Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Rock of ages

Chloe can’t stop thinking about the Pope. Or, more specifically, the Pope’s feet. The way they stuck out from the end of the shroud as he lay in state – his right foot slightly to the right while the left stuck straight up. It made John Paul (she feels she can call him “John Paul”) vulnerable in a way that has her weeping, sometimes uncontrollably.

Chloe is not Catholic, in fact, she has some serious problems with the Catholic church, yet she is drawn to its sense of ritual. Chloe loves a good ritual. She likes feeling connected.

In Los Angeles, Chloe studies Jewish mysticism. She is known as a quiet and serious student. She is quiet and serious because she doesn’t want her classmates to know that she is not Jewish. On Friday evenings, she shuts her door, lights a candle, puts a shawl on her head, and says a prayer. She can’t sit and do nothing the rest of the weekend, but the prayers feel good.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

One Friday a month Chloe goes to chanting yoga. In the hot, hot room when those around her are chanting Maha Mantras, Chloe whispers the Lord’s prayer. It’s what she knows, what comforts her.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

In New York she goes to St. John’s. No matter how hot the day, it feels cool in the church. She doesn’t genuflect because she doesn’t know how and feels it might signal her as a non-Catholic. What she does is light candles – she puts a dollar in the tin box and lights a candle – for her dead mother, and another for her friend who died of AIDS, and another for her grandparents, also dead, and then – with a sense of excitement that comes from tempting fate – she lights one for herself.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

More than anything in the world, Chloe wants a connection to God and a sense of purpose. Chloe has been looking for this her entire life. Not finding it is pissing her off.

Chloe has a deep-rooted metaphysical anger that speaks to a lack, the things we are not, the missing pieces, the holes in our souls we try to hide. The lack that circles around and becomes religion.

Chloe is angry and not just in the ways that everyone living in cities is angry – at late trains, crowded freeways, SUVs, and impossibly stupid people. And not just in the ways that everyone with a blue sensibility is angry – at redneck government, at escalating violence, at racism and brutality masquerading as democracy, at out-of-control, thinly masked material lust. Chloe used to think of her country as Gregory Peck – possessed of dignity and good will, if occasionally overblown. Now she recognizes her country as Chris Farley: sweaty and red-faced, killing itself with its own appetites.

Chloe has a secret – she is a born-again Christian. This also makes her angry – she is angry at being embarrassed by her faith; angry that her religion has been stolen by the Right, making her beliefs synonymous with crazy. She is angry that her religion is the faith of politics.

For 30 years, she’s turned her back on it. And looked for God in other places.

Chloe feels God: In the breeze in the high birch trees, in her memories of her mother, in laughter. Chloe feels God but worries that God doesn’t feel her. She is a conflicted Christian: She believes in Heaven, but not in Hell. She believes in the resurrection, but not in Adam and Eve. She is pro-choice and anti-death penalty. She believes everyone should marry who they want and have the right to end their lives when illness or misery become too much. After reading that sin is defined as a separation from God, she thought of the Pope’s feet.

Her separation from God makes her cry. She cries over women in Africa, over soldiers in Iraq, over prisoners in every part of the world. She cries over violence in schools, homeless animals, her own faithlessness.

Most of all, Chloe cries because her place in the world, as a modern woman, grounded in science and left-wing politics and fashion, in cynicism and fatalism and sarcasm, leaves her no outlet for her grief: Over the loss of her religion Over her need for a sacred connection

More than anything in the world, Chloe wants what was promised her: A transcendent experience, baptismal waters, eternal life, and a sense of well-being that surpasses the everyday.

So she keeps looking. Getting up, getting out, applying lipstick, facing the world.

This is part of Chloe’s ritual.

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