are two kinds of non-believers: those for whom the end of faith is the end of the story and those for whom doubts are just the beginning of a lifetime of rearching, soul searching and unanswered questions. I can identify with Manji's movement from "but why..." to "why do people believe this" to "I don't think I can accept this." It also reminds me of the funny Philip Roth story about a little boy who climbs on the roof of his Hebew school and refuses to come down until the rabbi agrees to consider the possibility (not the fact, but just the possibility) that Jesus was the messiah.

Manji's questing has lead her to several ideas about what the trouble with Islam is. In essence, the religion is a closed system, still following rules and beliefs developed over 1000 years ago. Every religion has its orthodox or fundamentalist wing; only in Islam is fundamentalism the mainstream of the religion. Not only is Islam ruled by a book said to be the sacred word of God, but accounts of the Mohammad and his followers founding of the religion, are considered beyond doubt or questioning. Imagine if Christians could not only not challenge the New Testament as the word of God, but couldn't discuss how the book came together. Manji sees Islam in need of a reformation, similar to what Judaism and Christianity went through hundreds of years ago. It is time for Islam to catch up. Such change will not come from countries like Saudi Arabia, countries ruled by those who have no need or interest in social or spiritual progress. Instead, Manji sees the hope of Islam's future coming from Asian countries with large Muslim populations and less repressive governments.

The Trouble With Islam did give me some hope for progress in the Islamic world, whereas before I had none. Reading the Koran has been a rather disheartening experience, in that verses dedicated to justice, love, and treating others fairly are sometimes followed by a section preaching distrust of non-Muslims or oppression of women. I know the Bible has some hateful passages, too, but in the West there is a tradition of questioning the Bible and studying it as a text that reflects the age in which it was created. One can only hope as the world continues to shrink that Islam will go through a similar process.

For those who are interested, Irshad Manji's website is

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
- Luke 12:15

Monday, April 03, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Four

More Hindu Gods and Goddesses and one old vaudeville joke

Kali was created when the Divine Mother sent her energy or lifeforce to combat demonic forces that had conquered earth, the astral plane and the heavens. These forces were aligned with the sun and the moon. Kali is similar to Shiva in that she is Destruction. She is also the goddess of Time and Death. She creates fear in those who fear death and are too attached to life, whereas she aids those who no longer fear death.

Annapurna is the Hindu goddess of food and cooking. Annapurna is empowered with the ability to supply food to an unlimited amount of people. Annapurna is an incarnation of the Hindu Goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva. Temple art in India often depicts Lord Shiva with his begging bowl (skull), asking Annapurna to provide him food that gives the energy to achieve knowledge and enlightenment. As such, Annapurna also symbolizes the divine aspect of nourishing care.

Body resembles a man’s, but he has an elephant’s head. He’s not an animal, or a human being, but a Hindu deity. Before you pray or worship, you invoke Ganesh. In this way, he is similar to Papa Legba in voodoo ceremonies. He is the gatekeeper, and the god that you must appease before you can access the other deities.

By paying respect to an elephant-headed god, you are willingly leaving behind the rational world for the spiritual, and you are also learning to accept people for who they are rather than what they look like.

Nothing much. Vishnu with you?

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord FOREVER.
- Psalm 23:6

Sunday, April 02, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Three

Personal Icons

Personal family icons I've always found interesting:

1. My Aunt Juleann had once gotten a "I donated blood today," complete with smiling blood drop, from the Red Cross for giving blood. Without really thinking about it, she came home and stuck the sticker on, yes, a picture of Jesus, who also donated blood, although in a more painful fashion. The sticker remained on the picture of the Lord for years.

2. People often put important slips of paper or family photographs in mirror frames. In addition to the photos of her children as toddlers and her husband as a young man, my mother always had pictures of two men on her dresser mirror. One was of Jesus, of course, pre-crucifixion and with an inner glow and beautiful auburn hair. The other picture was of...Mr. Peanut. I've often thought that the combination of the two would be my mother's ideal man: spiritual, self-sacrificing, compassionate yet debonair and perhaps just a little decadent. Not to mention the whole "body of Christ, shed for you" would - yum! - taste like peanuts.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
- Proverbs 27:1

Saturday, April 01, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Thirty-Two

The Hindu Holy Trinity

Within the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, Brahma is the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Brahma grew in a lotus out of the navel of the sleeping Vishnu. This means the creator grew out of the preserver. A contradiction, I know, but what can you do? The daily alternation of light and dark is attributed to the activity of Brahma, which reminds me: tomorrow is daylight savings time. Don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour.

In order to create the world and produce the human race, Brahma made a goddess out of himself. One half was woman and the other half was man. Brahma called the woman Gayatri, but she also became known by many other names such as Saraswati.

Vishnu is the preserver and protector of creation. Vishnu is the embodiment of mercy and goodness, the self-existent, all-pervading power that preserves the universe and maintains the cosmic order Dharma (rules of existence, the basic “is” of what is).

Vishnu is often represented resting on the coiled serpent Shesha, with Vishnu's consort Lakshmi massaging his feet (aaaaah!). Vishnu never sleeps (ew!) and is the deity of Shanti, the peaceful mood. Vishnu does not however tolerate Ego.

Shiva is the destroyer of the world, after which Brahma again creates the world and so on. Shiva is responsible for change both in the form of death and destruction and in the positive sense of the shedding of old habits. Shiva is the god of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a lover of his spouse. Another contradiction, yes, but I am happy for Mrs. Shiva. Shiva lives on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas. The vehicle of Shiva is the white bull called Nandi (the joyful). He is often seated on a tiger skin or wears a tiger skin, with the tiger representing the mind.

Shiva’s dance represents both the destruction and the creation of the universe and reveals the cycles of death, birth and rebirth. His Dance of Bliss is for the welfare of the world. Under his feet, Shiva crushes the demon of ignorance called Apasmara Purusha, caused by forgetfulness. One hand is stretched across his chest and points towards the uplifted foot, indicating the release from earthly bondage of the devotee. The fire represents the final destruction of creation, but the dance of the Nataraj is also an act of creation, which arouses dormant energies and scatters the ashes of the universe in a pattern that will be the design of the ensuing creation. I like the idea of the apocalypse as a form of dance rather than plagues and demons tormenting people. This doesn’t mean I necessarily want to see such a dance, however.