Monthly Archives: February 2013

What Wondrous Love is This?

Movie seats at the Capitol Theater in Rome, NY

Movie seats at the Capitol Theater in Rome, NY

I was five years old when it happened.  Yes, theologically, God was present at my baptism. And unorthodoxly (if I may create such a word) God never left me, for I am made of stardust, a breathed upon earth creature that rose from the landscape of my mother’s womb.  But I have few memories before language.

God comes to me– or I come to God–not in the light, but in the shadows of the old movie theater that our church rented out on Sunday mornings in Rome, New York.  The people claim Charles Finney as their founding father, the one who came the area and ignited the great revivals from 1824-1832.

I sat in the squeaky movie seats holding my stuffed animals and some crayons, naive to the forces that drew my parents here.  I watched my mother play praise music on the wooden piano that moved on wheels across the stage.  I wondered how she did it so effortlessly, how she mesmerized the worshipers with her angelic voice.   Sometimes my father played guitar with her.  Other times he stood behind the people who went up for prayer. His job was to catch the ones who were slain in the spirit after the preacher puts his hands on top of their heads.  My father laid the spirit-filled people up and down the narrow movie aisles, like sardines squished inside a little tin can.  I watched their unconscious bodies twitch like fish out of water grasping for air.

They called it a second baptism when the people spoke in strange languages I couldn’t understand.  They were the true believers, the closest to God.  They raised up their hands and sang words like a baby babbling.  When they did this, I felt the room grow warm, I heard the music circling around me.

One day, it got so hot I thought I might pass out.  I opened my thirsty mouth and suddenly I began to speak like everyone else.  I didn’t know my heart contained a secret water fountain.  An ocean of joy bubbled up within me.  I lifted up my hands, threw back my head, and sung words I did not understand.  But I knew everything when I was five.  I knew some mysterious love that had made my flesh a home.

I also knew that my mother was afraid of her parents knowing that I had been baptized (again) in a a swimming pool.  I knew my experiences were dangerous.  (Even confusing as my grandparents were the kindest most generous people I knew.)  Still, talking about this love could make the kids on the bus tease you, or make your girl scout troop leader reprimand you,  or make your teachers cast a frightened eye upon you.

I wonder sometimes if this is a divine encounter or merely a human experience that occurs when a potpourri of people and places create just the right moment to unleashes the flood.  The praise band changes key, the singer’s voice cracks with emotion, the lights go down and the hands go up and the tears fall.

Regardless, I realized the other day: I want to feel it. I want to feel my religion.

Of course no one wants to be fooled either.  How do we know when to trust our experience?

Andrew Young, in the PBS series, God in America spoke of the historic tensions between faith and reason, “This is a religious universe. Most people– particularly most educated Americans– get uncomfortable when their emotions and their spirituality get the best of their intellect.  But there are times when the intellect can’t handle it.  The truly religious moments in our civil rights movement didn’t make any intellectual sense.  Nobody in their right mind would do some of the things that we did.  But we did it because we were caught up in a spirit.”

And I have a sense that as much as we intellectually resist it, we want to be caught up in a spirit too, a living one as real as the air that fills our lungs.  One that leads us to the top of a mountain to see the big view of life.  One that knows the story behind our fortified masks and intricate scars.  One that calls us to be our best self–or even better– something more than we could have hoped for or imagined.  And yet we mistake the spirit in the extra drink of alcohol, in the secret affair, in the wings of Icarus.  And then we fear that the spirit wasn’t even there in the first place.

And yet it still breaks into our world.  In the twinkling of a child’s eyes, in the miracle of new life, when someone we love dies.   And the embers burn.  And our hearts yearn again to touch, to taste and to see.

A few years ago I traveled back to Rome, New York to see for myself.  I wanted to know if I could close the book on this one.  Leave it behind in my fundamentalist past.  Chalk it up to smoke and mirrors.  I found the people of Rome Christian Center now gathered in an old Lutheran Church.  I greeted the same pastor who kept calling me Julie because I looked so much like my mother when he knew her so long ago.  I listened to his preaching.  I intellectually dismissed their theology.  I sized up their patriarchy.  And still, I encountered the mystery.

