The Rarefied Few

I overshot yesterday based on what I thought was fast returning vim and vigor. After barely eating for days I prepared a “normal” lunch- scrambled eggs with blue cheese. Ate it with relative ease (remember it was agony to swallow water two days ago). Topped things off with two glasses of ice water. This is more food and water than I ate all three days previous.

I felt pretty good! Took a shower, changed my clothes, got my three year old bundled up so we could fetch his older sisters from school. Then… a proverbial truck hit me. I was suddenly shaky, weak, horribly nauseous. I managed to get the two of us into the car and preemptively brought along a metal bowl.

I sat in the parking lot watching the minutes tick by like molasses; normally I enjoy this small hiatus, waiting for the doors to open. I pressed my face against the cold window willing myself not to throw up. When the kids began to trickle out I walked back and forth in the courtyard, found my older daughter and whispered (I have completely lost my voice) in her ear I was sick, could she bring her sisters to the car? I made a beeline back to the car and started puking my guts into that metal bowl.

As all this unfolded I reflected I was joining the rarefied few of humanity who have vomited in church parking lots. Really, how often could this happen? People don’t use church reception halls for weddings like they used to. It couldn’t be many of us.

I kept puking and puking and puking. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my daughter’s friend’s mother- I dearly hoped she couldn’t see what was going on. When all was said and done I had three girls plus my three year old staring at me aghast.

Mommy… asked my oldest daughter. Are you okay? 

Uh not really I managed in hoarse whisper, staring at the bowl brimming with vomit. I looked around blinking. Where to dispose of it? To my right was the grotto of the virgin mary; people leave roses and other flowers there. Nope. To my left was the backyard of the convent, modest snowbanks abutting the chain link fence. That might be a good spot? I’m sure the nuns would understand.

Bowl in hand I made my way through the exiting cars and neatly poured my stomach contents into the snowbank. I was surprised how watery it was; I must chew my food really well.

Back at the car I wiped my face with a towel, then wrapped the bowl in that towel, carefully placing it in the trunk. We drove home in silence… I guess the girls were in a state of shell shocked disgust.

Once home I dragged/ carried the uncooperative three year old up the stairs, asked my older daughter to man the ship and I collapsed into bed. Three hours later I woke with the song “Anthem” from Chess in my head.

So what happened? The penicillin doesn’t make me nauseous, I’ve repeatedly taken it on an empty stomach with no ill effect. Did I experience a mild version of refeeding syndrome? When a person goes a long period not eating, food must be reintroduced gradually or they can experience a nasty assortment of symptoms ranging from vomiting to edema. Or maybe I drank too much water after days of dehydration?

I guess it doesn’t matter because today I AM on the up and up! I can swallow food and water with minimal pain. Thank god for antibiotics.

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The Lesson From St. Paisios Is…

…get thee to urgent care!

Shortly after writing my last post I realized the pain was so excruciating, this couldn’t be a run of the mill sore throat. I imagined St. Paisios standing before me with a look of exasperation.

You crazy girl? Go to urgent care!

When my husband got back from errands I whispered (since my voice is totally awol) I need to go to urgent care. He was kind enough to drive me, and thankfully the waiting room was not packed. I was triaged right away which included a brutally painful strep test (I’m not exaggerating- the pain, when triggered, is on par with labor contractions). I saw white and recoiled into my seat.

Then we waited, and waited… took forever even though it wasn’t crowded. Two russian families poured in and waited with us, chatting in russian and watching the flat screen doling out healthy living tips. Do yoga. Eat fruits and vegetables. Avoid potato chips!

Finally we were called in; a tired but friendly doctor confirmed I do indeed have strep and he would give me penicillin. I wrote on a piece of paper- can you give me anything for pain? Nope, he said. Take advil and tylenol. Ugghhhh.

How is it junkies manage to procure bottles of pills but non-junkies like me are relegated to advil? I was already taking double doses of advil and it didn’t touch the pain. Oh well. Time to suffer.

I spent the rest of the day watching TV, popping penicillin, advil, forcing down what little food or water I could manage- I’ve lost four pounds in three days- perhaps strep throat should be marketed as a weight loss program!

This morning and four doses of penicillin in, the pain is downgraded from 10 to 8, I still have a fever and can barely eat or drink, but by all appearances am on the mend. I had no idea strep throat is so painful! And it can turn into rheumatic/ scarlet fever! How did anyone survive this back in the day? I remember how the entire family fell to scarlet fever in Little House on the Prairie– it’s how Mary lost her vision and went blind at age 14.

