Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Gaining My Religion

Though I'm never one to pass up another occasion to laugh at Sam, his post-U2 concert fervor reminds me of something I've wanted to blog about for awhile: the religious experience. What is it? And how much does it actually have to do with religion?

It is the considered opinion of Thea, my erstwhile acupuncturist, mentor, and friend, that U2 are in fact exactly what Sam claims--not just a band, but a conduit to a preternaturally transcendant experience (this is doubly notable because Thea is not at all the kind of person you think of when you think, "U2 fan." Then, neither is Sam). No qualifiers or hedging needed: Bono is transmitting the universe, or god, or whatever your favorite word is, from a form that you cannot comprehend or experience into a form that you can. If that's not a religious experience, nothing is.

I think, moreover, that you're having this kind of experience, to a greater or lesser extent, every time you get lost reading a good book, watching film or t.v., or pretty much any time you "lose yourself." That's supposed to be what religious enlightenment feels like, isn't it--the loss of ego to some sense of ecstasy, no self consciousness, just joy? Having the ability to take someone out of themselves with narrative or art is a shamanic skill--most people I know simply couldn't invoke the kind of energy, e.g., to fill an amphitheater no matter how many lights, sound effects, tv screens, microphones, and guitar effects you gave them.

L. said that she never understood Catholicism as a religion until she stepped into a church in Rome. Seeing the art and the sculpture and the gold leaf and the stained glass, she realized what it must have been like hundreds of years ago when life was constantly cramped, dark, and smelly, and then one day you walked into one of these enormous, ornate, echoing light-filled temples. You really would experience god.

For me there's a certain pattern to it. As L. also noted a long time ago, experiencing really good narrative is a lot like falling in love. While you're in it, you just want more, because it's pulling you along, telling you the answers you've always wanted to know to the questions you never knew you wanted to ask. You can't wait for the next episode, or chapter, or tomorrow, to arrive.


Tarn said...

and then when it's over, you're heartbroken, forlorn and depressed... until the next narrative comes along?

Rebecca said...

Yes, but I think love is also about the missing; if you were in "God"'s company all the time, continually in ecstasy, then you wouldn't know when you were experiencing transcendence. The Sufis had this down, with the whole poetic lamenting of distance from God, yearning, etc. Forbidden love as the theme for religion, something you could yearn for but never quite have.

But even in its absence you still remember that great narrative, perhaps even, say proselytize it a bit, and long for its brilliance, something that you cannot necessarily reclaim with a rereading. a certain joy in being heartbroken, I suppose...