Saturday, April 3, 2021

Blessed Un-Idolatrous Easter, All Who Celebrate

Well over ten years ago, I had a dream in which a new friend from NYC--a rabbi--and a nearby community’s spiritual teacher--a lama--figured highly. The three of us were discussing whatever we were discussing, and I remember saying “He is risen. He is risen indeed. But what does that really mean today anyway?” Then I woke up, of course, so I never got to hear what either of them said. The friendship with this rabbi was new enough that I wasn’t sure I could just reach out to share such a dream, but throwing caution to the wind, I did. A short note, with an honoring of the dream, the question, and my own wonderment to listen more deeply to whatever might arise in response. Blessings upon blessing, this initial exchange has now created an intimate listening ritual for Easter mornings. I get to write a letter pondering the same question, this year. This year later. Every years. These many years later… These words here are not this year’s letter, but this year’s letter has popped some new connections, new wonderment.

Additionally, you may wonder what in the world any of this has to do with
reconsidering citizenship. Fair point. The wisdom of the founders proclaimed a separation of church and state, which has ironically insured that all generations afterward would have to wrestle with religion or religious devotion in civic expressions. With a proclamation of separation, any appearance of interconnection or reliance necessarily comes into the courts--of public opinion, surely, but also state, federal and Supreme Courts. In contrast to Europe, let’s say, in which there is no separation of church/state (for admittedly much longer historical trajectories), that has resulted in very little Christian piety within the public spheres there at all. [One of my favorite early teachers, Soren Kierkegaard, predicted this in his homeland of Denmark, writing innumerable volumes/tractates to demonstrate his view that a "civilized" or civic-aligned Christianity was not actually Christianity]. Our current mixture of religion and politics in these United States is particularly toxic, especially white Protestant Christianity of conservative-Evangelical-fundamentalist streams. I write as a white, Presbyterian clergywoman-seminary professor in deep lament for the imprisonment and confinement of my own root-tradition’s wisdom, bastardized with Empire and white supremacy. I refuse to relinquish the adjective Christian to describe myself--I am rooted and ordained to leadership in this tradition beyond my capacity to depart it. But I do not find much spiritual nourishment amongst white Protestant Christians these days. Some of that is my own anger-baggage, my inability to receive amidst deep wounds as a woman-awakened to the deep abandonment of the feminine in Christian traditions; but some of it is because the decline happening in my root tradition needs to happen for rebirth and new life to have any meaning, any contribution to life sustainable and available to all. This year, in my own journeying, an important shift emerges in the liturgical refrain that will be proclaimed in living rooms/live-streamed sanctuary services across the world. He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Surprisingly, the gift of this Holy Week/Eastertide for me can be received because of a new practice I’m exploring, in a new circley-group of practice-friends called Way of the Rose. Reliant upon words centered in maiden-mother-crone, with a rosary crafted in juicy-feminine-earthing-wisdom just for me by another in the community, I am now into my second novena. I aim to attend one rosary meeting a week, by Zoom, but most mornings find me praying the rosary. Without a Catholic bone in my body. Peace-church, Anabaptist DNA, persecuted by the Catholics perhaps, but no Catholicism welcome, really. Thanks anyway. Just as there is no causal path from practice to insight--our actions do not create the insight(s)--there is no honest way for me to track, for you, the movement and the holding spaces that seem to be finding me here. For these two days, however, Holy Saturday & Easter morn, the description for the first of the Glorious Mysteries, the Resurrection, can structure a bit of the liminal space in which I find myself. It's offered in The Way of the Rose: the Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary, bearing witness to the Story, yes, but what I will eventually call the Story surrounding the version of the story I/many of us have inherited. 

The Resurrection, (first of the Glorious Mysteries): “Following an ancient pattern whereby a slain god is resurrected by a mother or a lover, Mary Magdalene observes a sacred vigil at Jesus’s tomb. On the third day, he appears to her at last. When she tells the other disciples, they refuse to believe her.”

This points in several directions I want to go here, all at once, but I will honor the order of the story for this morning, inviting you to trust me with where we land in Easter morning's liturgical refrain...

