Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jeremiah was a Bullfrog (revisited)

This is a slightly edited 're-run' - but I'm including this post because, coincidentally, during the past month I've heard from a few people I knew in youth. World War II and baby boom babies - this one's for you (us.) :)

As my readers know, I have no fondness for frogdom, and indeed think that John the Divine had a point when he spoke of evil spirits coming forth as same. No, that just happened to be the beginning of song "Joy to the World," which just came up on my CD player. The time has come, once again, when I must dose myself with a plentiful amount of rock music from the 1960s-70s. I spent nearly two hours last night, dosing myself with Bob Dylan, for example. I also did not realise two Sundays ago, when I (uncharacteristically) attended a small eight o'clock service at a very formal church, that, when we came to the point of exchanging the Peace (in this spread out and small group), that I flashed the old peace sign (the one that resembled Winston Churchill's V for Victory... don't I wish peace could be seen as victory...), perhaps to the astonishment of the staid crowd.

With my young adults years having been the 'what's your sign?' era, I'll note that I was born with both sun and ascendant in Capricorn (moon in Pisces, in case anyone is taking notes - that's where I get the romantic side), and as a double Cappy I am entitled to be born old and live backwards, somewhat after the fashion of Merlin and with that troublesome moon making me even more inclined, at heart, to the magical. :) I also shall share the recollection that, old though I was in my teens, I once took a modern dance class, and ended up performing to "Joy to the World" (yes, the one that begins with Jeremiah) - in hot pants, no less. Then as now, I was the most awkward of creatures - and even then I was no sylph - but I was enough of a free spirit at heart not to care if I danced like rather an unbalanced trained seal.

When I was in my young adult years, priests and Religious of the generation before mine (who'd had an equally awkward time, coming to maturity in the age of twin sets and formality, and then trying desperately to be cool and relevant in a period when people were psyched out on... more than incense and innocence) occasionally tried to draw in the young. It worked, to some extent, because some universities and parishes which had basements where it was possible to sit on the floor for Mass and receive communion to "My Sweet Lord - Alleluia, Hare Krishna" catered to the youth culture of the time. One favourite 'meditation' technique was to seek Christ through Modern Music. Some over-enthusiastic sorts, who'd begin sermons with "How ya doin'?", would speak about or write of how lyrics to popular songs set forth the Christian message. (The congregation would be in awe, loving, everyone joining hands... but sometimes would look as if they were on drugs, which half of them undoubtedly were.) I once remember a highly innocent novice mistress, who somehow heard an obscure John Denver selection, and thought that 'talk of poems, prayers, and promises, and things that we believe in' would make a lovely selection for reception day. I can still remember my embarrassment at having to explain to her what it meant to 'pass the pipe around.'

Naive I am, but I have a certain native sense, and I thought then (and think now) that half of those inspirational lyrics were about sex and drugs. However, now that I am well into middle age, and years of an unconventional but intense life of prayer have had their effect, I shall concede that, even when I am listening to rock music (as I am right now), a lyric here or there will remind me of some aspect of the Christian life, so bear with me if I accidentally type any of them...

Saving up your money for a rainy day, giving all your clothes to charity,
Last night the wife said, oh boy when you're dead,
You don't take nothing with you but your soul, Think!

I'm tempted to add that the refrain more than expresses my feelings on some days, but I have the good taste not to add its lyrics here... (Believe it or not, when one has devoted decades to a Church-centred life, one could sing that lyric with particular gusto.)

How very innocent I was then (I still am - I've just lived longer.) I admired those who could step out of the mainstream - not care for convention - risk security to seek peace and love - and so forth. (I still would admire this, since, much as I walk my own path, the fear of not having basic security has hampered me.) Promiscuity held no appeal for me, and my earnest mindset was such that I could have plenty of both highs and bad trips without any help from drugs, so I had no inclination there as well. But I was radical in many ways, and indeed still am. (It never occurred to this working class kid that many of those who were 'dropping out' of society did not have the slightest need to fear whether they'd have a roof over their heads tomorrow...)

And I work in his factory, and I curse the life I'm living,
and I curse my poverty, and I wish that I could be Richard Cory.

Note that Simon and Garfunkel wisely included a repetition of this refrain even after the final verse, in which we learn that Richard Cory put a bullet through his head. Telling, that.

Sorry, the oddest passages from CDs are coming forth at inopportune times. I still am very much into 'peace and love,' and rather sad that many of my own generation have become very conservative, and quite devoid of a social conscience. (That Richard Cory puts a bullet in his head underlines that wealth does not mean joy... but anyone who has had the dreadful jobs I had, even after I had a doctoral degree, has cursed the life and the poverty. Francis of Assisi, pray for us...)

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end - we'd sing and dance forever and a day... Oh, my friends, we're older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same. Actually, I wish that were true universally - it still is for yours truly.

The other man's grass is always greener,
The sun shines brighter on the other side.

Yes, Petula, point taken.

You're my first love, you're my last; you're my future, you're my past... all I'll ever need is you.
No, Elizabeth, stop right now - no sentimentality to that degree! Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

How about "I don't care too much for money - money can't buy me love?" (Actually, when I was in my twenties that well might have been heard at a 'youth liturgy.' Little did I know the kids who were non-conformists to the most drastic degree had trust funds...)

My religious path has been far from conventional. It started out rather like a love affair - and I was never a sort for groups, but a more private, retiring sort, who prayed in silence. (That this was not an era when discernment was valued, and that my loving but misguided heart led me to a temporary Gnosticism I have treated elsewhere.) It was later that I would still believe avidly, yet see God as unknowable even if Incarnate... and discover that those of us who are not well-suited to an Establishment, however defined, have to deal with loneliness and isolation, and the pain of being misunderstood when we would ache for love and respect.

No, I am not on a whinge fest! I suppose I am laying bare a bit of what it is like to be a burnt idealist - one whose ideals are no less strong, but who has reached the blushing point of admitting that much of the spiritual life is just 'going through the motions.' I'm not suggesting for a moment that this does not mean genuine belief or devotion. But there are no ecstatic moments, no piercing insights, no elation - just going on with the liturgy - and leaning on wisdom that goes back to the fourth century hermits (and what a crowd of hippies they were!) and psalms that are far older.

Since I've shown my cynical side (standard equipment for burnt idealists) in this post, I must lighten it just a bit with a funny story. (This anecdote is perfectly true, though some of you may think it is dramatic licence. I can assure you that I could never make up anything like this...) I'm remembering, c. 1969, when my cousins' son was baptised. It was a 1969 special: conducted in their home, with a candle in the shape of a peace sign. Believe it or not, as a gesture of communal fellowship or something, everyone joined in a popular song - my cousin would tell me later she only thought of this one because it was a chart topper and this happened to be a very rainy day. Yes - they all sang "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head." It is three times as amusing because the proud parents, who at that time considered listening to the Godspell record at breakfast to be wonderful alternative worship, were completely unaware of the humour of using such a song at a baptism!

From Godspell, not the hymnal: Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways... See you later, I'm going to the front of the the-A-tre... Sigh! One old acquaintance reminded me of when I performed that, though I hadn't thought of it in years. :)

Pray for me, my readers. :) Peace and love.