Most of us think of angels as sweet-faced creatures, singing in choirs, hovering over the stable in Bethlehem, or clustering about to catch us when we fall, protecting us from auto accidents and the like.
But there is also that concept of the avenging angel, like this one, who dispenses justice from the hall of the Doges Palace in Venice. You get the distinct sense, looking at this angel, that whatever vengeance it hurls down will be well deserved; it reminds me a bit of a mother who has lost patience with her child and is about to strike him or her, the implication being that whatever pain results from that is fully deserved, and the poor being who suffers brought it on himself by his own actions.
It reminds me a bit of a line from an old movie from the Eighties called Semi-Tough, a ridiculous Burt Reynolds/Kris Kristofferson spoof of EST and the other self-help mentalities that were so popular back in those days. Both are football players, and Burt Reynolds seems to have lost his playing edge, so someone talks him into trying rolfing. When next you see him he is lying on a massage table on his stomach, covered only by a towel, and a woman who bears a terrifying resemblance to one of the evil Russian spies in the James Bond movies of the time (you know, the one with the knives that shoot out of the tips of her shoes?) is digging her fingers into his back while he screams in pain.
And her reassuring words to him as he begs to escape the agony of her brutally probing fingers are, "This is not me hurting you; this is you hurting yourself!" (said, of course, in a thick and menacing Russian accent).
... which is not unlike what my cheating ex-husband used to say to me when I was crying desperately over his latest infidelity. "I'm not hurting you; you are hurting yourself by dwelling on it like this."
... which is, in turn, not unlike what the Republicans sometimes say when the Democrats get too protective and concerned about the poor: "they brought their suffering on themselves with their laziness, and with the bad choices they made."
...which is, in turn, not unlike the underlying statement of Buddhism: that there will always be pain, but it is you who create your own suffering, by the way you react to, think about, obsess about and avoid your pain.
Hmm. Does that mean Buddhists are Republicans? Or Republicans are Buddhists?
I stopped here after writing this post this morning, as I had to leave to take my daughter to a doctor's appointment. I elected not to publish it at the time, as it seemed unfinished, or at least to be moving in a rather disturbing direction. Which is not surprising, because I wrote it after a rather disturbing meditation -- one in which I found myself revisiting a long-forgotten moment in my childhood.
I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and my neighbor's daughter had taken me up to the hayloft in her father's barn to visit a new litter of kittens. I don't actually know if this activity had been forbidden, but I do remember I fell out of the hayloft and knocked the wind out of myself (I suspect I didn't injure anything else).
But I also suspect my mother must have yelled at me, because there is this confusing sense that I did something I didn't know was wrong, and I got hurt AND I got yelled at. Which, I suspect, is how some of the people who are beginning to feel the hideous pinch of this economic crisis must feel.
I also suspect this combination of feelings flavored much of my childhood, which probably explains why I still struggle with insecurity, and why my automatic response to difficult situations is always to appease and apologize. There's always this sense that there are rules I don't know or understand, but might inadvertently have broken, and I'm always worried someone will be yelling at me about that. But hey, I'm working on it: it's all grist for the mill.
I'm not quite sure why reading about Buddhism triggered this progression of memories in me. But watching them all line up in a row like dominoes, ready to tip me over to the bleak darkness that is shame, helps me understand why I keep running back to the middle of that bridge between Christianity and Buddhism. I'm not saying it's the right thing to do, only that it's my inclination.
Because I want the forgiveness.
And I want the hope.
And I still believe those are the gifts that Jesus brings -- and I can't tell you how grateful I still am for those gifts, all these many years later.
Something tells me we must be moving into Advent...