Monday, May 31, 2010

Flames and passion vs coolness and serenity

Some of my goddesses make me uncomfortable, and this one definitely falls into that category; I've not even been sure I wanted to include her in the collection. And looking at her, I can hear a song my dad used to sing in his rumrunners group years and years ago, strumming along on his washboard bass.

It's a song called Poor Man Lazarus (you can hear a cute rendition here, though I couldn't find any versions on youtube that had quite the charm my father's rendition had), and the lines in my head go like this:


I'm tormented in the fla-ame,

I'm tormented in the flame.
Dip your finger in the water,

Come and cool my tongue
Cuz I'm tormented in the flame.

It probably has something to do with that age-old association between sex and sin that's planted so deeply within all of us who grew up in classic christianity.

So I was amused to read in a little book called Buddhist Inspirations that I picked up this morning, that the original meaning of Nirvana is all about cooling the flame; about extinguishing forever the passions and cravings that lead to suffering. And thinking about that, I see another major difference between Buddhism and Christianity, and wonder how it is that I continue to straddle them both.

Because it's my understanding -- not just from this book, but from my other encounters with Buddhism -- that Buddhists believe longing is a source of suffering, and needs to be extinguished. But my understanding of Christianity -- which is not the classic understanding, but more a contemporary wisdom-based understanding -- is that that longing is actually a longing for the Holy, that it comes from an awareness of our sense of separation, and is a reflection of God's longing for us.

In that case, our job is not to extinguish it, but to comprehend and honor it, and to feed it with that which actually satisfies the hunger -- with serenity, and prayer, and connection and passion and worship and communion -- all the things that draw us into closer companionship with the Holy. The flames of hell come, I think, when we try to satisfy that longing by feeding it with something other than the Holy...

The differences between the two interpretations, of course, are all tied up with the fact that Christians believe there is a God, and Buddhists believe Nirvana -- which I guess might be equivalent to what Christians refer to as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God -- is something you achieve on your own by a diligent adherence to a specific set of rules. Christ and Buddha both tell us it's something here, and now; a way of being and living that honors our connection to all creation. They have different understandings of what it looks like and how to achieve it, but share this sense that flames and passion are bad, that coolness and serenity are good.

So then what do I do with the cool blue flames of this curious creation -- and the way they mask the brighter hotter flames beneath? She seems almost embarrassingly seductive -- and is that a garter belt she's wearing? Oy!

Nope. Just don't quite know what to do with this one... She definitely feels a little... exposed; a little ... naughty. Maybe she's just about that longing we get sometimes for life to be... well, just... different. Not what it is.

This too shall pass...


Maureen said...

Well, yes, I can "see" the corset and the garters but I don't think she's over-exposed and she's a lot more beautiful than some things I've seen. Also, I can think of at least a few reasons why having a passion (as in passion for art, passion for writing or poetry, passion for life, passion for the spiritual, for good works) isn't so bad. Moreover, the phoenix never would have risen again had it not gone through the fire and ash.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Please don't leave her out ... I truly love her and if she's making you uncomfortable, there must be a lesson there. Love her!