My normal reaction, so far in life, to a book summarized as written by a priest describing his spiritual journey is to stick my fingers in my ears and sing "la-la-la-la-la" very loudly until the book went away. I've spent the majority of my life soundly rejecting religion and all things pious.
But the older I get, and the more I listen to other people with similar opinions, the more I think that most hardlined anti-religious people can be as dogmatic as hardlined religious people. The more I witness people shutting their ears the minute the word "God" is uttered, the more I feel the same disgust as when I witness people swaying in their belief that salvation can only be in the form of Jesus-loving.
Shutting down one's brain the instant of the suggestion that there is a god is as stupid as believing that non-believers are automatically going to hell.
The more I feel this way, the more I start listening to people. And the more I listen, the more I realize that people are essentially the same. Everyone believes something, and most people in
something, and most people have a logic to their beliefs.
Anyway, since I'm no longer dogmatic myself, I am no longer terrified that the mere act of reading about a Catholic's spiritual journey is going going to convince me of anything, or taint my non-believer status, or make other people think that I believe in any particular canon.
So, I read this book.
Mostly because I want to walk the Camino, and I want to read about others' experiences.
It was a good book. I anticipate that this book has given me a sense of what I might experience when I walk the Camino, but also, I am suddenly not afraid of my Catholic heritage. Reading this gentle author's very first hand musings (no preachings), I am opened up to the possibility that priests are not the devil or should be automatically deemed blockheaded idiots. Actually, this priest's spiritual journey on the Camino reminded me that everyone is human, no one has
to be perfect in their actions or beliefs, and, actually, I could use a little feeling-one-with-something myself.
I've been nurturing a nagging inkling lately that since I'm going on the Camino anyway, maybe I should try some of the Catholicism that is available on the walk. You know...since I'm going to be there anyway. Maybe I should use the trek as an experimental time - open my mind and heart wide open to Catholicism, just for a short time. And at the end of the walk I can go right back to my current state, if I want to.
These are the thoughts that this book generated for me. I'm glad I read it, and I'm looking forward to walking the Way.
One of the scenes in the book that caught me off-guard was the author's notion that the cross is a symbol of God's wide-stretched, welcoming arms.
For me, the cross always symbolized martyrdon, and while my deepest disgust is directed toward hypocrites, my 2nd most hated segment of the human population are martyrs. I always felt that martyrs put un-asked for obligations on their devotees, and that a portion of their acts are done out of vanity.
Martyrs remind me of my cousin - This is a guy who bought a St Bernard puppy, then promptly abandoned it athis sister's house in order to traipse around the world. But his abandonment was ok because the reason he couldn't take care of the dog was that he was going to live on a (terrorist) ship to save the endangered sharks or sea cucmbers or some shit. Everybody oohed and aahed over how he was saving the world by jamming his ship into whaling ships. So the abandonment of the puppy was forgotten. Eventually he settled back on land. But, of courxse, by this time no one could really expect him to take the dog back. After all, the dog was emotionally attached to his sister.
Then, when his sister couldn't take care of the dog one minute longer (she never wanted the thing), and forces him to take it or she would drop it off at the pound, what else could he do but pick it up?
Not long after, the dog got very sick - as St Bernards are apt to do. But - here's the kicker - when the family tells the story of how the dog had to be put down, the story was all about how my cousin was there, stroking the dog's head every second as it died. POOR COUSIN!
When I heard the story, I wanted to punch my cousin. How is it that this poor dog had a crappy life at the hands of my cousin, yet when it died, IT'S STILL ALL ABOUT MY COUSIN???
This is what martyrdon has always been about, as far as I was concerned.
So it always pissed me off that I was expected to be GRATEFUL for Jesus dying for my soul. And it pissed me off even more to be manipulated into feeling this way by being subjected to images of awful, miserable suffering, and starvation on the cross, let alone the pain it must have inflicted to be nailed to one. Fuckin A, what kind of asshole would not spend his days dedicated toward witnessing the glory of someone who would do ALL THAT for YOU?
I guess what it comes down to, is I hate being manipulated.
But here's the thing: No one ever suggested that the cross might be a symbol of acceptance and welcome. I had never heard that the cross was ever anything but a scare and shame tactic. That it might be a "come with me" rather than a "give up your life thanking me".
And once I read that notion in this book.....wow. Suddenly everything else I so dogmatically took for granted as disgusting and manipulative in religion is open to inspection too. Maybe I just haven't been listening.