Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Fall is typically a gnarly time for me. I read The Revelation of St. John The Divine in the fall of my 12th year, and I don't think I ever really recovered from that. Confront a healthy, cared-for child with historical record, and he will imagine himself into the scenario and come up with ways to deal with it. Confront the same child with prophecy, and all bets are off.

When read existentially, the Revelation presents itself as a future history. The gods are very much alive, but they are not well; they are, in fact, rabid. Their Father is unrolling the final scroll of history, and He's going to deal with this scourge for once and for all, but it never really sounds as if His chief concern is with humanity. In fact, the significance of humanity is actually somewhat questionable.

This canvas has no space for a developing ego to assert/insert itself. Adolescents aren't prepared for that sort of “paradigm shift.” There is nothing to shift to: it's a paradigm eviscerator.

I couldn't snap out of my panic. I paced the house. I stayed awake, trying to hatch some sort of escape plan. I worried my parents. I generously shared my torments with my younger siblings. One night, my mother finally had enough of this. She ordered me out of the house and to the church basement, where my father was holding a Bible study.

I crept in and took a seat among the grown-ups. No-one seemed to think this was strange — they continued their conversation as if I were one of them. I can't recall the text being discussed, but it was generating questions from these men and women. I gradually got a picture of adults who were worried for family members: children, parents, distant relatives. Adults who didn't have complete control over their environment and who were anxious.

It was a strange night, but it calmed me down. I loved the fact that these adults — grown men in their suits and ties, women with an imperious sense of humor — were uncertain. I didn't feel so alien and utterly alone, which was proving to be my chief source of anxiety.

This was my first experience of sanctuary. It happened in a church, so that's one significant reason why I still go.


DarkoV said...

All I can say is that I was luckily raised in the rote confines of the Baltimore Catechism which was awful if you had an inquisitive mind and actually sought defensible answers from religious text (or as the Nuns used to call us, we, who were bold as brass and twice as brazen) but was great if visions of apocalypse were not what you had in mind holding in your brain for the rest of your life.
I can't imagine the sheer terror you must have held inside for so long. Not conducive for the care-free days of kid-dom, for sure.

These days, when you are in church on Sundays, do you listen to the sermons or do you simply meditate within the confines of the protective walls? And if it's mainly the latter, are the fires and dooms of St. John's Revelations still the main focus for thought?

Whisky Prajer said...

Re: sermons, it depends entirely on who is doing the sermonizing. Our current pastor has a way of thinking that tends to stimulate thought in me, so I'm usually quite attentive to her. As for Revelations, its intrusion is so deep in my consciousness that when it starts to howl or bark I'm usually working out some way of incorporating its noise into a healthier form of music (hopefully this metaphor makes sense).

Actually, since we're talking about sermons: I have a friend who says the most surefire way of staying awake at the wheel is to listen to right-wing talk radio. He says he gets so angry at all the bluster and hatred that he couldn't possibly doze off. Mind you, the downside is it also tends to affect his sleep once he's reached his destination.

DarkoV said...

Re: your friend's radio listening methodology to avoid driving off cliffs.
I hope his heart is strong, his nerves steady, and his arteries un-clogged. Personally, I feel my gaskets are at the bursting level when I listen to Limbaugh and all of the other wing-nuts. Any right-wing radio playing in the car would most probably end up with yours truly suffering heart seizures and/or brain explosions.
I can't listen to our beloved president's voice for more than a few sentences, before I'm speaking in inappropriate tongues. When is 2008 coming??

paul bowman said...

I kind of envy you this unsettling memory, I have to say. I never experienced a terrorizing discovery of Revelation, because the squirrelly post-War/Cold War-inflected imagery of an imminent seven years' Tribulation w/ preceding Rapture & succeeding Millenial kingdom thought to be drawn from the book were essential elements of religious narrative, for me, from early childhood & through adolescence. The book & the whole interpretive structure it belonged to were supposed to illuminate, in a fairly simple way (complicated tables & timeliness notwithstanding), the blessedness of being saved & having a special purpose in the dying world. Seems to me there was an implicit notion, incidental to this, that one of the exalted goals of investment in knowing your Bible lay in being able to draw out all the esoteric interrelations between Daniel's vision in the Old Testament & John's in the New. — Silly stuff. Jesus the Lord, Jesus the Lamb, looms large there in a succession of caricature portrayals, and yet somehow is ever receding into the background. (Background of a story that's evidently about me/us, after all, & my/our admirable steadfastness — worthiness, even.)

Less bothered by this strangeness in my upbringing than I used to be, though. The Bible's an exceedingly harsh, exceedingly wonderful composition throughout, unique in its unfolding in time; naturally we don't know what we're doing with it. Devotion to it very often (maybe always?) leads, somewhere along the line, to some sort of denial of it. And still — even in being denied — it spreads, it flares, it incites, everywhere, with Salvation & Judgment, Judgment & Salvation. Wisdom & foolishness, hope & threat utterly fused & interwoven — and so set loose in history, seemingly, that the subtler we get at explaining, containing, & outgrowing it & its effects, the more corners it turns up in, near at hand & around the world, past & present, showing us our meaning & disturbing our peace. It should scare us.

And better perhaps to find it terrible at twelve than to go on (like me) for much longer under the sleepy impression that if you'll just read it the appropriate way, it always comes to something about you (with those like you), basically, and your chance at a little satisfaction in this world, with bonus in the next.

dan h. said...

I was taught that my preaching should either bring inspiration.... or rest. I honestly believe there are numbers of people more in need of an hour of rest come Sunday than an hour of inspiration. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - I feel your pain. In fact, most of the world feels your pain. We watch and wait for some candidate who can step forward and say, "It's a God-awful mess we're in, but I've got a plan that just might work." What we see, instead, are all the usual prevarications. Bleah.

PB - I think I know where you're coming from (once Scripture becomes manageable, it can be dismissed) but I really don't wish this sort of experience on anyone. This is very irrational of me, but I don't even regard my original reading of Revelation as a memory. Memories are something a person can gain some perspective on, over time. I have all sorts of unpleasant memories that I've come to grips with, meting out forgiveness where I need to, acknowledging emotional wounds, etc. That really hasn't happened here. It's an emotional intrusion with a character of its own that defies definition and management.

A friend of mine was exposed to Blatty's The Exorcist at a *very* tender age. We've compared notes and drawn a few similarities. There are some things that children are simply not equipped to handle, and I think a great deal of the Bible falls into that category. Jesus' talk about the millstone also applies to the Sunday school teacher with a jones for apocalyptica.

Dan-O - surely you don't have that many parishioners dozing off?!