I went to mass today. It’s always a bit surprising to me when I say that. I’m not particularly religious, not technically Christian according to most people’s definition. But I have a “fascination with structure” according to one of my friends. I realize that a huge proportion of people operate within strict conceptual frameworks, and so I endeavor to understand them. I flirt with structure, try to understand it, but could never lose myself in it.

One of the reasons I stopped going to church as a child was my conception of Heaven as a total sublimation/obliteration of personality/self.

I’ve realized that I generally have two reasons for going to mass. One is when I’m struggling with some deep metaphysical question and would like to see it from another direction. The other is when I am new to an unfamiliar place. With the Catholic Church, I am one of many black sheep in a global extended family, and I am always welcome.

The English-language mass in Amman felt very American. Surreal in that, while the priest sounded like a native English speaker, the congregation was mostly Philippino, wearing  nice jackets and jeans and uncovered hair. I think it’s the only mass I’ve ever been to that wasn’t dominated by nuclear families. Actually there were no children at all.

Some hymns were in Tagalog. I wonder if the effect was similar to the old Latin mass. Perhaps, these days, everyone knows some English.

Last year I remember sitting in church during the celebration of the discovery of the One True Cross, thinking how bizarre it was to celebrate an event like that out of its context – Helena, Constantinople. Thinking of the Holy Land not so much a site of ancient spiritual significance but as a site of current conflict – a moral crucible. I remember thinking of the fact that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew.

During his homily the priest brought attention to political context – freedom of religion under Cyrus, the existence of the chapel in Amman, the composition of the congregation – mostly guest workers

The only “oriental” aspects of the church I attended today were the white stone walls and the sunlight. Depictions of the Holy Family had fair hair and Caucasian features.

Today I noted that “green pastures” is much more poignant in the desert.

I was also struck for the first time by the poetry of mass – the more or less fluid juxtaposition of different texts, different voices, different modes of participation/performance.

Afterward, the Philippino desserts sold outside also reminded me of home.

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