The sacred and the profane

The lure of Catholicism and the mysteries of a toilet, this week in TT.

Published April 8, 2005 5:22PM (EDT)


Hearken to Stark

Bone Daddy - 02:51 p.m. Pacific Time - March 31, 2005 - #871 of 886

The flat was full of secrets and artifacts of the past, concealed here and there by plaster and multilayered paper, thick strata of leaded paint, wainscotting cracked and sprung. That circular impression above the kitchen door -- that is where the twelve-inch pipe used to pass through from the oil stove, an effort to diffuse some of the kitchen's heat to the rest of the rooms (and it is no wonder, then, that family's tendency even unto the end to gather in the kitchen, sit 'round the table until the wee hours in stark uncomfortable chairs designed only for temporary usage during eating, shunning the comfort of the drawing rooms -- habits born of years of necessity). And that patch in the main entrance stairwell plaster, the one marring the otherwise exquisitely wrought patterns of interwoven fleur-de-lis, I was told that this was where my uncle had long ago put his fist through the wall, enraged by a slap upon the back administered by his sister. One fireplace had been walled up entirely, sealed, only the mantel remaining, oblique and ubiquitous in what had become during the fifties the "tv room" -- a shelf to bump your head on as you rose to go fetch a refill of Lime Rickey. Spiderwebs of cracks and years of patch jobs tracing time frescoes upon the ceiling. A rear entrance, perpetually locked, that led into a treasure trove known only as "the woodshed," verboten to the grandchildren, finally revealed post-mortem to be a dim, dusty storage area adjacent to a crumbling back staircase that descended to a long-sealed door, askew, jammed in its frame. And the most enticing secret: the six-inch-square hole that had been cut in the tiny water closet's ceiling that revealed during daylight hours --when dim, colonial city sunlight penetrated -- another twenty feet of room above that, an ancient skylight with peeling paint, the walls lined with patterned panels that only adulthood finally offered the understanding were made entirely of the embossed tin popular during the late Victorian era. Because that is how old the flat was. Sitting on that toilet as a child, fascinated by that tiny, square portal into the geometric room above, a little frightened by the baffling concealment of it. Sitting on that toilet as an adult, realization dawning as to what those panels were, but still baffled because why -- why conceal something so beautiful? Who wouldn't want a thirty-foot shaft of light, a chimney lined with polished metal, a funnel to open skies and the gods beyond, a febrile temple to the very fount of existence: consumption, elimination, ritual and cycles? Who?

Mind and Spirit

What does it mean to be culturally Catholic?

Jenni P - 02:14 p.m. Pacific Time - April 4, 2005 - #1927 of 1978

I grew up in mostly Protestant religions with parents who are ... let's say, eccentric and fickle. I really hated church for a long time. Then I married a Catholic, and I found so many things that I really LIKE about the religion. I like that you can have discussions -- civil discussions -- about faith without "fire and brimstone" comments being rapid-fired at you. I like that there seems to be a lot of tolerance even if the "rules" are strict. I do believe in God, and I do believe that if you let God show you, there is a way to live a life of joy here on earth (not ALL joy, because you have to have suffering to know what joy is). I think I learned this late in life when I went through infertility -- as soon as I stopped trying to control everything and let faith come into play, things became better. Also, I think that things like "no women priests" can be changed over time, and for me, that's a rule that I can live with (admittedly because I don't want to be a priest). I suspect that if I felt like I wanted to devote my whole life to God with no marriage or children I could be a nun (actually, there are a lot of nuns who have been married and had kids, but are now widowed). I guess that the answer is that you have to find something that you like MOSTLY, and then reconcile with the things with which you don't agree. Most Christian religions are similar, though, so there is always going to be SOMETHING you don't agree with -- for instance, I don't agree with the stance on gays, but I make that known to people who know me, so in that way I can shatter the idea that all Christians are intolerant of gay lifestyles. I don't believe it's a sin, and most of my friends who are Christian also don't believe that. How do I reconcile that? Well, I don't believe that Jesus ever said anything against gay people, and that there are many outdated ideas in the Bible that were driven by fear of the unknown -- and it seems the Catholic Church also believes that, because it doesn't seem to take the Bible word-for-word as the rulebook. It seems to make room for interpretation, unlike a lot of Bible-based religions.

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