How Not To Get By During Holy Week

For the past week, I have been obsessed with a single song off the freshly-released album by England’s indie band, the ebullient and bubbly The Go! Team. Catching me off guard while listening to KEXP online, this song floored me with its Age of Aquarius choir grounded only by an infectious drum track and ear worm chorus. This is not the kind of music I like. It’s not just super-cheerful. It’s downright joyful. But I couldn’t escape it. I just sat there, captivated, almost wanting to raise my hands in some imagined Brady Bunch choreography complete with swaying dance steps. 
When I looked and saw the title, “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate),” I gasped. And I knew why I found the song irresistible. In 1997, the New Age cult Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide, leaving for the rest of us their message that they were abandoning a doomed Earth to meet up with a UFO following the Hale-Bopp comet. It was an incredibly sad and strange story when the news broke. Identically dressed in black sweat pants and crisp, white Nikes, their upper bodies were covered in purple sheets as they committed suicide over the course of three days.  
It’s no mistake, then, that The Go! Team’s album, the scene between, was released on the anniversary of the day Heaven Gate initiated their exit from the material world. And this one song sounds so optimistic. But the lyrics are so very, very sad when the greater context of the event is known. It’s like the Children’s Crusade, it’s so upsetting. I do love songs that sound so happy, yet mean so sad. But I didn’t expect this.
I keep singing along with the chorus, as far as I decipher the words. 
I remember the past, diving into the future
I hang on from the past, diving into the future

Taking the only way we know
Taking the only thing that matters
Taking the only way we know

Taking the only thing that matters

It’s so final and deliberate. Heaven’s Gate still believes they are on their way, when, in fact, they are dead. They are singleminded in their focus. There is only one way for them. Only one thing that matters. So happy. Come on, everybody! Join in!
I think that it bothers me because I have such a hard time with “the only way” and “the only thing.” And there is no anxiety in this song. No hesitation. This song is so cheerful, it’s infectious. You want to sing along, to be a part of this. Join the chorus. Eat the laced applesauce. Drink the vodka. Go to sleep. 
It is Maundy Thursday, our day of betrayal. We betray ourselves, we betray our friends, we betray our faith, we betray our God. More than one death will come of this. It’s a time of dirges and regret. It’s going to be one of a few late nights, this week. Hold on a bit. Eat the bread. Drink the wine. Stay up a bit longer? Don’t go to sleep. 
Yeah, it’s weird to juxtapose this eccentric sci fi death cult from twenty years ago with the Triduum, but there you go. That’s what happened this year. But I think it lays bare that this week is horrific and can not be saved or salved with cheerful praise songs of divine victory over death. There is a shared, though distinct, absurdity in all of this, though. I think that the nation was troubled by that tragedy. It was a clear bright spring. The deaths were clean and orderly. Methodical. Planned. Deliberate. It took place in sunny California. And Holy Week is such a fuck up of disorder and confusion. Everything is overturned. Enter the week riding triumphant on a stolen colt, end the week dead and abandoned by your friends and God. What happened here? 
Really, this is the question we can never stop asking ourselves: What happened here? The Go! Team’s song never asks that. But we must. Because this week must continue to confound us. If it ever gets easy, so obvious, then we’re doing something very, very wrong. 

Click to listen to “The Art of Getting By (Song for Heaven’s Gate)”

“Acceptance” (A Lenten Poem)

This morning, as I rose out of the subway station
and the grey, cold sky welcomed me with sharp kisses upon my lips and cheeks,
I closed my eyes to smile as grief’s last stage filled
my heart.
And I breathed in an eternal winter, where spring is only a story and
only arrives
as an apocalypse.
A matter of hope that barely
survives the canon.

Our Endpoints of Dust

  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Here ends the year. Here begins the year. Today, our years are pressed into our forehead. Each life marked as an oily smudge. It is Ash Wednesday and for those of us who take the time, we collectively catch our breaths and remember where we came from and where we are going.

