"I warn you, if you bore me, I shall take my revenge."
I generally do not accept invitations to attend group activities. Maybe it's a mild case of social anxiety disorder or simply an aversion to participating in gang religious ceremonies brought on by too many childhood years spent immersed in Catholic church rituals.
My mother was a big fan of Sunday mass, and usually wept during communion and certain organ solos. My dad had understood long ago that church was mandatory weekly (more often during Lent) duty, and volunteered to be one of the guys who passed the offering baskets so that he had an excuse to be away from my tearful mother who would wear her sunglasses indoors to hide her puffy eyes and smudged mascara. The basket guys were responsible for counting up all of the money collected, so he was able to hide out in the back office with the other husband defectors for most of the service every Sunday. It was my job to sit on the hard wooden pew next to my mother and try not to melt into a pool of mortification as she sniffled and sang hymns in a weepy vibrato, drawing glances from others around us. I do believe that my dad felt badly about ditching me to shoulder the burden of my mother's religious fervor, so every Sunday after church was over, we would go for ice cream. All of my anxiety and embarrassment were immediately soothed by a double dip of mint chocolate chip, consumed right there in the cool sanctuary of Baskin-Robbins. My dad would always get one scoop of rainbow sherbet in a cup, and even though we never discussed the recurring church drama, somehow it was understood that this was the payoff for the emotional heavy lifting we had to do on Sundays. Being on a perpetual diet and fearing that somehow, the delicious, sugary fat in the ice cream would magically leap from the freezer and attach itself to her hips, my mother refused to cross the threshold of Baskin-Robbins, preferring to sit in the car and watch us through the window as we enjoyed our refreshment.
Semi-related side note: my parents were fond of collecting dogs in hilariously mismatched pairs such as a runt Yorkshire Terrier with a skin condition and a comically overweight German Shepherd, throwing them together and then not understanding why there was canine drama around the food bowl and sleeping arrangements. Long after I had left the house, they finally adopted Lhasa Apso puppies from the same litter and things settled down considerably. (By the way, don't ask what happened to all those other clashing pairs of dogs they assembled over the years. There never was a believable explanation for how/why one team would disappear and the next comedy duo would arrive.) It was this last pair of dogs that brought out the disturbingly over-protective and nurturing side of my parents that their children never experienced. On one visit, I witnessed an apparently well-rehearsed routine in which my dad would hold both dogs on his lap while my mother fed them strawberry ice cream from a baby spoon. As if this was not bad enough, she went into high-pitched baby talk, asking if the dogs "loved 'ikeems' in their tummies". Sweet Jesus. Who are these people?
Every spiritual gathering since then is somehow a variation on the original theme. Someone is droning on about God. Someone is crying. Someone wants to collect money. And I try to come in to close, personal contact with mint chocolate chip ice cream as soon as humanly possible.
A few years ago, I was invited to attend a group meditation in which a mystic named "Jonathan" would go into a trance, calling in angels and various ascended masters to answer personal questions from the audience. Jonathan was something of a local celebrity at the time and had an impressive following of middle-aged women who swarmed around him wherever he went and jockeyed for positions in the front row of his meditation events.
The night I attend, my friend and I arrive about 15 minutes before the ceremony is scheduled to begin, but the regulars are way ahead of us and no folding chairs are available. A metal bench is dragged in from another room to accommodate us, and we are relegated to the back row where the view is not optimal, but still affords me the ability to witness the spectacle.
There are about 60 of us packed into an uncomfortably warm room, all women with the exception of two flamboyantly gay men wearing Lycra bicycle shorts and leg warmers. At the appointed hour, Jonathan wafts into the room clad in a white caftan with many strands of beads around his neck. His hair is long and loose around his shoulders and I catch a glimpse of Roman sandals beneath his gown. My first thought is that Jonathan has just come from a New Testament costume shindig, but nobody else seems amused by his apparel, so I keep my observations to myself.
A hush falls over the room as Jonathan takes his place on the small stage and graces us with an ethereal smile. The women who have scored front-row seats are looking up at him with wide eyes and high expectations. One woman in particular is already dabbing away tears with something that looks like a dishrag while her busty friend in an extremely low-cut blouse is taking pictures of Jonathan with her cell phone.
Jonathan welcomes us and then promptly gets down to business by closing his eyes and entering into a trance. As he sways from side to side, he begins to invoke an exceedingly long and alphabetical list of angels and archangels, saints and entities. My mind starts to wander as I shift on the bench in this unventilated room: am I the only one finding the caftan and sandals absurd? Did I remember to lock the door when I left the house? What is that terrible stench (steamed broccoli? unkempt vagina?) emanating from the woman sitting in front of me? Do I hear someone snoring already?
My attention is drawn back to Jonathan as I notice what appears to be a sizable erection blossoming beneath his man muumuu (this being my first time attending the meditation, Jonathan's obvious arousal and lack of undergarments may be a perfectly commonplace, weekly occurrence and something that the devotees are entirely accustomed to seeing). I look around the room to see if anyone besides me is noticing that Sergeant Stiffy has arrived on the scene, but with the exception of the gay fellows who are nudging one another and tittering, almost everyone else has their eyes tightly closed as the spirits are summoned.
I am barely able to contain my giggles as I imagine Jonathan's erection as a fleshy dowsing rod, pointing to the lucky lady who will get to ascend the stairway to heaven with him in the back seat of his Nissan Pathfinder. I immediately feel guilty for having such lurid thoughts during what is meant to be a sacred gathering of spiritual seekers. Then it's back to staring at the front of his caftan again and wondering what could possibly happen next as he nears the end of the list of angels to be called forth into this room of admirers.
Anti-climatically (!), Jonathan and his boner sit down as soon as the twelve minute invocation ends. As the women open their eyes, hands shoot up in the air with questions for the angels/Jonathan to answer. We hear inquiries about dead cats, missing jewelry, cheating husbands and a raging yeast infection which is resistant to all western medical treatment (that explains the stench). Someone wants to know if the angels can tell her when to purchase a new car. Someone else wants to know if her parrot is the reincarnation of her mother. One of the front row women asks if she can get pregnant during menopause. Jonathan replies to all the questions, and then noticing that an hour has passed, stands up and announces that the angels are finished talking for the night. As he steps down from the stage, the women closest to him reach out to touch his caftan and his hand. I notice that the erection has subsided during the question and answer period, but that a few of the women are following Jonathan out of the room as though they are being led by some invisible force. The rest of us exit through a different door, passing by the "donation center" (a wobbly card table with an angel cookie jar open to receive checks and cash) as we leave the stifling room and spill out into the parking lot. Walking to my car, I see Jonathan speeding away with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and two of the front row women in his vehicle.
There is not enough ice cream in North America to subdue the icky feeling I have at this moment.