I was up on Montserrat today visiting the beautiful monastery nestled in the crazy mountains of Catalunya about an hour outside of Barcelona.
I girded my loins and took the little cable car/funicular thingy, reasoning that five minutes of potential terror would be easier to endure than twenty minutes white-knuckling on a train sliding around hairpin turns with a death-drop view. I am known to be a bit dramatic when I get terrified, as in I have actually flattened myself on the floor of vans, trains and airplanes (“Ma’am, PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEAT”) when animal fear overcomes me on dangerous or tubulent trips. Don’t ask me about my drive down coastal highway 101 in Oregon – I was the passenger on the floor hugging the front seat.
Montserrat is truly beautiful and has a museum, a basilica, a hotel, a monastery, a cafeteria and some lodgings for those who live there full time. It is best known as the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, or The Black Madonna, the patron saint of Catalonia. Many people had obviously come to the shrine for healing, and I lit a candle and prayed for the many people and animals in my life who need healing and compassion.
While I was there moving in and out of crowds of tourists, I heard an English-speaking woman hollering for her daughter. The girl wasn’t very young and she wasn’t lost — this was just someone being loud. I have noticed that Americans are often the loudest in tourist spaces. They are inevitably talking about how many steps they’ve taken that day, what other sights they’ve “done” ( not seen; done, as in “we did Madrid and then we did the Dali museum in Figueros), how irritated they are by the spotty wi-fi connection, or how much things cost. It is always shocking to me when I am in an international setting to realize how aggressive and competitive Americans are by nature. We take up so much space and air in the room.
So this woman was hollering and another woman in her party kind of shushed her with an embarrassed laugh, and I heard them murmuring and then the loud lady said in an earnest way, “I’m not religious. I didn’t know!”
This is so interesting to me. I’m going to be thinking about this for awhile. My parents raised me to be considerate in all public environments and to keep my voice down (I was frequently admonished to “turn it down, Vicki,” which I actually regard just as much an attempt to diminish and feminize a naturally strong little girl as it was to instill appropriate social conditioning and good manners), and it must have been my grandparents who taught us church etiquette – hushed voices, standing and kneeling on command, opening and holding a hymnal or prayerbook even if you can’t read from it. We did not make the sign of the cross or genuflect; we drew the line at such expressions of faith, and we did not receive the Eucharist. But we learned how to be a good guest in someone else’s religious home.
So I got to thinking about howtraditional religious spaces contribute to what we might call “cultural literacy” or, flipping the framework around, how they contribute to patriarchal control and/or white supremacy culture.
I conclude that I am grateful for all the spaces that contribute to a shared human experience of REVERENCE. General reverence transcends nation, race, religion, political party, gender and class. What I would hope for the shouting women is not that she move through the world fearful and embarrassed that she will do the wrong thing at the wrong volume in a sacred space and insult “the faithful,” but that she will develop a happy attentiveness to her environment (especially while traveling) that leads her to naturally adopt a gentler presence when she is in houses of worship or their environs.
When hundreds of us from many lands and many or no faiths gathered at 1PM this afternoon to hear the famous Escolania de Montserrat Boy’s Choir, the monk leading the service was very clear in his gestures, inviting in his words and inclusive in his language. It was clear to me that he knew that it was not just Catholics who were there, and not even a variety of Christians, but a wide variety of human beings who wanted to hear angelic voices in a glorious setting. To me, that is a religious instinct. It isn’t adherence to a doctrine that makes someone religious, it is a hunger to be in relationship with God (by whatever name) and those who also seek to live deeply from the soul.
If I could, I would draw the loud lady aside and say, “Did you make an effort to get up this mountain and visit this lovely place out of respect, interest and perhaps a longing to be touched by something deeper than the daily news and the quotidian concerns of your life? Then you are religious. You are a legitimate part of this community of pilgrims. If you turn down the volume on the voices in your head telling you how religious you aren’t, you may be able to hear your spirit better.”
Ultimately that is what I devoutly wish for us all.
Those little boys sure could sing.