Sunday, March 04, 2012

Losing My Religion 1


I have always liked the song by R.E.M. called Losing my Religion, which strangely enough is not about religion at all.  In fact, it would seem that the title is a metaphor for the songwwriter's (Michael Stipe) coming to terms with his homosexuality, just as the murder image in Bohemian Rhapsody is metaphoric for the same acceptance by Freddie Mercury. However, the first two lines of the song fit in with my theme here, which is literally about losing my religion, or at least a certain form of it.  It runs simply and succinctly: "life is bigger//It's bigger than you."  Indeed, it is - it is bigger than all of us.  The sentiments in these lines is tantamount to Socrates' great exhortation to us to firstly declare our ignorance before engaging on any intellectual task.

The Mystery that faded

I was born in 1958 and I made my First Holy Communion in 1965 at the age of seven.  I can still remember the wonder and the mystery that the Roman Catholic Church of that era held for me as it did for most others at that time in pre-European Ireland, innocent Ireland, so-called uncorrupted Ireland.  Then also my Confirmation at the age of 10 in 1968 was also very much a mystery-suffused experience.  There were the Latin hymns such as the wonderful O Salutaris Hostia which went "O salutáris Hóstia,//Quæ cæli pandis óstium,//Bella premunt hostília,//Da robur, fer auxílium.//O Saving Victim//Who opens the doors of Heaven,//The enemy are warring against us//Give us strength and aid!//"

Then there was the equally wonderful Tantum Ergo, the first verse of which goes: "Tántum ergo Sacraméntum//Venerémur cérnui.//Et antíquum documéntum// Nóvo cédat rítui://Præstet fídes suppleméntum//Sénsuum deféctui.//So great a Sacrament, therefore,// let us worship, bowed down;// And let the ancient example// give way to a new rite;// Let faith bestow a support// to the defect of the senses.//" 

These hymns were sung in the beautiful Gregorian chant.  Then add to that all the incense rising with our Latin prayers to heaven.  As well as that the liturgies were splendid with beautiful ornate vestments and a solemnity which is sorely lacking today.  Back then the Mystery of Religion was literally overwhelming for a young innocent child, if not for the more experienced adults. In the black and white and so very poor working class 1960s Ireland the sheer experience of colourfulness of the Roman Catholic liturgies could not fail to be enthralling.  I still remember the profound sense of wonder and mystery which the Church had for my innocent young self. 

However, as I have grown up, obviously the world has moved on very much in Ireland which has come into both twentieth and twenty-first centuries in quick succession with a bang since then.  I learned in my late teens and early twenties that such experiences of wonder and mysstery could be communicated through the Arts, in Literature, Art, Theatre, Sculpture, Music and Film.  In short, the early experience of Mystery as communicated through the Church faded.  Back then "God was in His Heaven,// All was right with the world." as the poet Robert Browning put it. That feeling was for me, back then, my first encounter with Transcendence (of the Divine variety).  However, that trancendence has been replaced by a more psychological or transpersonal one since then. (I will discuss Transcendence and Immanence later in these posts when I get the chance!)

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