Really Extremely Sick

I can’t remember the last time I was sick. Back in march I broke my toe and a rib. That sucked. It took eight weeks for me to walk somewhat normally and more months where turning side to side while sleeping didn’t send a shockwave of pain through my torso. But I don’t think I came down with a cold, since… not sure. A long time!

A few weeks ago my kids started dropping like dominoes with a nasty cold. My 20 year old puking and passed out in bed for days. My 6 year old had a fever for five days! Then the 12 and 8 year olds succumbed. My 14 year old faked succumbing (she’s sneaky like that) then my 15 year old was hit. Even my husband who never gets sick has a nagging cough.

I’m now on day three of the most nightmarishly painful sore throat I’ve EVER had in four decades of existence. It’s like an invisible sadist is jamming needles into my tissue and god forbid I have to actually cough or swallow something. Add to this persistent fever and body aches. Oi vey! How much is a skinny housewife supposed to endure? What did I do to deserve this cosmic torture?

St. Paisios is known to have said his greatest lessons were learned from his illnesses. I kept reciting that to myself last night between 20 minute patches of sleep and countdowns to the next dose of advil, an avalanche of tissues piling up beside the bed. Not sure what the lesson is here, although once I’m well I’ll treasure my health in a way I neglected previously. Like when my toe was sufficiently healed so that I could walk. Wow!! I forgot how much fun walking is!

Perhaps the moral is to appreciate the small things in life. I’ll let you know once I’ve rejoined the world of the living.

A Hindu and a Christian Walk Into a Bar

In high school I had a history teacher who spent time in India teaching at a private school for children of diplomats. More than once he related funny stories of Christian missionaries enthusiastically received by would-be converts. Of course they believed in Jesus’ message! They would be thrilled to worship him! Then they set the statue of Jesus on the shelf next to Ganesha and Krishna.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi I noted with interest mention of a book that supposedly illustrates absolute synchronicity between Christianity and Hinduism. Huh? This I had to read. It was written by Yogananda’s guru Yukteswar Giri.

I ordered The Holy Science from amazon and it promptly arrived on my doorstep. I cracked open the slim volume- read it cover to cover- read it cover to cover again- and it made absolutely no sense. It’s not that I disagreed with anything it claimed, because I couldn’t tell what it was claiming! No joke: this book might as well be written in Klingon. There is one semi-coherent passage about how humans, based on the length of their intestines, are meant to be fruitarians. But didn’t Jesus eat fish?

As it turns out Yogananda also wrote on the supposed synchronicity between Hinduism and Christianity. I ordered The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels, read *it* cover to cover, and unlike The Holy Science it was coherently written. Paramhansa’s writing style is eminently accessible and adroit.

I thought I might give you the cliff notes of Yogananda’s theories, in case you’re curious, but don’t want to bother buying or reading the book.

The notion of “god incarnate” is a familiar one to Hinduism. In fact, according to Hinduism, there are any number of living saints walking the earth who essentially “channel” god and can act, teach, and be worshiped as divine entities. Mata Amritanandamayi (“Amma”) is a good example of this. So right off the bat we have a deep commonality between the two faiths. Of course Christians believe Jesus was the ONLY living incarnation of god, but this is a moot point for Yogananda.

The purpose of religion, according to Yogananda, is not to dictate morality, make a person righteous, nor to grant association with a particular group. Rather the point of religion is to expand one’s consciousness. He calls this “Christ consciousness-” what Jesus alludes to when he says “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” As to how one achieves expanded consciousness, Yogananda recommends meditation and yoga (the spiritual kind, not the exercise kind). While this may sound kooky, in the gospels Jesus does engage in a brand of meditation when he “withdraws” to the desert; the Hebrew term for this is hitbodedut and has its roots in Jewish mysticism.

Yogananda’s next assertion will sound even more far fetched to mainstream Christians. He is adamant Jesus’ “lost years” were spent studying with Hindu rishis (holy men) in the Himalayas.

A small detail in the gospels lends credence to the assertion: remember those “wise men from the east” who are “led by stars” to Jesus’ birthplace? Well east of Palestine is the Indian subcontinent. It is entirely plausible these men were in fact Hindu.

Yogananda further interprets “being born again” as a literal reference to reincarnation. One must be “born again” (and again, and again) to better calibrate one’s soul. In fact the end goal of Hinduism is to escape further incarnations by achieving “god consciousness” and merging back with the divine- remember how Jesus says “I and the father are one?” This is exactly what Yogananda is talking about. His term for it is “self-realization.”