Following an ancient pattern... When you are willing to dive deeply into the centuries of wisdom hidden in unexpected places across the earth--different traditions than your own, different cultures than what you know, different geographies than you’ve had to survive in--you begin to encounter patterns that feel familiar to some of your own. One of the women I’ve gotten to learn with, in another root community, WWfaC, likes to name this patterning as fractals. A geometric pattern that repeats itself in seemingly infinitely new ways within our world(s). She loves to look for these patterns, resonating in unexpected places.

When I first took a deep dive into the story of Ereshkigal/Inanna, I encountered the fractal of resurrection in an unexpected place. In this mythological stream of human thought, the Queen of Heaven, Inanna, decides to visit her sister Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, who is mourning, even enraged, at the loss of her husband/consort. Without recounting the whole story, Inanna is left on a post to die for three days. Until companions from the worlds above come to save her, resurrect her. Life, death, rebirth into new life. Repeat. Following an ancient pattern.

The first encounter with a familiar pattern in a completely different stream of wisdom usually creates overwhelming dissonance for people of faith. Or people of Christian faith I have known in my years, within our modern-postmodern capitalistic worldviews. Most of us have spent an incredible amount of time and effort in our heads, aligning and reconciling sacred things with a literate tradition rooted in Scripture and the Christian tradition we know best. Defenses are brought against any ‘familiar pattern’ experienced elsewhere, seeking then what is distinctive, unique, ‘only’ about our own tradition. C.S. Lewis’s  begrudging kneeling before God in his Magdalen College office (nice touch there, Magdalen/e) led him on the journey of apologetics for the utter plausibility of Christianity’s historic gift. This ancient pattern became Real in historical time in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The distinctiveness of Christianity is bringing this pattern to life in a man’s body, born and raised from the dead. Given the idolatry of rationality in our particular era, of course this would be the argument expressed for this ancient pattern. We worship the logical, the scientifically supportable, the reasonable within a materialistic, functionalist capitalistic society.

Does this mean I no longer believe in the Resurrection? The bodily Rising of this Jew from Nazareth? Of course not. I am a Reformed (Presbyterian) Christian standing the long line of my own historic tradition, the architecture and life I understand only within the bodily resurrection proclaimed. But I am curious about this human drive for the ‘only’ or the ‘unique’, the distinctive therefore for it to be True. That touches some new things in my journey of awakening in these days...more about that below. Why doesn’t someone make the argument that because it follows this ancient pattern, it must therefore be True? Why must Christians fear or defend from being a part of this ancient pattern? Why the dissociating from ancient human mythological wisdom(s)?

A slain god is resurrected by a mother or a lover. This sentence in the description will touch the patriarchal wound in most of our bodies, I’ll guess. Some will erupt into complete contradiction, insisting that the Father raised the Son into new life. Some will simply be surprised, quietly watching the argument unfold with a strange sense of hope or expectation. Others will begin to say, “It’s about fuckin’ time.” Finally, the Feminine is finding some voice, presence, balance in our power-abusive world. Today I see it with new eyes within the relationship of anger and grief: this sentence touches deep grief in many of us about which we cannot begin to become conscious...yet. The (un)necessary separation from the mother (esp for boys, to become manly).  The enmeshment with the mother (esp for girls, hoping to ease their mother’s pains). A mother’s relinquishment of herSelf because that’s what mothering always seemed to require. Or maybe the defensiveness or contradiction will arise because of the “resurrected by a lover” implication. Our bodies are diffuse with wounds of not being enough for that lover (who left me/broke up with me), of yearning for a lover (who has never seemed to arrive), or mourning the loss of a lover (to death). Mother and lover are powerful words, but rarely do they find much traction in patriarchal religious traditions more familiar with Almighty God, and God the Father. To the bereft Loss for us all.

A woman observes a sacred vigil at the tomb. He appears to her at last. This retelling of the women who stayed, the women who were faithful in death, has been an important part of my own coming to voice, my own awakening to women’s experience in this sacred Story. I don’t want to malign or underestimate its continued importance for me, for others. Yet the yardstick or focus that denies the Feminine still remains the central hub of the Story. The tomb (where He lies). He appears… This retelling of the Story that focuses on the women’s vigils, the women’s faithfulness, is nice and all, but it’s no longer enough for me. I will argue it's no longer enough even for us, eventually.

