The Revolution Inside

From Latin American Odyssey, to a profound investigation of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez says: Socialism or Death! Leftists rejoice, and Capitalists squeal. But what do the people of Venezuela think about all of this?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

La Vida Dolorita, Part 4 : Burning Judas

La Vida Dolorita, Part 4: Burning Judas

Ok, so if you see a picture of me in church don´t freak out, they didn´t get me – I didn´t eat any flesh or drink any blood. In fact, I was in the Dolorita church twice during this stay – once on Ash Wednesday, and here for resurrection day. It was nice, and a little weird, sort of like old times, back when I was a monaguilla, an altar boy.

For those of you who have never been Catholic, here are some things i feel like commenting on:

--While some people choke on it, I love that holy roman incense they use. I think it´s frankincense. There´s a lot of talk, you know, about Frankincense and Myrrh, but that`s some real stuff. And am I the only one who thinks of Frankenstein when I hear that word?

--The easter candle. There´s so much representation in the catholic church, no wonder it gets a bad rap from protestants about idol worshipping. There´s a large candle that shows up in church on Ash Wednesday, and stays unlit until Easter. When it´s lit, Christ has risen from the dead.

-- Here in Caracas, I don´t know if they do it other places or not, they do this Burning Judas thing. The idea is, people from the neighborhood construct a man out of old clothing people have lying around, and stuff this guy, put him in a chair, and light him on fire on resurrection day. Clearly, this is a purification ritual, and to having this event on the most important holy day of the catholic calendar reminds us of the pagan roots of Christianity. Throughout Europe (not to mention native traditions), you´ll find a lot of burning effigies and bonfire building from spring until harvest time.. because Sun Energy is strong during this time. And specifically for a springtime ritual, it means, lets burn all of the stuff we have left over from the winter, because now we`ve got new things growing. In Caracas, they often name the effigy something symbolic, like "Neoliberalism" or "George Bush" because it`s simpler to just make the connection with fire as a destructive force, rather than a rebirthing thing.

-- When the hell is Easter going to be, you might wonder. The way it works is this: The first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring. That`s it, that`s how they know. Figuring out when Carnival is, you just count 40 days backwards... Carnival, the way it`s celebrated with Fat Tuesday (or Shrove tuesday) and Ash Wednesday appears historically after the whole idea of Lent, 40 days of temptation in the desert. Though there are pagan calendar events throughout the year, I think the whole lent cycle is fairly free of pagan roots.

It´s interesting. Imbolc is the pagan holiday that became candelmas, then became groundhog day. That´s February 2nd. Then, the next pagan holiday is the spring equinox, around march 20th. About 45 days. After that, we get Beltane, a fire burning ceremony, also known as May Day, which later became.... international labor day? I mention this, because I can´t help but wonder if the Spanish colonial associations of Catholicism in Latin America would retain more of the converted pagan rituals, like bonfire burning than we would see in the US, where Catholicism was imported rather than imposed.

--Another representation I like is the way of the cross. If you´ve never been to a Catholic church, cathedral, or basilica, you´ve never seen this, but always along the walls there are pictures, 14 of them, actually. I don´t have them memorized, but I think they´re cool. Symbolically, they represent the trials of the heroe`s journey. If you chew on it for a while, or studied sacred literature, you could find a correspondence between the stations of the cross, and the journeys of Odysseus, or Orpheus, or Captain Ahab. Or Elvis. The pictures chronicle the story from Jesus` arrest in the garden of Gethsemane to the resurrection.

One thing that annoys me is the status of Mary. I mean, too bad she wasn´t divine too, or she might have had a word or two to say to God about this whole business of killing her son and cooking him on a stake because you and everyone else has been bad.

I never noticed this when I was young, but apparently they don´t sing the Gloria for the entire Lenten period. When I heard it last night, it made me think.. I wonder if Van Morrison´s song was a conscious attempt to turn this catholic holy song on it´s head, and make it about a sexy woman.

There are a lot of things in La Dolorita`s church that are very different from the church I went to growing up, which I partly attribute to cultural factors. There was a lot of singing and dancing around, while my church was much more solemn, and well, frankly, boring.

I think this has something to do with the Salesians (even though my church in Tucson was Silesian, too). Silesian is a word which I don´t know what it means, and I doubt I will ever use it again. So, please, take a good look at it.

Lenis and Alexander are like the main music people in the church, they both sing. Their good friend Williams (it`s true what you´ve heard - if your name is William, they always add an "s" at the end. I don´t know if this is some phonological thing, or what, but I know like five Williamses) plays the guitar (he loves Dust in the Wind, man). The songs are kind of country, kind of rock and roll, and if you´ve been to any sort of modern Christian church, you´ve probably come across a similar style.

Musicians from the congregation sing the songs, and it´s not exactly tight… I don´t know, technically, it´s kind of horrible, off key and off tempo. But the spirit is there, and they´re doing it for the community, without fines de lucro. Kind of like community radio. And, so you support them and cheer them on, knowing that they´re giving it up for the community, and its not important if there´s a little feedback when the priest is turning the wine into blood.

And this made me think about how nice it is that you can´t really screw up in this church, you know? They want you to be there, because you´re a nice, fresh soul, and if you get the words wrong… well, they know that if they alienate you, and it´s not fun, people won´t come. Hell- ain´t enough to scare ´em into attendance, because that`s been tried, and there`s enough fear already out there, mostly people probably come to church to escape fear for a change. Which brings up an interesting event. Near the end of the mass, a fellow strode in (the doors are almost always open), and he kind of looked like a street punk in Portland, baseball cap on sideways, ripped pants and dirty clothes. He was talking to himself and had a ragged book in his hand. His eyes had dark circles under them. and he walked right down the middle of the aisle and up in front while the priest was saying goodbye to the flock, and started mumbling words as if he was reading his book. The attendees were clearly nervous and some of them moved to strategic positions to sort of block him. Some people offered him some change. Mostly everyone was a little nervous. I interpreted it as a sign, sort of a test of faith for the people. Not that it wasn´t a potentially dangerous situation, but it sort of broke the festive spirit and put people in the place of those in their own community whose lives are pretty messed up. And I thought of Jesus, who I think was just as divine as you and me, and it occurred to me, that this guy was kind of like the people that Jesus hung out with, you know? The lowest of the low. And it was kind of nice to see one person, Adriani, approach him and start chatting with him without fear. I think that`s prolly what Jesus would have done.

There are lots of good reasons I gave up Catholicism, and Christianity especially. Mostly, it´s symbolically kind of gross - spiritual cannibalism, really, with some very old foundations. I do think the passion, the story of it all can be quite moving on a number of different levels - you know, a divine man-child, who martyrs himself for everyone in the universe. I mean, that´s hardcore. But it´s just not the kind of meaning that I´m looking for in the world these days, and I think a lot of people are the same way.

We need a religion to counter the actual imperial world religion of materialism. Mammon is the true God ruling the planet these days. I´m guessing when Mammon fails to serve us, and humans need other explanations for why things are the way they are, we´ll see a new interpretation of the old symbols. And let´s hope the virgin, this time around, gets a more respectable seat in the pantheon.


At 1:17 AM, Anonymous wanda said...

i believe the incense used in the catholic church is copal,although they may use more than one kind

At 1:42 AM, Blogger Ste. Goldie said...

i'm sorry i'm not actually reading your blog and since i just realized that these posts are from 3 years ago i am going to say this:

i thought that priest was loading a giant bong.


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