st. simeon. the original performance artist? hmmmm.
when i read the initial description of st. simeon in the 12 days of christmas, i thought maybe he was banished to a platform as punishment. but no. he seeked it out.
so here’s what happened with sim. (can i call him sim? i’ll call him sim.) sim was the son of a shepherd, born in present-day turkey. he became enthralled with christianity at the age of 13 after reading the beatitudes and entered a monastery before the age of 16. he was so obsessed and extravagant that the monks deemed him unsuited to community life and kicked him out.
so he shut himself up in a hut for a year and a half and spent the whole of lent without eating or drinking. (i find this hard to believe.) he came out and it was hailed a miracle. (miracle or not, 40 days with no drink or food=death.) then, from that point forward, he decided he would only stand as long as his legs would support him. no sitting for this diehard.
sim wanted some more extremes, so he decided to live on a narrow rocky outcrop on a mountain, but crowds of people sought him out to ask advice and for his prayers, which annoyed him because he couldn’t pray. so he decided to run away.
he found a pillar in modern-day syria and placed a small platform on top of it. local boys would climb up the pillar with flatbreads and goats milk.
now of course some monastics wanted to know if he was doing this out of actual humility or out of pride. if he obeyed an order to come down, they decided that he was humble and would leave him on the pillar. he obeyed, so he got to stay.
the first pillar he was on was about nine feet high, and the last one he was on was more than 50 feet off the ground. his platform was believed to be about a meter square (a little bit longer than 3’x3′) and surrounded by a railing.
sim stayed there day and night, summer and winter, standing or doing a yogic forward fold. and people still came to him. he decided to be available each afternoon to talk with visitors who climbed a ladder to speaking distance. he wrote letters and preached against profanity and high-interest loans. (??????)
people were so enthralled that a double wall was built to keep the crowds at bay, and women were not allowed within the wall. not even his own mother. except when she died. sim decided then that he could look at the coffin and say goodbye to her dead body. (can i roll my eyes any more at this? no. no i cannot.)
he died in 459. a disciple found him stooped over in his forward fold, and the buried him by a pillar. a look
this is not a true etymological post – more like an origin story. well, also some etymology.
being the good catholic girl i was, before i became a heathen, i made sure to make my way to ash wednesday, even though it is not a holy day of obligation (bet you didn’t know that!). i’d always assumed that ashes on your forehead were symbolically there because it was like dust, which is what they say when they cross the ashes. “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” somehow this translates to “ashes to ashes; dust to dust” in my mind, which actually is an anglican prayer and never was in the bible.
the dust to dust thing comes from genesis: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
and ashes to ashes comes from the anglican prayer in this form: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life…” etc. etc.
so really, there is no mention of ashes during ash wednesday – just dust. so where did the ashes come from?
a nice catholic website says they symbolize our mortality – somehow ashes=dust (hmmm). also that the tradition stems from the OT when sinners performed acts of public pennance. (were the ashes to let others know that these people were pennancizing?? not sure…) but i like this explanation:
back in the early days of the bible, societies were pretty dependent on wood fires for everything – cooking, heating, etc. you have to keep the ashes in check when this is such a huge part of life. if a person was preoccupied with something big, say, a death or sickness or something pretty awful, the ashes and keeping clean of them were the least of their concerns.
ashes became a sign that you were in mourning or remorse or repentance. this is actually written more than once in the bible:
2 Samuel 13:19? “Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.”
Esther 4:1-3: “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.
Jeremiah 6:26: “Put on sackcloth, my people, and roll in ashes; mourn with bitter wailing as for an only son, for suddenly the destroyerwill come upon us.”
(there also seems to be a trend of sackcloths, as well, but i don’t see that making its way into ash wednesday services.)
so, it makes sense that during lent, when you are supposed to be subdued, fasting, repenting, and thinking about jesus dying for the sins of the world and all that jazz, that you start off by being remorseful with this traditional symbol.
i guess now the question is why does this need to be a public proclamation? from the background of this, the ashes were on your forehead because you were preoccupied. i’d guess you weren’t aware that you left the house covered with ashes, IF YOU WENT OUT AT ALL. those in mourning probably tended to stay at home. if you are truly remorseful, wouldn’t it be something personal and private instead of parading it around like a badge of honor? maybe that’s something to dig up another day.
i just finished a book called “searching for sunday” by rachel held evans. in it she describes her search for the right fit of a church/religion. overall, i liked the book and could relate to it more often than not, even though she was pretty adamant in her beliefs 99% of the time and was just having problems finding the right place to celebrate them.
however, i had a problem with exactly one sentence during her section on “communion”. (she titled her sections after the sacraments.)
