An Ex Catholic Goes to Confession

 

This poem may still be in the midst of the editorial process. I don’t really know for sure. I like this version, and I think it’s fun to read out loud. I’ve been struggling a little bit lately because I feel that poetry is really best shared out loud more than on a page, or at least that there needs to be some greater dimension of interaction between the writer, the material, and the reader. So, I’ve been using social media such as Instagram and Snapchat to share. The trouble this time is that those platforms are designed for shorter messages than this. Hmm… always experimenting. Always learning.

In case you’d rather read the poem yourself, here’s the full text.

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. 
I haven't been to confession since
the fifth grade. 
I came here to confess that I have
left behind every scrap 
of faith I ever had
and I wish to account for it. 
I want you to know that I prayed to your god
and I told him what I was going to do
and he did not stop me.
I knelt twice a week at the feet of that poor man
and sculpted his ribs with my eyes
and untied in my mind
the shred of cloth at his hips. 
I had his blood on my lips
and he did not ask me to stay. 
Sweet child of a man, he rolled his eyes
to God and prayed himself away
so you could take his name in vain -- but
he did not ask me to stay. 
I want you to know that I don’t miss
the Sunday morning fashion show or your
admonitions or the hypnotic repetition
of unthinking prayers in our
monotone drone -- worker bees stoned 
on incense and wine, 
keeping an empty ritual just to fill the time
repeating the spell of our own binding
I believe I believe I believe
we loved our endless litany
of saints and sins all taken in 
the legato of suburban life. 
I want you to know that in the desert outside your home
where you said I’d be alone, I found
an ocean of love like you’ve never known
and I dove right the fuck in and it was good. 
And out here, none of us are who you said we were. 
We are so much more. 
I want you to know I’m going away, 
and I’m not coming back. 

I probably will do a bit of editing, and I’ll maybe change the first line since it doesn’t create quite the tone I want to start with. I don’t actually seek forgiveness, as the poet or as the speaker of this poem, so I find that line misleading and a little cliched. The reason I’ve kept it this way so far is that I don’t know exactly what I want to change it to and that I was trained with great emphasis as a child that all confessions were supposed to start that way. I’ll let it rest for now and see what comes up with a little time.

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Spiritual Anarchy and Fallen Gurus

Anarchy Flower (detail)
Yep, we’re going there.
The yoga community has seen an awful lot of corruption in the past few years, and I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

Bikram Choudhury was recently accused of rape, and his teachings in general have long been a source of conflict in the yoga community. Kausthub Desikachar has been revealed as an abusive sociopath and disavowed by his teachers. John Friend has apparently committed fraud and alienated most of his students. Some would say these are sad times we live in, but I say: Welcome to reality.

Yoga teachers or any other type of teachers are not enlightened beings sent to earth to show you the way. We experience lust, fear, confusion, and all those other complicated human emotions. And we can be corrupted. Absolutely anyone with any amount of power or influence over others is capable of becoming too comfortable and too greedy.

We know that the practice of yoga can give people incredible mental and physical benefits, that we feel more peaceful when we practice and so on, but that doesn’t mean we become perfect. Never assume that anyone, even the most saintly teacher, is perfect. Never blindly follow. Open your eyes and consider what you are being told and reject what doesn’t ring true.

Lots of leaders and teachers in every field (politics, religion, and even science) try to boost their own authority by essentially invalidating your perceptions. They say, “I know better than you, and you should listen to me without question.” That way of teaching is dangerous because while it may impart some valuable ideas, it also invalidates the student’s primary source of knowledge — herself.

The Catholic church says if you don’t accept all the official beliefs of the church you’re not really Catholic. Of course, I know plenty Catholics who pick and choose which of the church’s teachings are most helpful and applicable in their lives, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. They practice birth control. They accept their gay children. They don’t go to church every Sunday. That’s ok in my mind. It’s their religion, and they get to practice it the way they want.

Yoga is the same way. You get to decide what you believe and how to practice it. If a teacher tells you some philosophy that doesn’t jive with your reality, ignore it. If you’re asked to do a pose that doesn’t work in your body, simply decline. This is your life, and you get to live it.

I guess you could say I believe in a certain kind of anarchy. We participate in society to prevent mob rule, but it’s essential that we do not become sheep, too easily lead to slaughter. There is no person who has real moral authority over you. No teacher, preacher or political leader has any moral authority that you cannot have over yourself. All of them can be wrong and should be subject to frequent questioning.

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White Smoke

B&W Rosary
White smoke rising. As everyone in the world knows by today, it means there’s a new Pope. I was raised in the church, attended 14 years of Catholic schooling (pre-k through 12), and at age 15 decided I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in God, but what the church taught didn’t jive with what I believed God was like, so I set out to find a better religion. I ditched anything mainstream right away because I felt the need to rebel completely, to almost wash myself of my old beliefs. I started studying Wicca, but it didn’t ring true for me. I definitely liked the ideas about being connected to nature, but I felt that its answers as to the nature of the universe beyond earth were not sufficient. I began to call myself pagan in a general sense, while I tried to study every religion I could. Eventually, I stopped calling myself anything but a “seeker.”