As I have stated in previous posts, mystical Judaism holds a tenet of reincarnation, gilgul– literally “recycling” or “wheel.” When Jesus asks if a man is born blind because he sinned, or if his parents sinned, this implies a belief in reincarnation. Since a baby can’t sin, the sin could only have transpired in a previous life. According to Hinduism negative karma caused by sin can be “burned off” in subsequent incarnations, eventually refining the human soul to the point of perfection, i.e. god consciousness.

One of the more fascinating assertions in this book is that the seven seals of revelation are in fact the seven chakras. Chakras are the “seals” in the physical body wherein the soul can enter and exit. I have experienced this firsthand with my projections, and have otherwise felt chakras “light up” with a sort of burning energy. Sounds crazy, but I can (subjectively) attest to the reality of these portals on the human body.

I’ve only touched the surface here but if your interest is piqued I highly recommend the book- it is well written and sheds a compelling if bizarre light on christianity. There are other topics covered, for instance the concept of Satan is linked to maya– the illusion of the physical world- which doesn’t entirely make sense to me but perhaps I’m missing something.

In closing, has Yogananda revealed hidden truths here or is this the result of a wild culture clash between east and west? I suppose the answer depends on your beliefs. Hinduism describes existence as a game of hide and seek god plays against himself; he “hides” himself in creation and then must be discovered, kind of like easter eggs in a video game. The Sanskrit term for this is lila- “divine play.” If we as humans are emanations of god’s consciousness, then our “job” in life is to play the seeker in the game.

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Excellent Adventure

When I related my daughter’s Koran shopping episode I noted that Barnes and Noble carries exactly zero books about Hinduism in its religion section. Being married to my husband, I know that not a single book at B&N is accidentally placed: exhaustive research is executed on buying habits of customers, and the potential profitability of each and every book. In fact, even how the books are laid out is thoroughly researched and deliberate. You know those tables scattered throughout the store? Publishers pay a premium to have their volumes displayed on them, as opposed to the shelves.

There are tons of new age, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist books– but nary a volume on Hinduism. Which is strange, because immigrant Hindus in the U.S. tend to be well educated and of the book buying capacity.

However, I do occasionally see one or two volumes published by the Self Realization Fellowship, which as far as I can tell is a quasi-Hindu organization devoted to bringing the “spirit” of Hinduism to a western audience. So it’s not exactly Hindu per se, but probably the closest you’re going to find at B&N.

One day earlier this year I bought one of those volumes: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, pictured below:

paramahansa-yogananda
ommmm…

I got the book home and my husband immediately asked: why did I bring Steve Job’s book home?

Huh? I had no clue what he was talking about.

As it turns out Autobiography of a Yogi was handed out at Mr. Job’s funeral per his request. The Self Realization Fellowship had to scramble to supply oodles of copies, and those who watched the scion interred walked away with a parting gift. Which I now happened to own as well.

The book is not what you think– or at least it wasn’t what I anticipated. I imagined a few hundred pages of Hindu apologetics, and while the volume does include that betimes, Mr. Yogananda’s chirpy, almost silly voice delivers a spellbinding tale that, like most truth, is stranger than fiction.

Way back in the 1930s Mr. Yogananda received a call from God to preach Hinduism, or quasi-Hinduism to the west. So he peregrinates to the States and not only was he well received here, but eventually, with a couple western disciples, embarked (in a model T Ford!) on an around-the-world journey to interview a variety of saints and gurus, including Mahatma Gandhi and stigmatic Therese Neumann.

While in audience of Ms. Neumann Mr. Yogananda uses his vulcan mind-meld powers (yes, he can read minds, but typically only does so with permission) to see if she’s a fake: she isn’t, and by entering her mind Mr. Yogananda witnessed the passion of Jesus Christ in excruciating detail, just as Ms. Neumann did during her stigmatic episodes. He concludes that Ms. Neumann was granted the gift of the stigmata so that Christians could have the veracity and suffering of Jesus Christ validated. (Even if you don’t feel like reading the whole book, reading that chapter alone is worth the effort and $12.50… not to mention the volume is available free online in pdf form.)