Certainly nonbelievers can care for one another and make one another food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacrament, as holy.
that’s quite a presumptuous statement, ms. held-evans.
even nonbelievers can recognize the importance of food. food is a universal, a common thread among all people, no matter religion, race, or creed. it is the very stuff of life, quite literally, and for anyone to not understand that food, whether created for others out of need or care or for yourself to stave off hunger for another six hours, is a necessary and fundamental part of life and one to celebrate, is pretty ludicrous.
when i make food for others, i know that i’m participating in creating a building block of life – and those who receive it and eat it are receiving it with thanks and gratitude. a great thing; a wonderful thing; a meaningful thing.
one definition of sacrament is “a thing of mysterious and sacred significance.” i think everyone can agree that giving food to others in times of need is a thing of significance, and as a person who just went through a pretty weird tragedy, can be a thing of mystery. does “sacred” necessarily need to be a part of it? sacred is 100% tied to religion, but things of mystery and significance can hold dear spots in people’s hearts without being tied to a religion or specific god.
holy’s definition is pretty straightforward: “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose.” take out the god and religion, and we have “dedicated or consecrated to a purpose.” what better way to describe preparing food for others? especially when preparing food for others during extreme times – times of joy, sadness, hopelessness, hunger.
rachel can believe what she wants to about food as a thing of mystery and significance – a thing dedicated or consecrated to a purpose. but i’ll tell youthis: nonbelievers and believers alike can understand the importance of food and how it’s tied to emotion. i’ll sit at the table, pull up a chair, and share my food with those who need it, even if they believe I can’t see the importance of what i’m doing.
i never fail to feel like a disappointment to my parents. even though they raised their children to be open minded, perpetually curious, and self sufficient, they are seemingly surprised when these traits actually take hold in their children.
i know some people go to christmas church just because it’s the thing that they do, even if they don’t necessarily want to go to church. i feel like it’s a farce if i go to church on christmas; i haven’t gone any other time of the year, and i’ve never been a fan of church anyway. i enjoyed going in new london, but now it’s just st. charles, and i have no emotional ties. so why go? carols alone do not compel.
however, when i ask about church expectations, i get a mixed response all over the emotional scale. if i got a simple, non-sarcastic or angry “your relationship with a higher being is your business. christmas church is your decision,” i would stop concerning myself with church at christmas. as it is, simplicity is not in the cards.
so i’m not going to go to church. whatever backlash happens will happen. i’m old enough that this should be a non-issue. being a disappointment, however, has no age.
i’ve never enjoyed going to church. ever.
i’ve tried to think of any instance where i 100% enjoyed the entire service i was attending, and i can’t think of one. oh sure, there were instances where i enjoyed parts. attending the entire triduum (thursday, friday, and saturday of easter) in austin was a testament to tradition; the saturday evening service was probably the best of the three days, but it definitely got long and tedious for me.
for some people, church is a refuge – a place to feel welcomed and whole, wrapped in religion and love of god. to step away from the concrete and put faith in the unseen is what is comforting and makes them whole.
i don’t find that in a church or a religion; i find that refuge in the people i spend time with. i find it in the trees and the outdoors, the lakes and the springtime dirt. the energy of focused thought and action.
i’ve often thought that people create god in their images, not vice versa. why else would everyone have different versions of god and thoughts of what constitutes sin? when i hear the wind rustle leaves and see flowers bloom every spring, when i spend time with my family and friends – whether these havens are results of god or happily not-so-coincidences, there is no building or dogma to contain them. their stability and thoroughness are all i need.
saturday night i went to a healer at the catholic church in town with liz, my dad, and his sister (religious aunt), as well as uncle and two cousins. (my mom had a cold and decided to stay home.) one cousin is pretty sick, so they were willing to make the drive from austin.
now i have seen and heard some weird stuff from people – speaking words (strangers telling others specifics), my dad’s wake-up call, and melissa’s calling. i’ve never experienced anything myself apart from a timely $20 i attribute to my uncle squire. i’m a cynic, but i know universal energy floats around from time to time. i’m also agnostic.
when people started lining up to have the healer lay his hands on them, i was surprised that almost everyone in the church was willing to go up. personally, i was freaked out about going up just because i was afraid something would happen. people were falling down after getting hands laid on them, including my non-sick cousin who was there. now, just for show, or not, i’m not sure.
my dad, a true cynic of this kind of thing, after i asked him if he was going up, said “why not?” and off we went.
i was so nervous about falling down that i almost fell down myself. but while the dude was laying his hands on me i almost started crying. spirit? self-awareness? who knows.
but here’s the rub: for show or not, something happens if you do feel something. whether it’s the spirit coming to show you her ways or god saying, “hey there!” or universal energy or self-awareness, it’s something. for me personally, i think it’s a combination of the energy in the room along with a self-awareness or self-realization.
when you think about it, everyone projects themselves onto who or what each thinks god is. there is no duplication of god anywhere on this planet. there are probably a looooot of close renditions, but each person’s own experience shapes each person’s perception of god – a reflection of self, really; your perfect self.
so, one person’s holy spirit is another person’s gaia is another person’s buddha is another person’s personal moral tendencies.
and if calling it touched by god is what it takes for a person to have a personal self-realization or calling? energy transforming through death as a way to get loved ones’ attention? the brain registering actual physical voices as a way to get you to figure out what you want to do with your life? physically healing as a result of positive self awareness or relaxation?
does it matter what we think it is versus what it actually is or what we call it as long as the end result is what needs to be?
