ego, spirituality and bacon

This funeral jar, from my current show at Edge Gallery (November 7-30) is one of my favorites.  It’s sleek, art deco lines and the architecture of the top-stone of quartz studded naturally with pyrite came from a sketch I did years ago and never threw on the wheel.

Like all 19 of the containers for this show, the lid fits tightly and its seams are left unglazed so that a funeral home can epoxy a tight seal once the human cremains are placed in it.  Also, if one were to use it for cookies until one’s death, as I am doing with mine, the seal keeps my Ginger-creme cookies fresh. (They are cheap at Costco, except you need to buy four boxes which, really, is just not a problem at all unless you make it one.  Which we humans do a lot.)

Someone I love asked me recently “what is the most damaging spiritual foible we humans face?”  My answer is just my opinion, and it is just mine today, and the answer has changed for me over the years.  I used to take the line the church has always offered and in a way, I still do, but with a twist (I know…”surprise!?”.)

Of course, human pride is the most dangerous of the collection of sins.  It leads the way at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins.  (Which used to be 8 until “fear” was dropped from the deadly-sin-list for having been one of the stupidest decisions the Church has ever come up with (and there have been some doozies! -the inquisition, sins being passed on by women, babies being evil until baptized, bans on female’s speaking in church or becoming bishops, the crusades, and switching crusty, warm, moist, hot  bread for wafers – to name a few )).

Bit it seems to me (and I am sad to say, I am an expert in this sin without the gifts to back it up  – I mean if Saint Francis was prideful about his new movement well, ok.  If Einstien was proud of his intellect – I’m gonna let that slide like Julia and her cookbook.) … it seems to me that the sin-winner is a special kind of pride about which C. S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters *.  The passage referenced below is technically about, and categorized by Christians as being about, gluttony.  And I get that.  But from an Eastern point of view, if you push deeper, the passage is about pride – or, its great bellows, the Ego.

Wanting everything around us to be perfect, just right, the way we want things to be, can seem like gluttony when food is the issue, but when the issue shifts to family, work, house decor, schedules, liturgy, possessions, bacon, even Starbucks coffee (“half caf with steamed low-fat almond milk, not too hot, and with half a packet of sweetener , the yellow packet, not the blue or pink one”…really?  I mean REALLY!?!?) – well then one can see that the issue is not really gluttony as much as it is about getting what we think we want.  It is about being too sure of too much – the great sin of theologians and liturgists – when God delights in messing about with stuff – like the new purple praying mantis with yellow spots! Who knew there could be 4057 kinds of praying mantis when we thought there were only 4056?! Silly hairless bipeds!

When we box ourselves into a chamber in which we let our ego try to live out its fetish for making things just right, then we find that we have sealed the lid on our coffin (or cremains jar) rather too early.  Perhaps it is better to let some chaos into our order.  This is what we are just beginning to learn learn as a church community in the cathedral.  It is so hard to change a culture.  But lightening up about some pasta, cream and chicken goop on the stone floor after Wednesday’s celebration (as we have done so well!) is the 101 course to learning that what I want in my life is just what I think I want and what I think I want right now.  Adding the energy of “I am right and you are wrong.” shifts into a kind of social pathology of which few are guilty – and karma will sort that out.  It usually does.

In the end, cracking open our life-containers of “I must have this.”  or “I must be that.” or “It must be this way.” not only reflects the creation of which we are a part; it also makes life, well, a bit easier.  For everyone.  It improves lives, lightens marriages, softens friendships and blankets working relationships.

This morning I burned the bacon because I can no longer smell bacon baking…or burning.  A flash of ego told me to have a small tantrum.  But when I broke the burned bacon up in my buckwheat pancakes (which I only made because I had burned the bacon) presto! … the crunch and the softness of bacon pancakes was surprisingly wonderful.

Chaos, or at least Chaord (chaos and order’s Switzerland) might just be a new sacrament, if we let it be one.

My dear Wormwood,     The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled by it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient’s mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished—one day, I hope, will be—to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile “Oh please, please … all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast”. You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practising temperance. In a crowded restaurant she gives a little scream at the plate which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, “Oh, that’s far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it”. If challenged, she would say she was doing this to avoid waste; in reality she does it because the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want. (Letter XVII) The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis (buy the audio version with John Cleese!

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