The Two Cheeks of Catholicism

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Hands together praying
In assemblies of holy warriors,
Crusaders no longer battling Saladin
Only the roly-poly waves
Of atheism, as the leverage of religion
Becomes fickle, embattled to a slow strain
Of gradual extinction, with traces
Of a Dodo-like madness.

And here in this corner of Sri Lanka
There is the emergence of the charismatic movement
A fraternity of abled-bodies men and women
Lifting their hearts and palms
Praying in song and rhyme. While
A little uptown, you find a regular church
Where the only time you raise your palms
Is to recite the Our Father in solemnity
And holiness.

So how can one explain the momentum in faith
To stray from time-tested age-old rituals.
Here, young people, are more prone
To ways of the warm-blooded. Sometimes
You find catholic women devirginizing
On the periphery, preserving a vestigial membrane
For the devout custom of gift-unwrapping
On the marriage bed.

And marriage in itself has become a vestige.
We hear alarming rates of divorce;
How the catholic men have mistresses
Half their age. Love has become a carousal
And faith vaudeville. When under a tent
People gather in their best attire, to watch
A stunt of turning wine to a concoction of serum and cells.
Still it’s not all David Copperfield though.
You hear sermons, lengthy, sometimes oratory,
Giving the church goer some listening time,
While some zone out to blank pages,
Perhaps catching the message right at the end.

And still,
You find the pious old lady in a mantilla, who sings
Every hymn in soprano and every prayer
Like a parrot high on sugar. She will be
The leader who others follow. You realize
That she too is the caretaker of the little shop
In church that sells candles – not the scented type –
And prayer books, for those who are willing
To unite their palms and let their worries
Be catapulted into God’s hands.

And in these times of scandal
Some look at every priest with a warped eye.
You only see a saintly face donning a robe
And a crucifix around the neck
And still he will be branded like cattle
With a little “P” stamp. It’s a case of guilty
Until proven innocent. The sad plight
Of a church, a fishermen’s league,
That grew to conquer billions of lost lambs
Needing a shepherd.

And faith in spite of all, is still vibrant here.
You hear the alleluias and the hosannas in the fervor of lovers
Inside bedrooms. Sometimes, matters of the soul
Are louder than matters of the flesh.
And the church nowadays is like a fishing net that you throw
To the ocean to bring home the catch.
And Jesus did just that and so too
Are the clergy, drawing a larger, more inclusive radius
Of acceptance. You still find candles and incense sticks
On little alters, flickering like St Elmo’s fires
On mast tops of hope-bearers.

And church will always be yours and mine.
And there’s something about
A little congregation engraved in traditions
Welcoming people with an open heart. It is the house you enter
On Sundays to inject a little bit of fizz
Into your spirit, some serenity to your soul,
And a little voice inside a sound-proof room
That gives you two items – a compass
And a torch – to help you in your journeys far and near.

And when you’re exorcised of your anxieties
You are back to your winning self.
And all it takes is kneeling in front
Of a little timber enclosure and telling your sins
One by one, until you’re a formatted disk
A fallowed field, a flushed toilet bowl,
A man armed with Holy Ghost and running on Jesus power
Holding on to a brake pedal
That you hope to god will stop you
From crashing onto the incoming traffic
As an accident of flesh.

And if you do, guilt will ensue.
A lot like whiplash, only it’s on the inside.

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Author: meandererworld (Dilantha Gunawardana)

Dr Dilantha Gunawardana is a molecular biologist who graduated from the University of Melbourne. He moonlights as a poet. His poems have been accepted/published in Forage, American Journal of Poetry, Kitaab, Eastlit and Ravens Perch. He mixes science with poetry for a living, when what matters is the expression of both DNA and words into something serendipitous. Although an Australian citizen, Dilantha is domiciled in Sri Lanka, his country of birth.

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