I grew up in a post World War II nuclear family that practiced patriarchial Irish Catholic fundamentalism as a spiritual discipline and an art. School uniforms. Morning Mass in Latin. Altar Boys. Immaculate surfaces. Catholic college. Almighty God. Mom, Dad, and the kids.
Receive the sacraments. Make the novenas. Stations of the Cross.Fish on Friday, Confession on Saturday. You are called to be perfect as the father is perfect.
Dad was silent. Mom was holy. She saw that we chanted the rosary after dinner. She helped us build our first May altars, knelt down with us before bed and prayed. There were beeswax candles. We sang litanies on feast days at midnight. Sometimes my mother, my grandmother, and all the aunts would circle round the coffee table in the front window after Sunday dinner and disgorge their boxes of religious paraphenalia. Scapulars, rosaries. Sacred Heart badges. They had miraculous medals to pin to your undershirt if you get the croup, and a tiny vial of water from the grotto at Lourdes where the virgin appeared to the little children. They had holy cards with all the important prayers. like “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Hosts, hail our life, our sweetness and our hope”.
It was complicated how it all came about: Jesus in the manger nailed to the cross. Three persons in one God. Mortal sin. The Annunciation. Adam and Eve. It was hard to get things to add up. “Honor thy Father and thy Mother” means “Don’t disobey.” “Thou shalt not kill” means “Don’t fight.” When you want something, you ask the Blessed Virgin and she puts it in her heart. Jesus sees it there and tells God.
No one exactly said it outright, but I figured out that the way it was supposed to feel had something to do with radiant light. We had crystal rosaries and glow-in-the-dark crucifixes. Saints had haloes and bands of light leaping from their hands. Mary wore stars in her golden crown. Illuminated heart of Jesus, pray for us. When it all worked out, you’d be bathed in radiant light, the mysteries and miracles would connect, and it would all made sense. If you didn’t get there right off, well, just keep praying, stick with it. Maybe when you’re older.
Well, I got older and it didn’t stick. I took other roads in searh of that radiant light. They didn’t like it, and used tough love on me. I didn’t like that.
I’ve been thinking about these things because I’ve been reading Pure Lust by philosopher Mary Daly. Lust, as in lustre, as in passionate longing — for beauty and truth and tenderness. Even as that longing is encumbered by the dark weight of the knowledge that something is terribly wrong in the world today. It’s a death-dealing phallocratic patriarchy out there, says Daly. Lust has been perverted to Thrust. We drill for minerals and fire our missles. We make vaginal probes and architectural erections. Sado-society, she calls it duplicitous, self-destructive, raping, lethal. It permeates everything–the ways we are taught to think, almost all of our expections. ALMOST…
The real reality, the one we can’t stop lusting after, is a biophilic consciousness, says Daly, a consciousness based on life’s obvious afinity for life. Yet we’re trapped in a sado-society woven of doublethink and deception. But every deception contains a crack, a lens for lustre where real knowledge, preserved and handed down in the intuitions and memories of women, radiates towards us.
Who’d a thunk it. The mothers and the sisters and the aunts. Reflecting and transmitting elemental luminescence. As best they can.