ash wednesday is in a couple days, and if you’re catholic (or former catholic), you know the season of abstinence will be upon us.
i know i’ve questioned the no meat on fridays thing at least a couple times, in that i don’t understand how going to a huge fish fry or meatless spaghetti feed on a friday is supposed to promote abstinence in any way just by the absence of meat, but i have been rebutted and told that the community aspect is key. so: gorge on.
today my mom asked me what i was giving up for lent. she knows i’m no practicing catholic and that i have agnostic leanings. still, the idea of “giving up” something for lent is appealing – not in the sense of OMG i’m doing this for god and so i know what jesus went through and the starving children in africa, but more of a self-control sense. (i might add that since the holidays, my self control when it comes to food has gone really haywire.)
on top of that, does it necessarily need to be food? why can’t we add something back in? for instance, i think something i will be trying to do over the lenten season is to run at least 4 days a week for at least a half an hour each day. as it is, i run 3 days a week, anywhere from 20-40 mins a day. self-control, abstinence, and sacrifice can come in difference avenues than the very thing that sustains us. besides, shouldn’t we be eating in moderation in the first place?
i know giving something up has its perks: think of the sweet reward at the end of lent when you can add that bad thing you shouldn’t be eating anyway back into your diet. instead, how about trying to eat healthier? eat more fruits, vegetables, proteins, etc. maybe cut back on caffeine, and at the end of lent, how about just not adding it back in?
now, i could never give up chocolate forever. (chocolate was the classic childhood give up thing.) on the OTHER hand, i HAVE given up devil’s syrup forever. (i tried to tell my mom i was giving up corn syrup for lent – it didn’t fly.) maybe instead of deciding the give up a “bad” food for 6 weeks, how about making a lifestyle change and eating a little healthier or doing a little more moving? volunteering at a food shelf or giving $10/month to a charity? setting aside meditation time each day to focus on the present? it doesn’t quite have the allure of “omg i gave up chocolate for 6 weeks and now i can stuff my face with ALL THE CHOCOLATE” but i think by not villifying our vices, it might be a little healthier and easier*.
today i got a brochure from my aunt kathleen (aka my religious aunt) and in it she circled a section on the evils of the vagina monologues.
here is what it says:
“In 2005 performances of the vile ‘Vagina Monologues’ occurred at 27 Catholic colleges and universities – that’s more than 10% of all the Catholic colleges in the US. This ‘play’ is replete with vulgarity, fould language, and graphic descriptions of lesbian activity. One scene depicts the seduction of a sexually inexperienced under-age teen girl by an adult lesbian, who first intoxicates the girl with vodka. And far from presenting the incident as sexual abuse that would be prosecuted as statutory rape in many states, the play celebrates it as the girl’s liberation and salvation….” blah blah the rest is about abuse in the catholic church.
next to it she wrote “Lord Mercy!”
i’ve seen the V monologues. the girl in question, i think, was 16? that is more than legal in many states. she also goes into detail about how she lusted after this woman forever before actually doing anything.
profanity? yelling the C word to reclaim it.
the overall feel of the monologues? celebrating and embracing femaleness.
a) i don’t think kathleen has see the V monologues and
b) i think she wanted to be born a man (cuz, in the catholic church, men are spiritually closer to god, apparently).
c) now that i’m married, she’s moved on from sending me celibacy and evils of pre-marital sex brochures to sending me “degradation of society!” brochures. oh boy.
highly unusual of me to post 3 times in one day, but here it is.
tonight i had a conversation with angie about religion, because she and chad are kind of at odds about their child and how it will be raised (oh yeah, for those of you who don’t know, angie’s pregnant) and specifically, when it will be baptised. angie’s religion, assembly of god, basically doesn’t baptize people as babies. they baptize when they feel they are ready to be saved. kind of more like confirmation in the catholic church. so, from the time you can be accountable for the things you do (i don’t know, age 5 or so?) and the time you decide to be saved, you are basically going to hell.
in the midst of the convo, she basically told me that if she died tomorrow, there was no doubt in her mind that she was going to hell.
now, here is my survey of the week. do you believe in hell?
i don’t know if i do….if god is love, she would be awfully hard-pressed to send anyone to hell. unconditional love is god’s presence on earth, and if you have loved unconditionally, you have experienced god. in my mind, anyone who has loved completely unconditionally can’t go to hell. i do believe in purgatory – it makes sense to me that for all your misdeeds on earth, there should be some sort of penance period before heaven, but how could a god that is love embodied let anyone go to hell for eternity?
i think i’ve come to the conclusion that either there is no hell or it is very very very very hard to get there.
to the previous entry. i talked to my mom about it after that happened. she says she’s seen “saying words” many times. her friend louise did it to her when she was young (and they knew no one mutually).
the mom says it may be weird the first time you witness it, but it’s really really weird the first time someone does it to you. my mom said it’s a result of when you’re not listening to what god wants you to do, s/he needs to send someone to shake some sense into you, basically. that would shake me up, someone telling me stuff that no one knows but myself or am even willing to admit to myself.
this weekend i’m going to see melissa and see if she’s ever seen anything like this.