Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Suffering With Spiritual Culture Shock

The above right is a picture of Archbishop Burke at a confirmation at St. Francis DeSales traditional parish in St. Louis. He celebrated a Papal High Mass in Latin complete with canopy and cappa magna. For a description of the ceremony and more photos check this out: http://www.institute-christ-king.org/SFdSConfirmations2005.htm. The left photo is of a traditional Souix Sundancer who is pierced in the chest and connected to the Sundance tree. This photo was taken in the late 60's, but things haven't changed---except you can no longer take photos at Sundances, so I have none of my own. But back to Archbishop Burke.

I guess this whole pomp and circumstances trend is baffling to me. Why in this world, or any other world, would God need to be worshipped by a celebrant dragging a twenty foot silk cape behind him, under a canopy carried by four accolytes, surrounded by a cloud of incense. Who is really being worshipped here? Is this a Mass, a Shakespearean drama, or a princely outing where the peasants are overawed by the splendor and pomp? The cynic in me thinks that because it features AB Burke it's a political statement about absolute power in the hands of the hierarchy.

I admit, I'm probably a little jaded about this because I just got back from a completely different spiritual ceremony. Yes, there was some costuming and there was a lot of cedar incensing and purifying, and there was a lot of singing, and there were a lot of sacramentals including staffs, and there were processions. In fact there were a lot of superficial similarities, but then there were also profound differences. The Sundance ceremony was enacted by people who ranged in age from 10 to 71 both male and female. Most of them go without food and water for four days and three nights, not two hours. The men voluntarily undergo piercing because they believe their flesh is the only thing of the Creator's which is theirs to offer, their only real personal possession. The ceremonial leaders also pierce, and their costuming is no different than any other dancer's. It's not really a show, four days is a long time. As the days progress it becomes a real endurance test for participants and supporters, but it also transports you to a different, sort of timeless, reality. A reality where healing in a profound way takes place. And yet the cynic in me wonders about this extreme as well, and wonders whether God needs any form of ceremony, or is it only mankind who needs these ceremonies. But the spiritual energy at a Sundance is different because the mindset is different. Here's a true story of one man's attempt at finding forgiveness and healing.
One of the dancers has a personal commitment to stand in the dance circle for the entire four day ceremony. He pierces and attaches himself to the tree in the early morning of the first day and then tears from the tree in the afternoon of the fourth day. He's out there day and night for the entire ceremony, only leaving the circle for bathroom breaks, and he must be escorted out for that. In other words he's totally exposed for the entire ceremony.

I've been told he's a convicted pedophile and that this is his way to atone for his crimes, reconcile with his victims, and keep his urges under control. As far as his Sundance community knows, he's been entirely successful in the ten years or so he's been dancing at this Sundance. They would know because they keep a very close eye on him. He's a part of their 'family' and they are obligated to help him, without judgment, but also without any blinders about the nature of his affliction.

I've watched this dancer do this for four years, and although I don't really know him in any meaningful sense, I really like him. There's an honest innocence about him, which is endearing, and a dedication to his recovery which can't be denied. You can't stand exposed like he does for four days and be in denial about your truth. This year, when he finally tore off from the tree, there was spontaneous applause--a huge no no--and tears and smiles all around. There was not one single person, dancer or supporter, who wanted this man to fail. In some weird way he stood out there representing the worst in all of us, and the potential for the grace and forgiveness we all need. He was smiling from ear to ear when he walked out of the circle, having completed his own therapeutic spiritual ritual, chastened, exhausted, sunburned, and triumphant. It was a sacramental moment.

Then I get to come home and view AB Burke in full regalia and read how our hierarchy is still hiding unrepentant pedophiles. I'm suffering serious cognitive dissonance---a true spiritual culture shock. I have to keep reminding myself that there really are bishops like Geofrey Robinson who really do get it. It's just that some days that's hard to do.
My mind keeps going back to the Sundancer and the way the two traditions differ so vastly in how they deal with issues of human frailty and failure. Although I could never recommend a Sundance as a therapeutic tool for pedophilia, nobody doubts that it works for this particular man. He's not a young man, and he's not in any kind of physical shape, and he's diabetic to boot. Somehow he makes it through all four days and is a better man for it. It takes real trust in the tenants of your spiritual tradition to risk the potential health hazards inherent in this form of spirituality, especially in view of the fact we all know people die. It doesn't happen very often, but it does happen. Dancers know they are truly risking their health and their lives committing to the Sundance. But they do it anyway because the communication they recieve from the Creator is worth any physical risk. Their is no priest standing in for them with God, they seek Him on their own, and many of the prayers they dance are danced for others.
It's a humbling experience in a completely different way, from the humbling experience implied in cappa magnas, and matching socks and shoes and that's why I'm suffering from spiritual culture shock.


  1. I can see why you would be experiencing culture shock. AB Burke really looks like a pampered narcissist with that ever too long train. He really does the pompous part well; what a show. It is a good culture shock I would imagine, as it summarizes the experiences with a vision. The vision of people serving AB Burke with his long train, as opposed to the vision of a sinner experiencing healing while fasting for four days pinned to a tree. The former being a ritual in glorification of the AB Burke who does not resemble Christ at all w/that dragging long red silk cape and the latter of a resurrected man from a tree, set free from his guilt and remorse which is personally transformational and awe inspiring for witnesses.

    I believe we have a new paragraph here. This is a nice feature that the other site didn't have.

  2. Yeah,Butterfly, the more I get around this program the better I like it. It's got a lot more features than the other site had. I can even do video and other cool things.