“We want you to get a word from God before you leave,” the pastor told me.  And I prepared for my public reprimand on the evils of feminism and the wide way of Episcopalians, but when the prophet placed his hands on my head I felt it again, as strong as it has ever been, the love in this moment in time, in this strange place, with these strange people, in this strange flesh that had since become a woman, a wife, a mother and a minister.

Out of place and out of time, yet in a place and in a time just the same.  It can catch me off guard.  And yet it is not so very strange at all.  I like to feel it.  It’s like returning home to a place I’ve never fully known, one I will visit from time to time and one day, when the wind blows the dust back to where it came, I shall remain and see who it was that put this wondrous love in me.

–Excerpts from my memoir, “A Girl Called Loma” 

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“This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.” –Jimmy Carter

May the sacred feminine arise in our words and in our places of worship.

Here is a feminist’s prayer, a song for Her.

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February 14, 2013 · 5:05 pm

Fatimah, You are Rising!

fatima

Under the moon she grew

Under her bare feet she knew

Terra strong and terra true

Under the moon she knew

Fatimah, take my hand

Fatimah, run free across the land

One night they came into your bed

And they smiled when you said

No please don’t

And they laughed when you bled

After they had their fun

They dumped your body on your father’s front lawn

Fatimah, take my hand

Fatimah, your blood curses our land

You were food for the hungry

You were drink for the thirsty

For their sins you were atoning

Though you did not die willingly

Mama save me! you screamed

Right before your father shot you

In front of your family

Fatimah, take my hand

Fatimah, take me to the Promised Land

This poem was written in honor of a young girl named Fatimah who was gang raped and then died in an honor killing performed by her family.  They are still haunted the experience and say that Fatimah visits them in their dreams, asking, “Why did you do this to me?”  (Fatimah is also the name of Muhammad’s daughter, a figure that resembles the Virgin Mary.)

Creech, Jessica.  Fatimah.  Lifting Women’s Voices, Prayers to Change the World (c) Morehead Publishing, 2009.

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Rock Baby, You are Rising!