The book is not entirely autobiographical and does delve into Mr. Yogananda’s theological “unifying theories–” namely that there are no vital differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Of course, this will make your average believing Christian’s head explode, but he does offer salient points, or at the very least food for fodder. For instance there is evidence that early Christians held a tenet of reincarnation- as does mystical Judaism, from whence Christianity arose.  When Jesus heals the man born blind, he asks: did this man sin, or did his parents sin? Well a baby cannot sin, so where did this sin originate? Plausibly this is a reference to a previous incarnation, hearkening to the concept of karma. Furthermore the gospels imply that John the Baptist is the “recycled” (to use the hebrew term, gilgul) version of Elijah. In Matthew 11 Jesus says of John the Baptist, And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mr. Yogananda’s theories on Christian-Hindu unity are complex and I can’t pretend to understand them fully. However, one his stranger postulations is that the Hindu concept of maya– illusion- is synonymous with the Christian notion of Satan. This will be a foreign concept to believing Christians, who view Satan as a personified fallen angel who tempts mankind toward evil deeds.

The book is an easy read and would be of interest to anyone with a yen for religion or history, as the era in which Mr. Yoganada travels prefaces World War II. Heck, it would be an interesting read even for people with an interest in Steve Jobs! So if you are looking for a book to page through by the pool, this one comes highly recommended.

Catholic School

Some views from the caverns of Catholic school. When I walk into my younger children’s school I feel I’ve been transported back in time. Case in point:

phonebooth
Neo?

Despite growing up in a Christian environment I still find it bizarre to see Christian iconography in a school.

stjoseph
supernatural hallway monitor

infantjesus
infant jesus of prague, backup for checking hallway passes

cagethe cage where they lock up naughty children. JUST KIDDING! this blocks access to the roof.

lastsupperthe last supper in the auditorium

francisPope Francis looking humble and communist.

nrdame
the virgin at my older daughter’s school.

The Hippie Preacher

I recently came across a fascinating documentary about Lonnie Frisbee, a pentecostal preacher who is, arguably, single-handedly responsible for the inception of the Vineyard movement that grew into a huge “franchise” of churches worldwide. There are more than a few twists to this story: for one, Frisbee started out as a barely literate, drug-addled hippie whose first encounters with Jesus transpired courtesy of LSD. For second, he was openly gay until renouncing homosexuality once born-again. However he had difficulty giving up his sexual inklings and to some degree- how much isn’t known- he slipped back into gay relationships and gay sex during his ministry, “partying on Saturday night and preaching Sunday morning.” Once his predilections became known to the higher ups in the community he was summarily fired and written out of the history of the Jesus Movement despite being one of its most pivotal figures.

To be fair, Frisbee himself believed homosexuality to be a sin according to his own interpretation of scriptures. Despite his deep religiosity and “anointed” abilities to heal and proselytize, he continued to struggle with sexuality even at the height of his career. One can view this two ways, I suppose. Either he was a deliberate fraud, or he was a well-meaning- but tormented- man of deep faith. The documentary gives the impression of the latter, and I can only imagine how fierce Frisbee’s inner demons must have been while living a double life.

By all accounts, Frisbee was an extraordinarily charismatic individual who could bring droves to Jesus. He also believed that the miracles described in the New Testament should still be extant today, and the documentary relates two incidents of miraculous healings he performed, as well as moments where he converted vast crowds to Christ in one fell swoop. I sometimes wonder if these pentecostal preachers have some kind of hypnotic ability over their audience. Secularly speaking, how do they get people to fall to the ground, speak in tongues, to have life-altering encounters with Jesus/ God/ the holy spirit? I’ve been to evangelical churches, and while I enjoyed the music, I never felt anything close to dropping to the ground and praising Jesus. I guess Satan has a force field around me.

I once read the theory that sexual and religious passion are similar to one another, despite residing on polar sides of the morality spectrum. The Jewish reasoning for this is that the passages of the Sotah (adulteress) and Nazirite “touch” each other in the Torah (Numbers 5-6). It would seem that in certain individuals, like Frisbee, the wires of sexual and religious fervor get crossed. Maybe this is true for other men of the cloth; I had a friend married to a sex addict and once she finally made her way to a support group for spouses of sex addicts, she was surprised to find most of the women were married to preachers.

The documentary is well done and balanced, remaining respectful of Frisbee’s beliefs while not hammering the gay rights issue too hard. It was not executed by a Christian production company, but a secular one. It also offers a spellbinding peek into the early Jesus Movement within the 1960s counter-cultural era. Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher is available in full on youtube.

