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On the Serpentine Path | Michele Kraft

Trust me, Dear Reader, if you're horrified these last few years, I'm horrifiedier. Imagine looking at the scary people in society today and recognizing your younger self. Today I thank all the gods I saw the light, but back then I thought I was losing my mind. My memoir, On the Serpentine Path, shows that struggle and the mysterious events that convinced me to change my life. It's also about my childhood, and how that authoritarian environment set me up to be my own worst enemy. Fortunately, it also set me up to see the humor in every bit of it. On the Serpentine Path is a story that echoes our current cultural revolution, offering hope for the future. Because if an asshole like me can change, surely there is hope for everyone.


This excerpt is from my childhood, from the first time I believed in God, back when I thought God was like a mighty, bipolar Santa.


On the Serpentine Path
Excerpt
, Part II, Chapter 11


We didn't know it at the time, but the Sunday of our first Charismatic Renewal Mass was the beginning of a new way of life. Dad told us there would be a lot of nuns there, so I got to feel anxious about that for the whole hour car ride. Nuns, the ever flowing wellspring of simmering rage.

The Church was like no church I'd ever seen, full of warm red wood and green life and sunlight; the glass wall on one side showcased a Japanese garden. The pews and hardwood floors curved around and downward gently, like in an amphitheater, not a truncated box like most churches, it descended! Placing people above God! Well, above God's representative, God's spy, God's priest.

Nuns played folkish songs on their guitars at one side of the altar like backup singers to the mass, but they weren't wearing nun-clothes, so Dad had to point them out to me, in the hallway beforehand and amongst the congregation, like he was identifying double agents. They were everywhere, but these seemed like regular ladies, even like the rarest breed, nice, kind, regular ladies. They smiled. They moved differently, with a warm flexibility, not with the stride of Godzilla taking on Mothra. And the Guitars! Sex, drugs and rock and roll! Why does it seem so much more like rock here than at school? I'm pretty sure now that was because they were really into what they were playing.

The statuary was, though I had no word for it then, abstract, elongated, Brancusi-esque. Here, no ancient organ wheezed prehistoric chords over worn burgundy carpets, there was no dust accumulating with the paint peel chips in the corners, no bloody body statue hanging from the ceiling above the altar. Instead there was clear glass, lush greenery, smiling faces, singing, and bodies swaying to the music, arms lifted in the air, as if we were submerged in a kelp forest.

Because of Dad's exuberance, I'd expected something a little more crazy. This just just felt warm. Relaxed. Dad seemed a little antsy, Mom, clenched and smiling. Uncomfortable and a little lost in the exotic atmosphere, I was skeptical. This mass wasn't any worse than normal, and it was in a beautiful place, but it wasn't living up to Dad's hype. I wasn't expecting someone to pull a rabbit out of a hat or anything, but this was mostly a regular mass.

I'd known what to expect back in our rural Maryland parish. I had things to do while the mass went on for the 500 billionth time: make up stories about all the statuary. It started with the Stations of the Cross, these little plaster Peyton Place scenes that glorify Jesus's execution. Station five was the best. Simon, who is built like a brick shit house, helps Jesus carry the cross, and he's shouldering it, no problem, with scrawny-ass Jesus stumbling along in front of him. In my version of the story, instead of aiding the injustice, Simon changes the course of history. He picks up the cross and acts like he's playing along, but then he whips around and breaks bad on their asses, swinging the cross around like a giant battle axe. Then he flips it around and uses it lengthwise, like a bulldozer to clear a hole in the ranks of soldiers. They fall like duck-pins, and before they can get it together, Simon picks up Jesus, throws him over his shoulder like a damp dishrag and books ass out of there. Problem solved at Station 5, The End. God forgives everyone and we all live happily ever after.

We had larger statuary back at St. Moe's, too. Mary, the compliant vehicle that delivered Jesus to us all, seemed to go with her earthly husband Joseph like they were four foot tall salt and pepper shakers. Mary was salt, the one size fits all pattern of femininity available for the Catholic female. She was dressed in pale blues and virginal whites; she stared submissively at the ground, bearing an expression of vacant, immeasurable sadness that I unconsciously understood to be a prediction of my future. The infant Jesus, small enough to be a baby but proportioned like an adult, perched on her arm like a demanding parrot as He looked out over and past us in the congregation. He held His little hand out away from His body as He smugly pointed upward, taunting us that His real Dad is our Boss.

I could identify with the Joseph, pepper, statue a bit more than Mary's, and wondered at his personality. No man would marry a woman who was already going to have a baby, as Mom had made clear to me in unrelated conversations. Joseph gave me hope. Maybe I could find a man like him someday, someone who'd put up with all of my awful traits, my too-big ugliness, my weight problem, my constant sniffling, sneezing, and mouth breathing, clumsiness, shyness and everything else that made me so insufferable. Joseph was responsible, uncomplaining and unimportant in his muted browns. His soulful eyes, as empty of individuality as those of his wife, weren't looking at the ground but at an area slightly above it, still submissive and humble but not as low cast as a woman's. 'Boring' was what came to mind, Joseph looked boring, and as I daydreamed about the future I hoped I could find someone like Joseph someday. A boring man would be a better companion than no man; maybe boring would come to my rescue and I wouldn't have to be alone my whole life. What I really thought would happen is that I would have no alternative but to become a nun.

The Salt and Pepper set came with the matching Sugar Bowl accessory Jesus, but when our church was renovated, we got a new Jesus, much more realistic in style. Dying Bloody Jesus on the cross became the pinnacle of our parish's art collection. Hanging in the vaulted space over the altar so you couldn't miss it, pinned like a self-conscious dissection frog to the 5' cross, this Jesus was hand carved, hand painted and imported from Italy.

His arrival and installation transformed the space, gave it the more miserable guilt inducing tone that no one had realized was missing. But there was something else about that figure I couldn't quite put my finger on. Standing, sitting, reciting, and especially kneeling my way through the mass, I was in awe before His nearly naked Body. Feasting my innocent eyes on the dripping blood and the contours of Jesus' athletic frame, those legs, I wondered if I could move to Italy, if women were allowed to be sculptors in Europe, if the sculptor carved Jesus with correct anatomy and then carved the flap of canvas to cover His… no, no, no, that's not how marble sculptures worked, they were solid, I knew that. But wait, Jesus, the real Guy, had to have a Pecker, or else how did He pee? And was there anything really sinful about wondering what Jesus's Wiener looked like? My brain was defending itself but I still felt uncomfortable, as it occurred to me that the Old Man in the clouds was hearing my thoughts about His Son's Dink, which would make it His Crusty Old Willie too, and the White Dove Holy Spirit's Dick on top of it. Do boy birds have a peter? Peter was the Rock upon which the church was built, Peter was the first pope, ha ha, good one, God, I hope you thought that was funny. Then my brain and I sat awkwardly together and tried to change the subject.

So much to think about, and so much I couldn't stop myself from thinking about lately. Quietly. Sinfully.

But at this charismatic church, in this modern space, there weren't pictures of people from ancient times to get lost in. The priest seemed to care about what he was saying. The people seemed to be paying attention. I'd heard it all before though, knew all the stories. These people were nice, but I was kind of bored.

 

 

Text and images unless otherwise noted are
Copyright Michele Kraft, 2017

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Michele Kraft and Darling Dreamweaver