    I still have a bunch of other stuff I have to add, and I hope to get around to that tomorrow. But I am beginning to think of this change as my personal Sundance gift. I just hope I haven't lost all the people who don't read the NCR.

  3. It's too bad that they don't have a forwarding address for when people log onto your old blog site. I am going to pray they find you.

  4. RE: "Why … would God need to be worshipped by a celebrant dragging a twenty foot silk cape behind him, under a canopy carried by four acolytes, surrounded by a cloud of incense? Who is really being worshipped here? ... because it features AB Burke, it's a political statement about absolute power in the hands of the hierarchy."

    I’m no biblical literalist, but it’s clear that these high Roman practices go against the letter and the spirit of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus says about the Pharisees (Matt 23) --

    "All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'

    "As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi'. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

    Two footnotes to these passages in the NAB (Catholic) Bible note --
    "Tassels: The widening of phylacteries and the lengthening of tassels were for the purpose of making these evidences of piety more noticeable."
    "The Matthean Jesus forbids not only the titles but the spirit of superiority and pride that is shown by their acceptance. Whoever exalts ... will be exalted."

    - - - - - - -

    We should read Matthew 23 in its entirety. The above passages are followed by a litany of woes against the practices of the Pharisees. Who can doubt that Jesus is addressing what the hierarchical Roman Church has become ?!

    But lest we limit this awareness to pointing fingers at Rome, let’s remember that Christ is ultimately telling us how we are to live, by way of contrast to the Pharisees.

    And so I also need to ask myself, Am I truly worshiping God in spirit and in truth … with my whole life ?

    -- John K.

  5. PS to the above:
    two more thoughts.

    First, then why do I remain Catholic if I see so much of Rome’s style and substance to be inconsistent with Christ? Because altogether, the Catholic tradition is more wholistic in its wisdom, theology, and liturgy than Protestantism and Orthodoxy. Plus I recognize that Christ and not Rome is the true Head of the Church. This might technically make me an Old Catholic rather than “Roman” Catholic, but so be it.

    Second, on “calling no one on earth your father… but your Father in heaven.” I’ve never been hung-up on the literalist problem of addressing priests as “father”. I know several priests who are truly humble and loving spiritual fathers to others. I think Jesus is speaking here to our more basic psychological attitude: don’t slavishly think of any human being or institution as your father; remember that you have a direct relationship with your Living Father, Abba Himself. This is also the basic meaning of the First Commandment.

  6. "...remember that you have a direct relationship with your Living Father, Abba Himself."

    They made this point at the Sundance as well. That everyone has a direct connection with the father and doesn't need an innermediary.

    Using the term Father for priests is a brilliant psychological strategy to put the Church between us and our personal connection with the Father, and it's really really damaging. And it's led directly to 20'cappa magnas, and it's directly opposed to the teaching of Jesus.

    Why am I still a Catholic, although currently on strike, because the sacramental systmen is for real.

  7. Does any of the leaderships ever listen to the scriptures that they read to us? Do they listen, then rationalize them away as not being applicable to themselves?

    If they paid attention, they would recognize what the rest of us can see so easily, that they have become contemporary pharisees.

    Although, there is something to be said for having such an obvious, easily recognizable example of how NOT to live. It is unfortunate that our leadership chooses to set the example of how not to live.


  8. Carl, nice to have you aboard, and it's really nice to have aboard at the NCR. In my two years posting on the NCR I can't remember a time when there has been this many people trying to teach us the catechism. Makes me wonder why.

    As to setting the example of how not to live, maybe that's the Holy Spirit moving through the only window they have left open.

  9. Like John K., I have been asked many times, why did I return to the catholic church after being away for 21 years. Why did I choose to return after studying and practicing buddhism, sufism, native american spirituality, hinduism and new thought. Why did I choose to return after being ordained as a new thought minister?

    Very simply, the Holy Spirit kept nudging me back. The process took about a year. It started with a longing for a stable community. A key element was a very intimate conversation with a 17 year old (with a much older wisdom) about catholicism that lasted several hours. There was a continuous stream of rather interesting synchronicities, the last one I pulled into a parking lot to turn around after missing my turn. That parking lot happened to be the parking lot of the church I now attend.

    Why am I back in the catholic church? Perhaps it is simply to bring a deeper level of light, love and faith into the community. Perhaps to be a living example of faith and love in action. I dont know yet. I do know though, it wont be just to pay and obey.

  10. Carl, I was away for probably 20 years, and then returned on the insistence of an otherside mentor. This mentor told me that participating in the sacramental structure of the Church would at this point in my life 'propel me up the spiritual food chain'. That was certainly true.

    The kicker was that the price was to take on the less than savory aspects of the institutional church using all the talents I have.

    I kind of flagged on you when you mentioned Lee Carroll in a post. I've met Lee, and the man is truly connected. An awful lot of what I've been told by my own version of Kryon is validated by Lee's work. Synchronicity I suppose!

    I look at Catholicism as a huge quantum matrix for which the energy has been laid for two millenia. It needs serious purification before it becomes the force Jesus intended it to be. Why else would He leave an institutional spiritual system if it wasn't meant to have real impact in this world in order to bring this world to a new understanding about who and what mankind really is about.

    By the way, the only official psychic stuff I do is to teach young adults psychic/spirituality. These coming generations are hugely talented--wired differently.

    Occasionally some one of us teachers will be contacted for a healing and then we will do that as well. Someday I'll write some of those stories. In the meantime I'll keep howling to find my Catholic pack. I think it's working.