Over the last few years, churches have become something of a curiosity to me: places where you go to see other people wallow in their guilt and delusions. It’s especially weird considering I used to be an altar boy. Not the abused kind.

Realizing that the last time I visited a church was over a year back, I dragged myself to the Good Friday service at an Anglican cathedral here in the city and was amazed at how low the attendance was. Back home, Good Friday was the time of the year when the church burst at the seams, when people gathered to make that obligatory once-in-a-year appearance. Far from repentance, I suspect the masses did it more out of an odd sense of social responsibility.

Being a Syrian Orthodox Christian from Kerala and growing up in the middle east is a clichΓ© of sorts, perhaps akin to being a Catholic from Boston or a Buddhist from Tibet. In hindsight, it does bring back a lot of memories. The Good Friday service for example stretchedΒ on for hours; the hymns and prayers accompanied by cymbals and frequent bells, the church covered in a thick pall of incense smoke and throngs of people pressed against each other reciting verses at the top of their lungs, more for the benefit of their friends than the invisible man upstairs. And the two years I spent in Kerala, the service was followed by the serving of choruka (a concoction made from bitter gourd and vinegar), kanji (rice gruel), payar thoran (green gram) and a pickle. Secretly, having the kanji in earthen pots was something I looked forward to, the one thing that kept me from feigning a head ache.

Here, the service turned out to be far less eventful. The choir sang a rousing piece followed by tediously monotonous recitals of a few prayers and then, nothing. Despite having no religious convictions whatsoever, I find myself longing for that controlled chaos of a small church packed with people excited about actually being able to belong to a group that would have them, in spite of themselves.


11 Responses to “Belonging”

  1. 1 Swen

    It’s that time of the year I try to avoid Church. Masses get longer, all sorts of people try to be important. Sigh …

    Altar Boy 5 ???

  2. Over here they do take religion and accompanying rituals seriously… but didn’t you always want to get out of all this??

  3. @Swen: (pitash!) You and you-know-who can go church hopping once in DC. Maybe even kiss a few Greeks in the process! πŸ™‚

    @indisch: Well…the Syrian Orthodox Christian rituals are heavily inspired by Hindu traditions; the main reason why it isn’t followed here. πŸ™‚

    I did want to get out of it all…but I can regress once in a year can’t I?

  4. 4 jinx

    the only thing I actually liked about church was all the singing. The pentecostal church is even better coz no-one really cares how awful your voice is: the screechier the better.

  5. on another topic: You only gave Todo Sobre Mi Madre a 7.5/10?! I absolutely love this movie (10/10)… What didn’t you like about it?

  6. @jinx There’s a friend of mine in school who stopped coming to church because he was reprimanded for clapping in church. Apparently you’re not the only one who enjoys all the bad singing. πŸ™‚

    @kalafudra 7.5 is pretty good in my books milady. I did like the film a lot though there were scenes I felt were a bit too forced and artificial; for example I really didn’t buy it when Cecilia Roth cried during a performance of Streetcar Named Desire. I mean I can uderstand grief and all but still…Personally, I thought Binoche’s performance in Keislowski’s Blue was far superior to Roth’s. Vry restrained. Both women go through somewhat the same experiences…

    I did love the film though…7.5 isn’t *that* bad. πŸ™‚

  7. 7 noconvolutions

    i love the midnight masses when we got to stay out of hostel which otherwise used to be 5pm as the in-time..(sigh..sigh..BIG SIGH.. 😦 ]
    i also loved to hear my hostel Mother Superior [an Irish old hag] go out of tune disastrously when the hymns were being sung..actually the moment used to be really funny when the entire world around you is serious like mourning and you are suppressing your laughter like a balloon on the verge of bursting πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  8. @presti:
    I know that 7.5 isn’t *that* bad, I was just curious what made you give it a mark that’s a lot lower than I’d give it. I haven’t seen blue, I’d probably have to readjust my assessment of Todo… when I do see it.
    But who knows… there’s no accounting for taste.

  9. Fascinating, especially the food served in Kerala. Thoran and kanji (should it be spelt Kanni? :p) is an acquired taste, I think. Check out this site:

    What was the food at the Australian service?

    Not sure I understand what you mean by the last “in spite of themselves.”

  10. @nocon You haven’t seen bad singing until you’ve seen me sing. Trust me. πŸ™‚

    @kalfudra: Good taste however, is universal.

    @bpsk Those pics of kanji look oh so delicious. Australian service…no food. Wait…food for thought? πŸ™‚

    I was hoping to end the post with a profound sentence. Apparently, I wasn’t paying attention when they taught sentence construction in school. πŸ™‚

  11. 11 fibinse

    Man whatever you say! I still long for butter milk at the end of the Good Friday service…:(

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