Good Friday poetry
Today in the Eastern Orthodox church is Good Friday. Last night an Orthodox parish in Cambridge had a (long, long) service during which the priests and deacons read all four Gospels from the Last Supper through to the burial.
Like I said, long.
At one point, Mass. Ave. was closed to traffic as the worshipers of three Orthodox parishes near Central Square coalesced with their respective beirs held high, that is, they marched down the middle of Mass Ave. with three coffins containing Christ, everyone singing funeral dirges during the height of Central Sq. drinking time. I was one of the marchers, and it was something to have to explain, repeatedly, to drunk, put-out drivers, “It’s Orthodox Easter this weekend.” [confused looks] “We’re on a slightly different calendar.”
[pretend there's a segue here]
Religion has no clearly identified role in indie culture. If you’re at a Mogwai concert on a Saturday night, chances are you’re not using an early Sunday liturgy to beg out of post-concert drinks. And indie/twixter/hipsters’ devotion to The New leaves not much room, seemingly, for the conservatism (the conservationism) of the world’s major faiths. Religion only gets airplay when it has the trappings of the new or unique or foreign—chances are you’ve been sucked in to a travel story about a white person in an Islamic country (and if you’ve seen Peter O’Toole mince around in his “a’Lawrence” garb in Lawrence of Arabia, then you probably also felt the desire to go native too).
Interestingly, though of course subtly, indie culture—especially its music—is suffused with religiosity, even the traditional brand-names’. Excluding the overt examples like Spiritualized and “the guy who ruined Sunny Day Real Estate,” indie lyricists (in both songs and books) devotion to religious themes is as common as so-called “spiritual” writers found in that section of Barnes and Noble we’re all scared of. Redemption, clear-cut justice, forgiveness, impossible love, unmitigated desire, prophetic pasts—both indies and major faiths have got it all and deal with it all in more nuanced, characteristic ways than any of the watered down or second-hand or secondary-source or derivative “catharsis” offered by pop music, pop film, and pop religion.
It’s just that devoted indie writers and the devoted scripture writers reference very different dictionaries.
By way of showing just how compelling—in a modern indie sense—old-school Christianity can be, I’m copying below a poem sung by the priest last night at the Good Friday service. Just after the fifth Gospel section is read, the priest and deacons process around the church with a large cross. The church is dark but for scattered candles. The Gospel has just told of Jesus’ being condemned, and during what in my church is the closest parallel to the Catholic “Stations of the Cross,” that is, during the procession with the cross around the church, the priest sings:
Today is hung upon the Tree,
He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters.
A Crown of thorns crowns Him
Who is King of Angels.
He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery
Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds.
He received buffetings
Who freed Adam in Jordan.
He was transfixed with nails
Who is the Bridegroom of the Church.
He was pierced with a spear
Who is the Son of the Virgin.
We worship Thy Passion, O Christ.
Show also unto us thy glorious Resurrection.
The couplet that gets me is the second-to-last. Yes, it’s sexual. Jesus was speared, defiled, despite being born of the inviolable one. The Bible, we’ve forgotten given most of our Middle Ages/Renaissance religious roots, is really fleshy, from the Psalms and Song of Songs all the way up to Jesus’ own descriptions of communion. Early Church writers in the Near and Middle East make a huge deal of this, of sexual metaphor. The Church is seen as a bride and Jesus as the groom, and the blood spilt at Golgotha is compared to the blood spilt in the bridal chamber. Given indie music’s ability to sexualize—usually in genuine, respectful ways—just about anything, from unraveling sweaters to nights spent in the snow, the connection between religion and indie culture is worth continuing to explore. Bridge-building wouldn’t be a bad idea.