Sunday, March 28, 2010

"the past becomes present"

Today it is Palm Sunday among the Christians who predominate in the country where I live. Palm Sunday crops up every year one week before the celebration of Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus. Somewhere between Palm Sunday and Easter, Jesus was crucified.

History and mythology merge in these events said to have occurred two thousand years ago.

On this particular Palm Sunday, the Roman Catholic pope, perhaps the most visible Christian, finds himself in hot water because of the pedophile priests his church and perhaps he himself covered for in the past.

As Jesus is remembered in his execution, so the past of the Catholic church is remembered as well. The past becomes present ... what a strange phrase that is -- "the past becomes present."

A friend of mine used to quip, "No good deed goes unpunished." And I think it's true. Good deeds, bad deeds -- we might all like to believe in reward or retribution, but nothing is ever lost or absent or past. It simply is not possible.

I know, I know ... it may not be possible, but it's not for lack of trying. Good deeds, bad deeds, past and present -- if we didn't name things, how could we sort things out?

Last night, I was watching "Gangs of New York," a 2002 movie about Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1863. One of the threads of the movie was the draft riots of the time. The poor were conscripted to fight in the Civil War, while the well-to-do could buy their way out for $300, a princely sum. The poor revolted and went on a rampage ... a rampage that was put down by the empowered's enforcers, the military and police.

Leaving aside the white-whining and outrage and finger-pointing, when has it ever been different? What is established tends to look with disfavor or distrust on that which is not yet established. Historically this seems to be true ... but I think it is also true in the heart:

Hard-won experience clings to what it has learned or earned or established with so much effort, some of it criminal, perhaps: I am a Christian; I have a house; I overcame obstacles to arrive where I am ... and now someone or something is threatening to crucify my historically established mind? Call out the military! Call out the police! Call out the beliefs! Call out the religions! Call out the philosophy! Call out the history! Call out the praise and blame ... quick! bring in reinforcements! No upstart doubt or uncertainty will rampage through my streets, threatening to destroy what I hold dear ... a past so hard-won.

Well, I have a harder time explaining things these days. But I do think it is worth some reflection: Are we not all, right this minute, the history we claim to revere or look back on? How could it be otherwise -- in all directions, the history we call past is what we are actually living. And the only disconnect is that we somehow think things are disconnected ... that there was a time when Jesus got nailed to the cross or was resurrected or that priests diddled little boys with damning effect or that yesterday could somehow be separated in some way from right this minute. OK, bring out the Buddhists and their "dependent origination," but when anyone gets more serious than the established names and histories, I think it's worth checking out.

Everything infuses everything else ... what an idiotic thing to say, especially since it's simply true. It may make a lovely little temple in the mind, be quite inspiring ... OK, temples are nice places. But temples fall down, so it might be worth realizing the truth instead of just speaking it.

Things are a lot lighter when things are less freighted with established meaning and importance and improvement and church bells ... though I have to admit I'm a sucker for church bells.

Suckers get crucified every time.

Lucky for us there's resurrection, assuming we're willing to open our eyes.

Or, as Rinzai put it, "Grasp and use, but never name."

The past becomes present?????

Get real!

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