Holy Madness

I heard on radio about Jerusalem Syndrome:
a madness gripping visitors:
dressing up in hotel bed sheet and makeshift sandals
giving sermons in the tongue of John the baptist or
girls who claim that they are pregnant with
yet another baby boy named Jesus.

During Easter the hospitals are ready for the pilgrims
who are caught in maelstroms of their madness whirling
barefoot on the cobblestones crowned with thorns.

Is holiness so far removed from wholesome?
Is there something in the dust or in the alleys?
Or is it just like science claims:
they brought the madness hidden
like a seed that only blossom in the passion of belief?

I think your answer to my question
might depend a bit on your beliefs.

Crowning with thorns by Caravaggio

Amaya hosts dVerse with a prompt on holy places. Starting with a quote by Adonis she wants us to look deeper into the subject, and for me it was a good opportunity to reflect on the Jerusalem Syndrome I heard about on the radio the other day.

34 responses to “Holy Madness

  1. Your poem brings to light a fervor I’ve not heard of before, but at the same time not surprised. People will do anything to look and play the part, especially if they have been touched by the Spirit in some capacity, now desperate to cling onto it or hold it captive and call it their own. Your question, “Is there something in the dust or in the alleys?” poetically questions this syndrome and I think it is so clever because, as I see it, a true measure of holiness is humility.

  2. I’ve never heard of Jerusalem Syndrome! But I enjoyed your poem, Bjorn, especially the murmuring alliteration in the lines::
    ‘…caught in maelstroms of their madness whirling
    barefoot on the cobblestones crowned with thorns’
    and the imagery of:.
    ‘they brought the madness hidden
    like a seed that only blossoms in the passion of belief’.

    • I mentally inverted your comment, Frank, to say, ” … we are all passionate about whatever we believe to happen.”

      It’s all about perception, isn’t it?

  3. Wonderful, Björn! You’ve taught me something new (as I’d never heard of Jerusalem syndrome before) — and you’ve also got me thinking about the fine line that can sometimes exist between fervent belief and madness.

  4. Excerpting this from the context:

    “they brought the madness hidden”

    … I wonder, can madness become the fullness of creativity without being hidden, at least for a time? I’m referring to the solitude required for certain artists and writers to fully delve into and flesh out their thoughts and ideas, without risking their tainting by the nearness of “right”-thinking society.

  5. I have seen such passion and though i shudder to say it, such madness. In African American churches ( at least some of them here in the south,). Women, cAlled “nurses” are always on hand and especially at funerals or important worship service . They dress in head to toe outfits from simple to very elaborate . Their role to take care of people who have fsinted, become overcome with emotion, or passed out for extreme emotion. I have also seen manifestations of Jerusalem Syndrome during Holy Week in Jerusalem. The people during the funeral are extremely emotional. People during the special services I have seen become …quite emotionsl.. That is all I can say to such extreme behsviours, almost in a frenzy. Different cultures experience it all in different ways. Sorry to go on and on.

  6. A thought about the poem itself…. I wonder if it wouldn’t be stronger without the final couplet. Let the question stand, without qualification.

    Just a thought.

    Truthfully, there are as many ardent “nutters” among the faithless as there are among the believers. Like cancer, we all carry the seed … some are more productive soil than others. 🙂

      • I don’t often venture…. It’s just such a powerful piece. I wanted it to be left unspoken in our inner ear.

      • I agree – about the final couplet – I don’t think it belongs, to be honest – because this is a poem – and the question/answer is implied in the words before – and the indecision or self-questions rests within the poet’s and reader’s minds …
        so for me, the poem ends just before the words –

        and speaking of which? this is such a powerful piece Bjorn, form the gripping start to the end – and as so many have already pointed out, the precision and wordsmithing of metaphors and images, the precision of chosen phrases, is startling and yet makes such excellent use of “religious expressions” drawn from many traditions and experiences – so it’s incredibly wealthy for the richness, without becoming overwhelming or lost in “too much” –

        I like your stanza breaks and each works really well for me – I find it questioning in such a delicious fashion –

        as for the question: Is holiness so far removed from wholesome?

        I don’t think the two have any resemblance at all – one person’s holiness is another’s trash – and extremism wears all coats of many colours –
        besides, isn’t sanctity a concept, a “moral code” – an ethic borne within one’s spirit – much like you’ve mentioned somewhere here in the comment thread that a place of worship doesn’t necessarily have to be in a structure.
        And isn’t true spirituality borne in the essence of soul – and isn’t about dictates and rules and strictures? It seems to me that if you have to constantly live within rigid guidelines of what we “should be” as opposed to I AM, then we are sure and set to continuously “fail” – or “sin” or whatever.

        Anyhow, I’ll not wander any further into Bedlam – but I will end with saying I really like the power, the passion, the intensity of this piece and how layered it is.

  7. I knew two people who suffered from this. Neither particularly religious. One had or probably has a strong personality and the other was (or still is) rather withdrawn and shy. Both intelligent people. A ‘Damascus moment’ gone bad I suppose. Yet I didn’t realise it’s a syndrome as such. Remind me to not visit Jerusalem!

  8. I think it is human interpretation of something we are not able to completely interpret….if that makes any sense. We only have each other (that we know of) to congregate and entertain our own definitions of “holy”. If we feel it “in the dust”….then maybe it is there. I believe there is definitely something of a higher power. We are way too simple. I have never heard of this syndrome….but I do think it is just that.

  9. I heard of a phenomena called “hysterical conversion.” There was once case in which a woman, through some unknown psycho-somatic means, developed a hysterical stygmata–the traditional five wounds of Christ attributed to St. Francis! Your poem reminds me of this phenomena, Bjorn. A worthwhile cautionary note!

  10. I was once interviewed by a man for a job. He told me the spirit was not leading him to hire me. He hired a person for whom he felt led by the Spirit to hire. He later left his family for that person. And I am a person of faith. But….. I did later wonder just what spirit the man was following. Just sayin.

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