Last Sunday I went to St.Theresa’s of the Perpetual Jakarta, no I made up the part about ‘Perpetual Jakarta’ but I really did attend the morning mass at St. Theresa Catholic Church with my Chinese – Javanese friend, Clarita.
August 15th as I am sure you know, is the day when Roman Catholics celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.
At St.Theresas, we celebrated this last Sunday. The “Assumption of Mary”,……….I say it a few times to try to get the feel of it, then it strikes me that as a native English speaker and knowing all the words in this particular ‘label for a day’, I have no idea what it means. Clarita tells me it is the day that celebrates Mary’s ‘assumption’ into heaven. And I am musing, so Jesus ascended and Mary assumed? I ask her is it really “assumption day” or is it really “absorption” day, and I am starting to mumble about the different perspective that this gives the term ‘self-absorption’ and heaven, and whether heaven is within and my friend gives me a ‘don’t make fun of my religion’ look which could easily progress into a difficult lunch time conversation ; so I return to trying to make sense of the prayer sheet, and then to trying to look serene in the 34 degree heat. I flap my program about trying to get some air. I consider trying to engineer the program into an efficient fan. We are sitting right in the middle of the church, surrounded by about 1000 people. No evident means of escape. The air-conditioners aren’t working. So I look at the cross and start to pray that Jesus will in fact save me. But though life like, from where I am sitting Jesus doesn’t look like he is going to be that helpful on either the heat or escape fronts. To the right of the crucifix is a full size very life like statue of Jesus and to the left a very life like Virgin Mary. I start to think about Jesus’ brother James and assume Mary wasn’t still a virgin and what this means. Like we are all virgins at a certain point in time, and then we aren’t, and how strange it is the Mary gets the Virgin tag as a prefix…..forever. Like, I am thinking to myself, as a Protestant, before I did anything wrong, I was a saint and then I did, and I wasn’t and now I’m not. Anyway above all of this is a dome and across the base of the dome high above the officiating priests and the crucifix are head and shoulder stained glass pictures of men. I count thirteen. The centre one is Jesus. So that leaves 12. Hang on, I thought there were 13 apostles, then I think no Paul was an apostle and not a disciple maybe there are 12 disciples, maybe there were 13 but Judas got dropped on account of following unpopular instructions. I begin to think that I know less than I thought I did about who these characters are, and why they are there, and what about Judas.
No joy for me around the alter, and I switch my attention to the people around me, people from so many nations, Chinese in beautiful silk prints, Filipinos in those shirts I always associate with Ferdinand Marcos, and Filipino ladies with very big hair. Indonesians in lovely batiks, a lot of Africans. I am guessing the ones in the caftans are from Africa representing something, and the ones in tee shirts with bodies from some men’s fitness magazine are probably US Embassy Marines. The occasional wet blotchy white face. There is a young Indonesian man in from of me in jeans and a black tee-shirt. It says across the back in big white letters, “Highway to Hell” and I am thinking , yes………. this probably is. Why didn’t I notice that before. It is certainly hot enough. And on the tee-shirt underneath the ‘Hell’ banner is a face , ah so there is Judas, but no, its Bon Scott, complete with horns and leer, I really am actually starting to hallucinate. An hour or so passes and I think I am taking with the deceased Bon Scott and then my legs are going and Clarita and I are stepping out the side door and past what Clarita says is “Mary in the Ghetto”, ‘Grotto Clarita, not Ghetto’. Though she is probably there as well, particularly on this her feast day.
Jakarta July 2008