A healthy spirituality expands instead of contracts our worldview. I wrote this short story a number of years ago about an early experience I had with Christian fundamentalism.
Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also. From time to time, however, they shake their minds free of them and it is a great thing that they should know themselves well enough to realize that they are not going the right way to reach the castle door. Eventually they enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so many reptiles get in with them that they are unable to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any peace within it. Still they have done a good deal by entering at all. (Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: First Mansions: Chapter One)
Revolution rock, it is a brand new rock
A bad, bad rock, this here revolution rock (The Clash)*
“Reptiles” is Teresa of Avila’s metaphor for worldly attachments and preoccupations. Reptiles can take control of our lives keeping us anchored in the courtyard and limit our ability to explore the entire castle. Hearing the phrase “worldly attachments” may give former fundamentalists flashbacks about pharisaical preachers and their endless lectures about “sin” and “righteousness”. Two things were infinite in that system: God and the number of requirements it took to please him.
It was 1982 and our former neighbors Randy and Joyce came back to visit. They brought their friend John who was attending what he would have proudly called a “Fundamentalist Seminary”. During their visit I went to the store to get a few additional items for dinner. Randy and John came along. At checkout I received a game piece for grocery store bingo. On the way home John began questioning if playing grocery store bingo was a sin (i.e. gambling). When we got back to our apartment we moved on from bingo and talked about basketball. For the next two hours I defended the intentional foul as a legitimate game strategy while John held the intentional foul was sinful because it broke the rules.
After dinner, John noticed our TV Guide upside down on the coffee table. On the back cover was a cigarette ad. This bothered John so much he flipped it over. To his horror, the front cover had a women in a low-cut dress. He flipped it back quickly and advised “we need to be careful what we look at”. Apparently, in the hierarchy of sin, a low-cut dress trumps tobacco and quite possibly an intentional foul.
I heard countless sermons about “the things the world”. A moral micrometer was used to make judgments about nearly everything including, and especially, the music you should or shouldn’t listen to. I attended seminars designed to enlighten us about the sinfulness of certain musical styles or structures. I never fully grasped the relationship between sin and the details of beat, rhythm, harmony, and melody. Rock music was excessively sinful and should only be listened to if you were an “expert” and played the album backward. You needed to do this to expose the satanic messages hidden on the record. (I am not sure why Satan put his messages in backward — most people I know never played their music that way.)
I have to add, with some lingering resentment, the biggest problem I had with the music “regulations” was missing the release of London Calling by the Clash. One of the best albums ever and I had to wait years to hear it. I still like London Calling. I recently heard it played in its entirety as we sat in a gluten-free bakery on Broome Street: Family, Cupcakes, and Jimmy Jazz. Satta Massagana.
So are the reptiles Teresa talks about a big deal? Yes. They are dangerous because they can take control or consume our lives and keep us from moving to the center of the castle. Reptiles can be things like money, sex, power, people’s approval, busyness, or even religion. This brings us back to The Clash and John the seminary student. The Clash, considered sinful and worldly, was harmless fun. John, considered spiritual, was worldly and stuck in courtyard controlled by the reptiles of religion. His preoccupation with dissecting right and wrong consumed his life and kept him from moving deeper into The Interior Castle.
*Revolution Rock – written by Edwards and Ray
(This is a slightly modified version of a post I called Reptiles.)