How to Die in Oregon

How to Die in Oregon is a documentary about Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of barbiturates to the terminally ill. The docu paints a rosy portrait of the process, showing the procurement of the drugs (“hey, I didn’t know my insurance would cover it!”), the mixing of the drugs into water by volunteers, and joking, singing family members handing their loved ones off to the afterlife.

While I can see the use and good of this law in the hands of the educated, affluent, thoughtful circles shown in the film, I couldn’t help but consider how horrific this kind of national habit would be in the hands of the government, or even worse, insurance companies (the two will be the same thing eventually), or what might happen in a more hostile family situation where a sick person could be directly or indirectly coerced to end their life for convenience. Indeed, one of the few opposing views in the film came from a man terminally ill with prostate cancer. He shared the denial letter from his insurance company refusing to pay for chemotherapy– but it did offer to cover his suicide cocktail if he elected to die with dignity.

Having watched a beloved family member die slowly and horribly from multiple myeloma, I know she would have happily chugged down the barbiturate cocktail rather than endure an artificially extended life of agony. Under pressure from her children, though, she continued treatment while her “life” was dragged out months on end. I put “life” in quotes because she knew nothing but pain and despair over that period, and she made it clear to me she was ready, willing, and unafraid to die. But her children and the medical establishment won out: everything conceivable was administered and performed to eek out a few more moments of existence. But at what human cost?

This is the thing I don’t understand about Christians who insist on extending life as long as possible with every last medical measure at humanity’s disposal. Where in the Bible does it say you just keep doing stuff to sick people until their bodies simply won’t take it anymore? I’d estimate that my relative lived about eight months beyond what she naturally should have, already having received a heavy amount of treatment, but those eighth months were a second by second torture to her. Where does the Bible require that?

So I can see both sides of the equation, and while I appreciate the desire of the act’s advocates to provide people with a comfortable death within their control, I feel they’re a bit naive as to where this road might lead. Not everyone lives the comfortable lives of those featured in this film, with devoted, brainy relatives, excellent insurance coverage, and access to outstanding and caring doctors. Given that the act currently operates at a grassroots level via a network of volunteers, they probably don’t realize how toxic this could become in the hands of those with power.

In terms of documentary quality, the film was good but not great. It probably should have simply focused on people electing to end their lives via the act, but instead comes across as a propaganda piece, which is annoying no matter which side of the matter your opinion resides.

Boondock Saints and Angels of Death

Over the years I’d had The Boondock Saints recommended to me, but since vigilante movies aren’t my cup of tea, I avoided it. Yet last night, wanting to kill some time, I decided to watch it because none other than Norman Reedus– who later would be anointed with Walking Dead fame as the much-loved Daryl Dixon– stars in it as vigilante Murphy McManus.

It didn’t take long before I realized Boondock Saints is much more than a vigilante film. It’s an “angel film” in the vein of The Bishop’s Wife or Wings of Desire. The dead giveaway is that– despite being uneducated and working in a meat packing plant– they are fluent in any language they hear. When wanting to converse in secret, they speak in Gaelic which is probably a subtle reference to the “angel language” mentioned in the Bible. The movie drops many other hints that the brothers are in fact otherworldly beings, but if you haven’t seen the film I’ll leave it up to you to pick them out.

The Bible, or Torah, actually describes “avenging angels, “destroying angels,” or “angels of death” in several passages, including the famous “destroyer” who kills the Egyptian firstborn on Passover night.

boondock

Of course, Boondock is a heavily Christian film, with the brothers depicted as strangely devout and single minded about good vs. evil, but the notion of “destroying angels” has been carried over into Christian tradition.

I typically enjoy Willem Defoe as an actor but his performance in Boondocks is horrible and nearly ruins the film. He looks absolutely ridiculous waltzing around crime scenes with eyes closed, and his over-the-top rendition of a gay, morally conflicted FBI agent was embarrassing to watch. I don’t know if he was directed to perform this way, or if, as the biggest star in the cast, he decided to be egregiously flamboyant.

The film raised a lot of questions for me: if the brothers are angels, what was the role of Rocco? Were the angels sent to protect him? Was Il Duce meant to be representative of Satan– who was a “fallen angel–” given how he is released from prison (as is described in Revelations)? Since we eventually end up with three vigilantes, are they meant to represent the trinity, or the three primary monotheistic religions? I’m sure the writer had some of these ideas in mind, but how precise they were meant to be, or exactly what type of film he wished to create (religious vs. action, etc.) is open for debate.