Friday, April 21, 2006

An Easter reminder...

The last Easter weekend must be one of the most wasteful long weekends I've had in my so-called life... Over the four-day holiday I did little but hang around Guardian's Comment is Free site in spite of the ton of work that I had to do. The sad thing is that I didn't use my time to really enjoy or indulge myself either, just laze around doing precious little and feeling little zest for life during a holiday that's meant to be a period of renewal... I hadn't even got a proper Easter egg.... so these Easter eggs on the left are a little reminder to self: Next time, must try harder!

The only meaningful thing I did that was Easter-related at all was to attend the Eucharist service with friend E at Christchurch in town on Thursday early evening, immediately after work. And I only went because I was almost dragged there by E, who thought that if we didn't get there by 5:30pm for the 6pm service we wouldn't get in at all (when truth be told, we were the EARLIEST eager-beavers and the service didn't start until almost 6:15pm, with less than a fifth of the pews filled). It was my first time to go inside Christchurch actually, and it is a really lovely Cathedral, with intricate carvings and elaborate brass ornaments inside a cavernous but well-lit hall, all of which I attempted to look at through the "symbologist" eye a la Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code (sacrilegious, no?). It's a real pity though that the state of my contact lenses didn't quite allow me to admire the stonework and the stained glass in any great detail...

One would be fooled by the sophisticated decor to think that Christchurch is Catholic, however. I didn't realise that Christchurch was not Catholic (!) but actually Church of Ireland, and that none of the really famous Churches in Dublin city centre (e.g. even St. Patrick's Cathedral) are Catholic! I really would have never guessed, and after all my years in Ireland I would never have known this little fact if I have not been enlightened by my devout Protestant friend from South Africa. Without E, I wouldn't have known that the Christchurch Cathedral itself had been home to a former Catholic Church - hence the elaborate decor with flying buttresses and so on - but that when the English took over they took over Christchurch and turned it Anglican.

About the service itself, I am pleasantly surprised that a proper service programme was given to attendees as they came in, so that even a religious-ignoramus such as me could follow the service and able to recite and reply to the priest's sermon (I did have certain hesitations about following the script however, and had remained silent for some of the passages, see below for reasons why). I love the choir singing, the voices were really quite divine and the hymns were beautiful. I also rejoiced at the fact that, by reading (and listening to) the Lord's prayer in English, I could now remember the full Lord's prayer in Chinese, something which has been drummed into me from a young age at morning assemblies for six years of my primary schooling in Hong Kong, and which I thought I would never forget until I moved to Ireland and have forgotten parts of it within two years. I had regretted not remembering the prayer because it had been such a key part of my HK upbringing, even though the religion side of things have dropped by the way side in my life ever since I grasped the pointlessness of organised religions and the evil havoc they could wreak when combined with politics...

This brings me to several things that were quite jarring to me about the service itself, like the fact that a black altar boy was holding a holy book in supplication, with head held low and hands outstretched, for the white priest to read out loud to the congregation. I suppose I wouldn't have made such a mental note of objection if the altar boy in question hadn't been black, but race is a matter in a largely mono-cultural Ireland with paternalistic latent racism being the norm rather than the exception, and to pretend to be colour-blind about these things is to be wilfully racially-ignorant in my not so humble opinion. For some reason, I can't get over the impression that the white priests were mighty pleased about the fact that they had the black recruits and have them (there was also an Indian girl with an American accent) perform duties at the service to demonstrate their racial cred. (Actually, E did say that you're not supposed to call the young ones "altar boys", as they don't have them in Protestant churches... I don't remember what's meant to be the correct term for describing these young ones though).

Another thing that really, really disappointed me about the service, was how the priests preached not about the war crimes that have been committed in the name of Christianity in recent world events, especially the whole clash of civilisation talk about Christianity versus Islam; but rather, seemed to me to offer placid support to the "spreading" of so-called "freedom and democracy" by the Americans and the British, no matter how many lives were taken in the illegal war and how much blood was shed.

It was really this that helped me make my decision to not to receive communion at the service. I was struggling with the to-go-or-not-to-go decision about 25 minutes into the service, when I realised, from reading ahead of the service programme, that communion would be involved. At first I felt that I should take it, because I was in Church and should do what the Romans do, especially as I do believe in God and felt that maybe I would be betraying Him (how genderised is my thinking after years of indoctrination) if I don't take it after all the support that I have received, and continue to receive, from Him over the years. But then I also felt I should not take it because I no longer believe in the Christian (or any religionised) version of God, and that I don't believe in empty ceremonial gestures for what should really be a matter of my heart and soul. I was still quite undecided until I heard one of the several priests spoke about the bravery of those who engaged in spreading so-called freedom and democracy and the Christian message in the world - I realise then that I don't want to be in communion with a group of men who could talk about freeing fellow men by dropping bombs on them and spreading democracy while bullying the elected candidate, without having the conscience to critique their own actions and the heart to feel ashamed.

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