In honor of V-day and with One Billion Rising I have decided to rise with a song dedicated to the all the high school girls who’s dignity is threatened by sexual violence.  Here are the lyrics and a performance of Rock Baby (as it appeared in Lifting Women’s Voices, Prayers to Change the World (c) Morehouse Publishing 2009).

~~~

I was thirteen when they had me

On the concrete as I said please

I hope they like me now

They were sixteen and seventeen

The skaters, the strangers and me

The new girl in town

Take my flesh and take my blood

I needed so much love

So I gave my flesh and I gave my blood

My Rock Baby

High fives all around the room

After she cried in the bathroom

‘Cause the blood scared her so

You popped her cherry, boy! Way to go!

Take her flesh and take her blood

O my God she thought that was love

When she gave her flesh an she gave her blood

Her Rock Baby

Rumors gathered steam

She fucked the whole football team

Now every guy wants a piece of meat

Isn’t this her dream?

From prude to whore what a pendulum swing!

Take her flesh and take her blood

You know she doesn’t deserve love

Go on and take her flesh and take her blood

That girl’s just a slut

Your Rock Baby

She’s been under our covers

Under our skin

Under all this hate we keep her in

She’s our miracle in the making

Our Rock Baby

Even if you can’t hear her

When he enters the city

When he opens the gate

You will hear the rocks say,

Prepare the way! Prepare the way!

Prepare the way!

I will speak

Today.

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Lie Like a Saint

ImageLast night as I was driving home from another night of Youth Group, I listened to an intriguing story on NPR’s Radiolab called Deception.   Scanning brains, researchers discovered that the frontal lobe of people who easily lied contained larger masses of white matter.  (These people could easily make excuses and escape tight spots where others panic about what to say next.)

Even more intriguing, researchers developed a test that would reveal the ability of a person to even lie to themselves.  They hooked up electrodes to their skin and were able to demonstrate that the body reacted to lies (somatic consciousness), but the the information was blocked from mental conscious recognition.

The most disturbing part of the piece was when the researchers revealed that these subjects were the most successful among us.  Athletes are able to lie to themselves, “I’m the best.  I’ll win I know it,” blocking out any information to the contrary, they indeed are.  In the same way, CEOs and soldiers are able to block out the consequences of their actions, and continue to do things that do great harm to others in order to survive.

Conversely, those among us who tend to see the world and themselves more clearly tend to be more depressed.  These are people who behold the suffering of others and are aware of their own weaknesses and willing to talk about their experiences with others.

At the conclusion of the show the narrator surmised that nature had created this capacity to lie so that we would be protected from the frailness of our humanity and go on to live successful lives.  In short:  the liars are the ideal and the compassionate ones are urged to grow thicker skin?  I banged my head against the steering wheel.

Great.  Just what the politicians and ego maniacs of the world need to hear.

But, but, I thought the goal was consciousness…?

No, not for the collective, Jung would say.

So what IS true success?  Surely Plato would have struggled accepting the fact that those who can lie to themselves are achieving The Highest Good–especially if one’s actions do not result in The Highest Good for another too.  Being successful at another’s expense is not really success.  Nor is failing to see how we have hurt one another to maintain our successes.  This is bullying.  And cruel.  Does our society ask us to attain these attributes in order to succeed?  What do you think?  (I’d love to hear your thoughts!)

When the Blue Fairy comes to rescue puppet Pinocchio from the prison he’s gotten himself in from following the crowd, Pinocchio cannot be set free until he stops lying to the Blue Fairy and to himself.  Then he can go on to learn how to become a real boy.

We have to walk a much harder road to earn true success.  Just as Jesus had to leave the mountain top where he was transfigured in glory (like we were in our teenage years) Jesus knew his path lead to the cross, and he dragged Peter back down the mountain to show him that God’s light comes to shine in dark places, even death (where we too must go).

No, people on the road to consciousness do not look like typical success stories.  Often they look like complete failures.  But in their willingness to be adventurous and risk seeing it all, they gain something hard to achieve:  they gain compassion, joy and love.

Granted, lying is just at times.  We lie to maintain relationships.  We shield others from the pain of knowing their new hair cut really does look awful.

“Everything will be okay.”

“I can do this.”

“We’ll make it.”

I would argue that these thoughts that can shape reality are not lies, but faith.  When we hope for ourselves and for humanity, we intentionally create a more equal playing field, where all of us can taste success.

Tomorrow is the last day before the season of Lent begins, a time for reflecting on our lives and what keeps us from being our best self.  I hope we can all be courageous enough to learn from our mistakes, to walk along side of those who are suffering, and to hope for a more just and compassionate world.  I know we can do it.

I look forward to the journey with you!

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Bidden or Not Bidden the Goddess is Present

Image