When she tells the other disciples, they refuse to believe her. An entire chapter could explore all the nuances of this sentence, but for now, simply a nod to the familiar. A refusal to listen, to hear, to trust the experience of a woman, of an ‘other.’. The mandate felt within the woman with such incredible news to speak to those who will not believe her. The ‘other’ disciples. Here is a fingernail sketch of much human community today. We live unthinkingly in imbalances of who we listen to and why. We listen for comfort, for confirmation, to not appear foolish by believing something untrue. It’s harder and harder to listen to what is, uncertain as we are about what is, really. Then we live in a weariness, sometimes even a relinquishment, of our personal experience because they won’t believe me anyway. Or I don’t know how to align or reconcile my experience(s) with those in power, those in authority who must be in the know. Today’s complexities then lead some to fabrications of experiences so to be heard, believed, which then results in less and less capacity to trust. This dynamic here at this first of the Glorious Mysteries is so very familiar, then or today, matters little.

So where does He is Risen! He is Risen indeed! land amidst this exploration…?

First I’ll say celebration, but not into idolatry. The bodily Resurrection of this Jesus of Nazareth remains a singular event in that he came into this world as himSelf, died, and rose again, giving voice and energy in historical time to an ancient pattern at the essence of being human-divine. Birth, life, death, rebirth into new life is the signature co-creative pattern within Earth & all her Heavens. Why shouldn’t it play out in a human body? albeit not as we try to grasp, control, conceive it.

Jesus has become an idolatrous center for so much of contemporary Christian devotion, with attention and worship I’d guess he never welcomed nor wanted. He relinquished divinity, thereby embodying it, to invite us into it. I don’t not believe in Jesus, in other words. My sense of Him is so strong that to honor him and his relinquishment of divinity/embodiment of divinity requires these words, this reminder that Jesus himSelf was never the point...He is the Path, his life-death-resurrection is the Way, held with forgotten human beings who shaped him, created life with him, unnamed and unknown. Christians needing their certainty will move right to Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, named in the Gospel of John. No one comes to the Father except through me. But we Christians confuse the finger pointing the Way with the Way itself...which is so very human (as Buddhists would smile and nod, saying). I don’t argue with folks here, because it’s not a rational discussion that will open the heart to the mysteries beckoning so many of us today. If this doesn’t beckon to you, deep bow to you and just let it go.

Ironically, it is the insisted singularity of Jesus in this fashion that now pushes me further and further out of Christian liturgies. Again, not for reasons of disbelief but for reasons of alignment with and integrity in the ancient sacred pattern in its entirety, the Wholeness that is missing. The holding-context of the Feminine--or Divine Animacy, a phrase used by Sophie Strand I hope to explore more--is always missing, never spoken or allowed to speak, to BE. Or She's added on, with the focus still on the man at the center (be he God or Jesus or…). So I’m done with the dissociating, the analytical surgeries of human interconnection.

The Story takes hold of me in its breathless Wholeness today, for which I am indescribably Thankful, even as it therefore makes me lonely and sometimes angry within “my own traditional community(ies).” The whole ancient pattern at the essence of being human-divine can only live and breathe in the world today if and when we retell the Story as it happened, not as a declining institution of church tells it. 

What do I mean?

Live into the Mysteries with me, even just briefly… (most a paraphrase from The Way of the Rose, by Perdita Finn and Clark Strand). The Joyous Mysteries: Annunciation. A woman had to consent for the man to be born. Visitation. Two women had to hold the mysteries together, impossible to understand but so clear within them both. Nativity. In a cave, not unlike a grotto, a woman goes into labor, bearing a boy-child. Goddess drenched symbolism, never spoken in Christian liturgies. Presentation. Holy mysteries can be seen, by those with the Gifts of Seeing--in this case, an older man and an older woman. The mother’s heart will be pierced, we learn. Finding. A mother searches for her young son, left behind at the Temple. She finds, and takes him with her. The Sorrowful Mysteries: Agony in the Garden. Aloneness, abandonment. Scourging at the Pillar. “Just as the land is furrowed by plows and the beasts are beaten into submission, the body of Mary’s child is scourged. In the name of empire. Crowning with Thorns. The central mystery of the entire rosary. This body is mocked by those still fearful of the power represented. Red robe and a reed for a scepter--each an ancient symbol of the goddess. Carrying of the Cross. No one intervenes. A bystander assumes the weight of the cross. Crucifixion. “The tree that once stood at the center of devotion to the Mother has been stripped of life and made an instrument of execution instead. Mary’s son’s body is lowered into her arms.” The Glorious Mysteries. Resurrection. Following an ancient pattern…and all that is already named above. Ascension. The ceaseless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that includes all life on Earth is completed as Mary’s son surrenders, ascends. Descent of the Holy Spirit. The disciples pray for nine days with Mary Magdalene, after the Ascension. A mighty wind, the Holy Spirit--ruach, feminine--descends, often portrayed by a dove, another sign of the Goddess. Assumption. “The body of the Great Mother is the body of the Earth and the body of the Heavens, the body of all that is.” Coronation. “In the final mystery of the rosary, Our Lady is crowned Queen of Heaven and Earth. … Life is a journey that circles back to where it started.”

