There are birds trapped behind the ceiling panels above my co-worker’s office, and when they call out it sounds like violent gusts of wind. Even little brown birds, the ones you usually see on the sidewalk or pecking at breadcrumbs at Panera, want their freedom and they want it now.
I’ve been thinking about religion, and wondering why my heart has never ‘taken’ to any of the western religions. But digging deeper, if you held me down and pressed Eastern religion against my neck, I would kick them off of me, too. Christianity is technically a near-Eastern faith. It was born in the sand and travelled, not always peacefully, across the Mediterranean and into the thick forests above. There are more ancient and orthodox methods, but we don’t hear about them often. In America, even the old crocodile gods and totems have been mainly silenced and buried. Evangelical preachers and the modern priests don’t share the Jesus who was dirty, and feral, and fierce and frightening of mouth. They ignore the fact that he smelled of sweat, spices, and dirty linen. He might not be invited into many of the sprawling mega churches today. He’d be wearing a stained t-shirt, and worn jeans, and would be offering the tomatoes from the church’s vegetable garden to the neighborhood homeless.
Wait. I’m making assumptions. I know there are places that would pull him in, and want to hose him off and give him something warm and nourishing to eat. Generalizations, even my own (especially my own) are a special brand of green poison. Believe what you will. I choose to believe in it all.
Buddhism is spreading, and why would it not? There are pretty stone statues, and a distinct lack of blood. Much of what I remember about church is the talk of blood: life blood, drinking blood, blood dripping from Jesus’s wounds. My natural reaction to blood is aversion, so it’s no wonder I’ve always gravitated more to the quiet stone statues of Buddhism, and the acrobatic brass deities of Hinduism (especially Krishna, he of the eternal blue hard-on).
Buddha knew blood in life, he knew suffering and pain, but its hard holds little blood. To Westerners who are weary of war, and were in wars themselves, this can be a peaceful alternative. The only thing I worry about is that the female will be erased once these other religions find their way to the mainstream, which is what has happened in a lot of Christian churches. Mary has been relegated to a small nod at Christmas and Mother ‘s Day. She has been dressed in a soft blue cardigan sweater; her dark hair has been curled and pressed. Jesus gives her a small box wrapped with pink paper and a satin ribbon, and inside is a coffee mug with the words Mary or Mom painted on the front of the mug, with purple puff paint. She is no longer the small, strong little warrior, and He is no longer the mystic with the piercing eyes. Flannery O’Connor described Jesus as a sort of madman ducking behind trees in the woods. A primal force, a feral god. I like that.
Maybe we, as artists and writers, have to take back the deities that we love. We need to take away the vanilla ice cream that they’re floating in and dip them again in olives and figs. We need to acknowledge their ancient natures, their animal spirits, and the golden lion fur and cotton-white sheep wool that curls up their thin brown legs. We need to force ourselves out and away from the walled-in institution, and into the sky and the mountains.
We need to flap our ragged, cramped wings furiously, like the birds that are trapped in the ceiling above my head, and shout out the truth that we feel in our hearts.