There is no doubt Beyonce was worshiped last night.  My Twitter and Facebook feed lit up with praise and adoration, boys and men tweeted their longing for the Goddess, while women and girls posted props for her triumph of girl power.  As I behold the image above, I see how the two faces create a chalice in the center–a symbol of the divine feminine.

While Beyonce and all the alluring young women of our time will eventually grow old–the Goddess of Love will not.  She will continue to enchant humanity as She incarnates flowering and fiery young maidens throughout time.

The Goddess is bidden in American culture.  We worship Her in magazines, models and movie stars.  We use Her to sell ads and run our economy.  A part of us knows She’s not entirely human: She’s airbrushed, adorned and acted.  Still, we need Her with us.  Her beauty reminds us that life is worth living.  Her power ignites our dormant energy and calls us to unite and create new life together.

The Goddess is not bidden in Christianity.  The Apostle Paul and the early Church Fathers steered Hellenistic Christianity away from the Pantheon of Greek Goddesses.  It has been suggested that the earliest form of the Holy Trinity was derived from the Gnostics: Father (The Creator), Mother (Sophia) and Son (Christ).  Later Christianity removed the Mother and replaced it with Holy Spirit, who is called a He in the Nicene Creed that is recited each week by millions around the world.

A major theological stumbling block to donning the female form with divinity in the church has been the historic vilification of the flesh which is said to war against the Holy Spirit.  In Romans 7:18 the Apostle Paul writes, “I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh,” a statement that would be very difficult for many pregnant mothers to make.  The 4th and 5th century theologian Augustine coined the term “original sin” which has gone on to shape humanity’s loathing self image–a move away from what is written in the book of Genesis, where it is written that God created male and female and called them “very good.”

When the flesh and the desires of the flesh were deemed sinful, so were women, sexuality and the simple joys of life itself:  nourishing food, comfortable clothes, a cozy home, a lover, a family all appeared frivolous distractions from a God who detested carnal impurities.  These values belonged to the silenced Greek Goddesses–Hestia, Demeter, Aphrodite.

Furthermore, this Christian God looks suspiciously Gnostic as it tries even today to escape the flesh rather than incarnate it as Christ has, descending into all the mire–even death–to show us that God is present everywhere–maybe even in a Superbowl half time show.

As I watched Beyonce’s gyrating hips I could not simply think this woman was merely dancing.  I remembered that there were once temples devoted to the Sacred Prostitute, places of initiation into the sexual mysteries.  As I watched the orchestrated movements, the flames, the unfolding ritual, it was clear that Beyonce embodied the ancient Priestess.

Is this really girl power, this way of being that is clearly not for young girls or the elderly, but women of a certain age range, and a certain look?  Are there any other kinds of power available to girls and women throughout their life time?  Many of us are unfamiliar with the other forms the Goddess presents to women of all ages, because we have been raised on male gods and their preferences.

In my church, the Episcopal Church, which has been known as one of the most progressive branches of the church for women and gay rights, this is image of God we worship every Sunday in the Rite II Eucharist (using Prayer D):

Frequency of Names for God used in the most recent edition of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, 1979 in the Rite II Eucharist with Prayer D.

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The highest frequency of names for God are male. The values of rule and power are thus equated with the Divine.  If this is what is said in our more progressive churches, I think it’s fair to say the average Christian church worships one similar or even more masculine.  Maybe this is why it’s so easy for us in American Christian society to ignore the teachings of Jesus and abide instead by Machiavelli’s ethos that might makes right.  We worship the winners and forget that Jesus hung out with the losers.

And maybe this is why it is so dangerous for women to speak of rape.  It challenges the power that male gods propagate.  (Does God’s visit to the young virgin Mary echo an old story of divine rape?)  If Beyonce was raped last night, would the same culture who praised her say she deserved it?  Would they say: look at how she was dressed, she was asking for it?  We all know where the pendulum goes: to the light and to the shadow.  (I once worked for a Catholic priest who either adored me or belittled me; he struggled to find equality and humanity with women.)  We may have left religion–but the Goddess is still present.  Even if her sexuality is still split from our spirituality.  Even if the church is dying–religion lives on, even unconsciously.

If being sexy for a general audience is the only power a woman has available to her in her lifetime,  then women will continue to loath their flesh and the creative life force within.  Many will cut themselves off from their sexuality to remain traditionally spiritual.  Others will cut themselves off from traditional religion, the pleasures of food, or their very own bodies in order to remain sexual.

We need the whole Goddess and all the stories she inhabits.  We need to say Her holy names week after week so that we can learn Her ways.  If we can excavate Her divinity from the annals of time, redeem her from the ground of our being, I believe we will create a more sacred space to raise our daughters, our dignity and our divinity.

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