I know it's a bit pointless to keep raving on about Antonio Munoz Molina, when his articles and blog are in Spanish. On the other hand, so much of his writing is interesting and beautiful enough to be worth sharing even at second hand. Today he writes of the great processions of Holy Week in Spain; of how alienated he felt, as an awkward, questioning youngster, from these obligatory public manifestations - obligatory like so much of the stifling conformity of life under dictatorship and therefore inextricable for him from state oppression. He pleads eloquently for the right to not take part, whether your motive is profound dissent or just not being in the mood.
Munoz Molina's is a sensibility that resonates deeply with me. I can imagine sharing these feelings if, like him, I'd grown up in a provincial city in the long decades of Franco's Spain. And yet, and yet... don't collective, universal rituals exist, haven't they always existed, because they express a deep need to lose ourselves in something bigger, for catharsis? Isn't there a great psychic cost to a life without them? And doesn't the Easter ritual, happening over several days and explicitly passing through horror, mourning, contemplation and deliverance, express and help to hold some great truths of life?
Antonio Munoz Molina has recently become part of my near-daily reading. Beth Adams' blog, the cassandra pages, has long been part of it and I've been following her account of Easter services in the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral in Montreal, where she sings in the choir. She's the blogger par excellence, sharing through music, sketches and photographs as well as words - a gentle, informal drawing into her daily reality. I have found myself riveted and ambivalent. Brought up Anglican, I was not much engaged and often bored by services and, by adolescence, increasingly alienated by the working-class Protestant ethic (work and cleanliness are next to godliness; we don't have much and that's what we deserve, but we're more deserving than they are). Not hard, then, to identify with the young Spanish boy's alienation from his church and its cooption by a repressive ideology. But also, there's a deep pleasure in hymns and readings familiar so early they can never be forgotten, and the sheltering space and light of a church is something I learned to love as an adult seeking respite from the crowded chaos of the world outside. So there's considerable allure in what Beth recounts, and the subtle, thoughtful interpretations of which she speaks, of which Anglican writer Esther de Waal speaks, are vastly different from those which affronted me as a child.
I have a yen to experience a Greek Orthodox Easter, and one of these years will make sure I'm there for it. The disturbing and wonderful Orthodox singing, the whole village in church for candles lit at midnight and the cry of Christ is Risen! - my heart longs for this, for a ritual of renewal that clearly goes back further than Christianity.
My own slow yearning in middle age for a recognition of the spiritual has led me to Buddhism. The minimalism of the Vipassana and Zen traditions have been, and remain, compelling and have led in their own way to huge, surging feelings and an experience as collective as it is individual. But the more extroverted kind of public religious expression is not part of these, and I yearn for that too, even though, like Antonio Munoz Molina, I dissented from it so early and so thoroughly I can never take part without reservation. If I get to Greece for Easter one day, I will only be a tourist.