Thursday, April 17, 2008
Who Is Your Spiritual Authority?
I saw the Pope yesterday. Not on purpose, mind you - it would never occur to me to go stand in a crowd to watch a Pope ride by. As a Jew, the whole idea of a central religious authority figure is weird. We Jews have our heroes and our minor popes (I think of the great Talmudic rabbis of the middle ages, for instance), but none of us would think to name one person as the rabbi of rabbis. Never.
In Reclaiming, too, the wiccan group I was once a part of, a core value was based on the idea that every person is his or her own spiritual authority, and that no one needs a mediator to talk to God. In practice, there was a very clearly defined structure of spiritual hierarchy, but we tried not to notice because we were so idealistic.
Religious celebrity is strange, compelling even to spiritual anarchists such as myself. For instance, last year I went, on purpose, to see the Dalai Lama when he spoke at the Capitol. I felt a little thrill pass through me when I saw him, proving that I'm not immune to the glamour of people whose lifetime calling is to talk to God. The "Hugging Saint" of India comes to mind, too. People sit all night waiting for a chance to hug her. Think about it.
I would never have known that the Pope was about to ride by if not for the acupuncturist who casually mentioned it as I was leaving after yesterday's session. Sure enough, not two minutes later the crowd, a half-block away, began to cheer.
As you can see in the shadow pic, the couple in front of me held hands as they waited to see His Eminence. After he passed by, the woman next to me said, "Oh my goodness!" about ten times, very very reverently. For her, a quick glance at that small shriveled man dressed in white, riding past in a bulletproof ice cube, was a potent reminder that she could be close to God. That's a good thing to have happen during a weekday lunch hour, right? Right.