When I was a kid, the family tendency, as soon as we got home from church, was to strip off all our dressy church clothes, put on shorts and T-shirts, and watch TV the rest of the night. But I resisted this tendency. I don't blame the family for doing it (as I got older, I did it too), but something in me wanted to go into my room by myself, keep my church clothes on, do some quiet activity or do nothing at all (maybe even just go to bed and think), and above all avoid the TV. Something about immediately going back to "normal" just felt wrong to me, made me feel a little sick. I realize now that feeling has to do with the concept of the holy, which I'll attempt to describe here.
The experience of going to church -- if the church does it right -- puts you in another frame of mind, to allow you to think a different way, feel a different way, talk a different way, etc. That's what the stained-glass windows and candles and architecture is all about (not that my church had any of that). When the Bible tells you to separate yourself from this world, it's addressing this concept. As a boy (about age six to about age fourteen), I wanted to retain that different feeling. I didn't want to kill it as soon as I had the opportunity, especially since it would be gone by morning. It's not that the more comfy clothes and television were evil. They just weren't holy.
A lot of people say they get their best ideas in the bathroom: either taking a shower or taking a long dump. They might also get their best ideas while walking or jogging. Why is this? Easy. Because these are the times that you are by yourself, alone with your mind, away from what I'm going to call the glut.
When I was young, TV was the primary glut. It was the thing that best allowed you to do what you most wanted to do (whether you realized it or not): to be as far away from your inner life as possible. In the past decade, the glut has become more attainable than ever. As useful as cellular telephones can be, their primary function seems to be the twenty-four hour a day ability to disconnect yourself from the life of your thoughts. The main reason I don't use one (and I promise that this is not simply going to be a complaint about cell phones) is that I don't want people to be able to reach me at all times of the day. This isn't selfish. This is mental and spiritual health. I don't want to be the guy at the airport who sits down in his chair, nothing to do for thirty minutes, who looks around anxiously until he finally (and eventually this happens quickly, becomes second nature) realizes (oh!) he can call someone. And what does he say? "Hey, I'm at the airport. Yeah, I've got about thirty minutes till we board." Translated to: "I'm using you to avoid meditation."
If he were forced to sit there for that thirty minutes -- no cell phone, no laptop, no magazine -- he would be forced to have a holy moment. Maybe he'd look at people. Maybe he'd have thoughts about them: they look different, they look the same, they are moving while he is still, they have similar destinies, some tend to radiate more than others. Maybe he'd think of himself, at various stages of his life and of his future. Maybe he'd think of other people, which would connect him more to them than if he called them to talk glut, because he needed to kill time (and is now killing them and their own inner world). He'd, for that thirty minutes, be forced to become part of the eternal life that he's so afraid of.
As a kid going to a church that affected me in a positive way (and I plan to write about those days in a later post), the arrival home was part of the experience. The clothes, too, were part of the experience. Why? Because they were different. They weren't my daily clothes: the clothes I wore while watching a rerun of The Munsters for the fiftieth time. I remember thinking once, "This is why they say cleanliness is next to godliness." This is what dressing up is all about, to remove yourself, through clothing, from the everyday. And I felt I had to run away from the TV. It immediately came on (it was pretty much always on in the house) and I had to close myself off to avoid it. Certain religious groups preach against the television. They exaggerate, as always ("You're going to hell if you get one," "There's nothing but pornographic filth on it," etc.), but in a way they're on to something. Television's number one function is to distract you from anything real.
When I was older, I sometimes got those sick feelings too, when moments of holiness were juxtaposed with moments of glut. When I was seventeen, I saw David Lynch's Fire Walk With Me and the effect on me was profound. (Holiness, by the way, doesn't have to be a religious concept; it can come in different forms, in this case a movie.) Eventually after seeing this film, I had to creep back into the real world, and later that night, still feeling the holy feelings, I walked into a room where someone was watching television. The screen looked like it was covered with moving vomit, literal vomit. I couldn't make out anything on the screen: just smears of someone else's sick. My inner world was filled with art and my visual world was suddenly filled with the opposite, and that was the moment I first truly realized the destructive power of television for the mind and spirit. I had a lesser version of that experience a day or two ago when I was reading Joseph Campbell. I put the book down and (apparently too quickly) went to my computer and loaded up Facebook. Everyone's little posts -- "I'm about to eat some dinner, " "I'm ready for 5:00 to get here" -- and just the mundane look of the site made me a little pukey. (I hesitate to even write about that experience here, because I want this God Blog to be somewhat holy, separate from those kinds of places on the internet.)
I again promise you that I'm not just picking on certain kinds of technology (cell phones, television, laptops, social network sites, etc.). I'm not just being the old grumpy man. It just so happens that TV and cell phones seem to be primarily used for glut (while books are often not). I've seen true art on TV and had holy moments while watching it. The relaxation that television (even bad television) affords can even be therapeutic for your soul to a point, but after a while (once you've properly relaxed), it transforms and all you're left with is the crappy TV. It becomes glut. (The food analogies are obvious here: over-eating, "comfort food," etc. This kind of eating, of course, is usually paired with TV viewing.)
I also don't want you to think that because I'm talking about the inner life that my idea of holiness is only arrived at through solitude. The only reason I escaped my family those post-church nights was because they were returning to a place that I wasn't ready to go back to. My favorite nights after church, in fact, were the ones where we came home and sat together a little more and talked. We would talk about the Bible or about other things that may have happened, or maybe we just talked about something non-church related, just enjoyed each other--no television. Or we would have friends follow us home and we'd play the piano and sing. Times like those allow you not only to have a fun time together, but (if you're thoughtful enough) it also makes you aware, within the moment, that you are experiencing something special and gives you those special feelings. (If this doesn't happen, these moments can just turn into common noise: fun, but not holy.) Christmas can be a good time for that communal holiness. If you allow the magic of the tree lights, weird food, strange music you only hear one month out of the year, etc. to sweep over you, it can be amazing. This is that "special feeling" the songs are about, the "spirit of Christmas." You're removed from the normality of the rest of the year and enter this special zone. (Alternately, Christmas can be the noisiest, most depressing, spirit-killing glut-fest.)
I realize I'm not saying anything entirely new here (I never do), but I do think I'm saying something beyond just "Stop and smell the roses." I'm not just talking about getting away from the business of everyday life every now and then to have a quiet moment (though that's a start). I'm talking about attempting to go beyond the almost irresistible comfort of glut, so irresistible and comfortable that -- to some -- they don't know they're in it. For some, glut is life and the holy is merely boredom. (For me too, often, unfortunately.) This is why reincarnation (as a metaphor) is seen as a bad thing: it's just the same shit over and over again.
So -- to attempt a definition -- the holy is anything beyond the everyday that can alter or increase your consciousness in some way, anything that makes you thoughtful instead of thoughtless, anything that allows you to delve down to your inner life, anything that makes you feel that which is beyond words. And the glut is anything that is so mundane, artless, or noisy that it hinders the above.
For me, solitude does seem to work best for arriving at this holy state. Sitting outside with trees arching over me, birds talking, squirrels nibbling everywhere, insects crawling through the leaves at my feet like blood. A quiet room and a sheet of paper. An art museum--all that white space, all those echoed footsteps, all those pieces on display that wouldn't have as much power somewhere else. Staring at any given space and meditating on whatever happens to be there: a stack of CDs, two shoes arranged in that particular way on the floor, the base of a microphone stand, the top left corner of a window pane. All of this is holy, all of this is God.