The unquestioned assumption that Jesus's Resurrection is the Christian mystery, the pivotal event of my Root Tradition, is (of course) a slanted Truth. The entire Story is rarely held, honored, or told fully as the Mysteries above show. Jesus’s name is not named once, intentionally, but the Story interconnects us all without... He is Risen is part of the story--blessedly--but it is not THE story, no matter how desperately (anymore) the self-sufficient man wants it to be so. The church’s idolatry of this Name blinds it to the whole Story--a woman’s consent, a community’s formation, the suffering of Empire, the disconnection of choosing religious tradition over deep spiritual intimacy with one another, separation from self-other-Earth, and so much more… I find myself aching for what Emily Dickinson knew so well…

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

When and how, I continue to pray and ask, will all the Story be told and remembered in its entirety, in its balancing Wholeness? The Truth must dazzle gradually...I know...but for how long will so many of us hide our eyes and ears from the Whole? The interconnection of being human underneath and beyond ‘traditioning’? When can we hold our sacred traditions a little more loosely, so to see one another a lot more generously?

I will assist in songleading in our Easter service tomorrow, delighted to do so, but I can no longer hear He is Risen as most congregational members profess it and will celebrate it... 

He is Risen. No longer can I not hear the aching fear of the self-sufficient man, needing to be idolized in a power-over world he and we have co-created.

He is Risen. No longer can I not hear the abuse of this sacred mystery as the only one, positioned at the heart of (white) Christianity to worship a man who in contrast relinquished divinity so to become himSelf

He is Risen. He is Risen indeed! No longer can I not hear the grasping attempts to be distinct-from, dissociated-within the rest of the ancient patterns of human-divine becoming. It’s so white when my community says it after all...what might be called 'segregationist habits of mind' (Willie Jennings, After Whiteness)

Tomorrow, when my (husband's) community celebrates this sacred mystery with all the forms so familiar to so many, I don’t think I can recite aloud He is Risen. He is Risen indeed, though He is, and blessed be for that mystery, among so many. A deeper Story surrounding this version or this story, a Story rooted in Wholeness and enveloping the Earth/Heavens has begun to claim me. Not in contrast or competition, not in contradiction but addition, welcome, expansive hospitality. Because it’s not about gender or ideology or any of the things we distract ourselves with to remain in our fears, our wounds. need not be either/or. That is not the way of Our Lady anyway, our dear One, Sacred Mother.

No, tomorrow, because of these words today, I finally know how to be alongside my pastor-husband, preaching and leading, while I lead in song…

He is Risen. She is Rising indeed.

Truthfully? I think Jesus is relieved. How could he have imagined, or desired, all that has been done in his Name? How could it not be lonely to be the lone, sole-soul Man purported to save the world? Particularly as his entire Heart-Body-Spirit, within the dance of the Trinity, is for what a mentor-friend called relationality, the interconnection of all things? So let us step out of the Jesus idolatries all around, shall we? Blessed Un-Idolatrous Easter to all those who celebrate this mystery tomorrow, today.

[Much gratitude to gifted spirit-friends of many, many years now, and to new traveling companions in Awakening Women (a shakti-oriented community founded by Chameli Ardagh), the Way of the Rose (the circley-rosary friends community), and Fire&Water Leadership/Rites of Passage (a diverse circle-way community). Truly, without all these old/new spirit-friends willing to press into new forms, new awarenesses, new encounters with old wounds--many staying in their own experience of the sacred that does not match this one!--without them, I would not be able to trust these words pouring forth…]

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