My beliefs about God and the nature of the universe are constantly evolving, and they now incorporate little bits of truth that I pickup wherever I can. And I’m very happy with this continuing change. But sometimes, like today, I look back at the church and almost wish I could believe again. (My inner critic is telling me you are all going to hate me for being so weak as to admit this.) The truth is, life was easier when people told me what to believe, and beloning to the church was a source of comfort.

I remember defending the church’s sexist teachings about women. This was all before I even heard of priests molesting children. Our media refers to this as a “sex scandal.” No, sex scandals happen between politicians and prostitutes. The catholic church’s greatest crime is systematic child abuse, and we look the other way because to really address this head on would be to admit that the church is a purely human construct and we have been beating ourselves to death because we can’t live by the rules of a bunch of grumpy old perverts, or as Stephen Fry called them, sexual bulimics. Even if I could believe in the teachings of the church again, I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the abuse.

And still. And still. And still.

When I heard there was white smoke yesterday, I felt something. My inner seventh grader who still wishes the world followed the elegant flow chart of morality laid out by the Catechism, glanced up hopefully from her rosary.

“Just maybe,” she thought. “If I keep praying.”

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hello kitty and my mortality

Hello Kitty Invite Front

I love tattoos. I love them so much. I love chicks with tattoos — they’re so cool looking.

I have a few tattoos, but I intentionally got them in places where they could be hidden — first because I was a kid living with my parents and didn’t want to see the look on my poor mom’s face when she saw it, and later because I  had to have a job and was worried about what prospective employers might think. But I recently committed what some would call career suicide by walking away from a perfectly good (yet perfectly boring, mind-numbing, and soul-sucking) job to pursue something I haven’t even fully defined yet. Personally, I think accepting that job in the first place felt like suicide. But this? This feels like resurrection. And yes, it provides opportunities and freedoms that I’ve been wanting for some time. That includes tattooing.

Now that I have the freedom to do it, I’m at risk of going off the deep end. I already wanted this circuit heart on my forearm and was thinking of using some of my sister’s art work to create a half sleeve. Plus, I want the first yoga sutra somewhere, probably on my back so I don’t have to constantly answer curious people who want to know what it means. I don’t like explaining myself, especially to strangers.

All these tattoos have some personal significance in addition to the aesthetic appeal. However, the other day, I got my first impulse to get a tattoo just because. And you won’t believe what it is … it’s kind awful.

I want the Hello Kitty logo from the Sanrio store bag.

Yes.

In pink.

Sooooo cute, right? Also totally awful, right? Ugh. I’m completely torn. I mean, who does that?

Hipster kids do it in Brooklyn and Austin, and I’m not one of them, not that I’m a hipster hater but that I sincerely am not that cool … or that young. I turn 30 in a few months. I’m too old to get a tattoo that’s ironic or “just because.” I’m too close to that age at which things actually start to wrinkle and sag, and as much as my ingrained insecurities already have me critiquing my flabby bits, just think about 10 years from now. I’ll be 40. FORTY!

Hello Kitty

You can’t have a Hello Kitty tattoo when you’re 40. Except that, actually, you can. I can. And no one can stop me. They can judge me all they want, but I should be used to that by now. That is, I fully expect to be judged for everything I do, say, and think (oh, hello there, Catholic schooling!) so I might as well do fun stuff. Why not get tattoos?

There is a long pause in the writing here where I take several swigs of my drink and chew my pen thoughtfully.

This isn’t really about tattoos and Catholic guilt, though. It never is. If it were that simple, I’d be covered by now.

It’s about permanence and impermanence, I guess. Sorry to get deep on you without warning, but you’ll learn to expect this from me. You see, I have this idea that I will be forever young. Like most people (I think), I still see myself as some sort of timeless adult-child hybrid. I’m still the same person I was pre-puberty, but with years and experience added — I leveled up. And now that I’ve earned the right to do, say, and be whatever I like, to wear my skin however I want, I’m faced with the cold reality that this canvas won’t last forever.

Mortality’s a bitch.

When I picture that forearm tattoo, I think of it on my grandmother’s arm — her skin like paper that’s been crumpled up and smoothed out again. The last years of her life, she stayed indoors all the time. After growing up on a farm and raising five kids in a noisy little house, she grew ghostly pale alone in her silent home. She never even pierced her ears. Her skin was unmarked and white as her hair. I imagine my circuit heart on her arm. I can’t let that image go. One day, it will be wrinkled, faded and blurred. And then one day it won’t matter.

Except that it will. Because it’s mine.


Hello Kitty Tattoo

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against martyrdom

Against Martyrdom by Durght

Our friend the martyr is finally
making his ultimate sacrifice.

May he choose to embrace the afterlife
and go on free as a ghost.

The myths the myths the myths are meaningless.
Don’t set yourself on fire, girl, just because the witches did.

The myths the myths the myths — They don’t stand on their own.
They are fingers pointing at the moon; not who we’re meant to be.

If I could tell you one thing, give you one gift,
it would be the knowledge:
this
is
it.

You get one shot.
You get one shot.
You get one shot.

Take a good look at the altar where you’ve lain your heart.
Look closely at the dagger poised for crude dissection.
And where will the blood drain?
To whose fertile fields will it fall?
And where will you be when the crops grow? And who will they feed?

If I could give you one thing,
a gift too great for me to give,
it would be this:
the nerve to live.

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