. . . Now hear the word of the Lord.
Pope Frances dusted off the bones of Saint Peter just lately and hauled them out for public veneration in a cloud of incense, which probably made them smell better.
With a similar gesture, Husband just threw applewood chips on the grill beneath our Thanksgiving turkey. The pungent smoke is billowing through the neighborhood, blessing the bones of that turkey and anyone lucky enough to catch a whiff.
Yes, I know. Thanksgiving was Thursday. But Sons #1 and #2 and Girlfriend of Son #1 all work thankless night jobs and were unavailable for celebration then. Fish of Girlfriend of Son #1 was free to join us, but it seemed rather pointless to cook an 18-pound turkey for him. I cleaned his bowl, instead, pretending to be thankful for his presence in my living room. Faking thankfulness is what Thanksgiving is all about, after all – mouth a few platitudes of gratitude, stuff yourself with turkey, and then rush out to fight frail old ladies tooth and nail for sale prices at the big box stores.
A third of Fish of Girlfriend of Son #1’s water had evaporated, the rest of it was cloudy, and there were dead fruit flies floating on the top. That fish was in a bad way. Today, he’s vibrant and happy, frisking around like a teenager.
If only a change of water worked like that for me.
We won’t think about the long-term implications of the quality of this fish’s care as regards my future grandchildren or myself, when I’m old and dependent and stuck in the basement needing a diaper change. Lucky for me, Girlfriend of Son #1 is working on a nursing degree. I am occasionally kind to her old betta with hope that she in turn will prove occasionally kind to old me.
It is interesting to opt out of a national holiday. We ate spicy Thai noodle bowls Thursday night and thought about the hundreds of thousands of naked turkey carcasses exposed on kitchen counters across the country in various degrees of desiccation. Think of the piles and piles of dried bleached bones!
And so I thought of the bones of Saint Peter. Yes, that Saint Peter, the rock upon which the Catholic god built his church. God’s very own peter, if you will.
Don’t roll your eyes. Ancient graffiti is what alerted archaeologists to the possible significance of the relics: PETROS ENI was found scrawled near the excavated tomb. A literal translation reads, “Peter is here.” But we’ve all seen graffiti — isn’t it far more likely that the peter referred to belonged to whoever was holding the can of spray paint? “Hey, baby, I got something for you right here – check this out!”
Did graffiti artists use chisels back then? That surely made for slow tagging.
Curiosity pricked by this ancient peter, archaeologist Margherita Guarducci ran tests on the surviving boners (bare with me, if you will: When Son #2 was little, he referred to the opposite sex as “girlers.” We still call them that, and have taken to adding an “er” to the end of various objects now and then).
I should probably apologize for taking you from mounds of turkey bones to erections of other sorts. I should probably apologize for hinting that St. Peter even had a penis. I’ll hasten to add that he used it only to further the glory of god, and to take the occasional leak.
I like the idea of leaky saints. It humanizes them. I like a saint who has doubts and second-thoughts and misgivings. You can feel fond of someone caught in a difficult situation who gives it his best shot while knowing the whole thing is probably pointless.
Sainthood typically calls to mind some humorless fanatic grimly martyring himself for some impossible ideal and to make some nebulous point, thereby (to his great satisfaction) publicly proving himself better than everyone else. Dead, mind you, but better. And of course the whole thing is predicated on belief in a sadistic god who gets off watching the religious equivalent of snuff films, who might (if you’re obedient) reward you later for entertaining him with your death throes. Kind and loving, my ass.
Even on Thanksgiving I don’t have thanks to offer God. I offer him a piece of my mind, instead. He can stick it in a reliquary where the sun don’t shine (God knows I refer, here, to a catacomb).
I’d like God a lot better if he were passionate – the raging Jehovah of the Old Testament or the theatrical Zeus or the bloodthirsty Quetzalcoatl. Those guys rolled up their sleeves and took an active interest. They were involved. You knew exactly where you stood with them.
God these days just shrugs. At his best, he’s utterly indifferent. At his worst, he’s a heartless little boy torturing an ant colony or pulling the wings off flies and the legs off spiders.
God is indifferent to controversy – even the one raging over pieces of what’s purported to be part of his Peter. You’d think he might step in and settle the question, as a token of thanks. “Who?” asks God. “Which one was that?”
“The one who insisted upon being crucified upside down,” you say. “Peter, who decided he didn’t deserve to die in the same way you arranged for your son to die. Remember your son?”
“Whatever,” texts god. “That is sooo 1st century.”
But I digress (“ . . . and how much don’t you like it?” says my father, who art part of me).
The excited archeologist ran tests on the bones they dug up under Peter’s old shrine. They were not those of a turkey. She claimed they belonged to a robust man who died in the first century at the age of 60 or so, and was buried in a purple, gold-threaded cloth. That was evidence enough for Paul VI, who declared in 1968 that Peter’s bones had been identified “in a convincing manner.”
Who are we to argue with infallibility?
Why, though, did she feel it necessary to emphasize that god chose a “robust” man to be his chief clerk? Isn’t it far more likely that Peter was a nerd? God would need someone bookish and officious and a bit prissy to codify his new religion. Robust men of action have little patience with writing stuff down. And they don’t follow rules – they make their own.
Furthermore, a bone is a bone. Whether it be from a man or from a turkey, it is beyond caring. There is nothing remotely robust about a bone.
“Faith, the people of God, have always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we continue to venerate them in this way,” said Rino Fisichella, head of the pontifical council for evangelization.
That, my dears, is the statement of a clerk: “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.”
Only a real turkey resists change. I dare you to defy God. I dare you to stop making that soggy Thanksgiving casserole every year – the canned-mushroom-soup-with-canned-green-beans-and-canned-fried-onions-on-top one. I dare you to steam harticorts verts instead, and serve them with sliced almonds and lemon butter.
You can eat that can of French’s fried onions later, selfishly and secretly and full of thanksgiving, hiding in the pantry and licking your fingers. God won’t care.