I do love this day, this most high holiday of mine. I love to walk through the corridors of New York City and see so many strangers on this one strange day with their lives smeared upon their faces. It is only for one day. When else do we say without words, with such collective force, “I am human, so very, very mortal?” And then tomorrow, it will be as if it never happened, our faces wiped clean of soot and tears.

Lent enters without a sound, like nightsnow, closing the door softly behind it. It is still and silent. Our mortality is our own. Our death is our own. Easter is so far away that our Lenten disciplines will fail and unravel behind us, unspun like a child’s ball of string. We have time. Life is our time.

And we are marked with ash to remember. This life bound by dust, this mortal coil, is fleeting and full of both grief and joy. Joy can wait. Now, is a season of grief, Lent. Grief is a kind of reflection. How does one look in a mirror and see what no longer exists? Grief is pondering of absence. It is good to grieve. It is good to understand life backwards, but we must live life forward.

The risk of grief, of lament, is the risk of paralysis. In the midst of a brutal, unkind, blind and deaf world, paralysis is when lung and heart stop. We must not stop. We must go on. Beckett ends The Unnamable with “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” This is Lent. We must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Jesus enters the Wilderness. He is alone. He is tempted. He must go on. He can’t go on. He’ll go on. Rome and The Adversary are waiting. They go on, too. We enter our Wilderness. We’ll go on.

Lent is not paralysis. It is not stasis. Lent is our lives in slower action. Dust is our stasis, our endpoints. On our faces we present our past and coming stillness in ash. We present this to each other. We carry our stillness as we journey through this day. We must have movement. But we must first be also still, if only for a little bit. To remember that we must move. Until we no longer do. Until we no longer can.

Ash Wednesday is the pause, the pause to remember our endpoints. To begin this journey of Lent. We cannot remain still for long. We must go on. We can’t go on. We’ll go on.


Burn the Fronds. Prepare for Lent.

Today, we must burn the palm fronds. The fronds we waved last Palm Sunday, that nasty, brutish day. Our Lent begins in winter. It is cold. Bitterly cold here in the American Northeast. Today, we prepare the ashes for tomorrow. We prepare ourselves for our season. We will feel a fleeting warmth as we watch the long sharp leaves glow and curl. And then it will be cold and dark again. Let us begin this season with a flame spent and extinguished.

Does it seem that Lent comes easier this year? The world seems to be a sadder place, indeed. But it doesn’t take much to see these kinds of stories surrounding us all of the time. Maybe we’re finally being shaken out of our comfort zones because we can’t keep ourselves in our neat and tidy lives so well.

In the United States, on the international front, we watch ISIS commit atrocities we thought we’d only see on HBO. In our own country, we march, shouting #blacklivesmatter and #icantbreathe, but what has really changed other than awareness? And the weather becomes harsher. And now men full of rancid rage are executing Muslims in North Carolina and setting alight a Houston mosque. And we mourn and we lament.

We’ve been preparing for Lent since Advent. Christmas and Epiphany serve more as resting points, this year, than triumphalist celebrations. Because Christmas and Epiphany come and go and the killing and suffering continue. Does it seem that everything hurts? But we must not glorify that hurt, turn suffering into a badge of honor. Twenty-one beheaded Copts in Libya. Three executed Muslims in Chapel Hill. We mourn. We scrape for meaning.

At the Transfiguration, when Jesus prepares for the final acts of the show, Glow Cloud God bursts on the scene and says “This is my son. Listen to him.” And while our retina burns are beginning to fade, from a light spent and extinguished, we must remain alert. We must pay attention. Our world is hurting. We are hurting. We must remain aware. We must remain aware of our selves, our actions. As Jesus prepared for this, we must prepare for this. We must listen. We must act. We must go under.

Burn the fronds. Pour oil on ash. Prepare the heart. Raise the hands.

Dusk is coming.

Palm Trees on Fire

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