Daily Archives: May 29, 2015

Holy, holy, holey

What a claim, that God calls me to speak out. I feel embarrassed to have made such a claim in light of how impossible it is for me to adopt a pious demeanour and look like a good and holy messenger of God. The things I say are not good for the church’s PR, nor are they in line with the view of God portrayed in this week’s readings. And so the temptation is either to abandon the readings altogether (since I already posted another blog post today), or to abandon the readings and look for the liberative strands within trinitarian thinking that I used to (critically) find.

But these readings are the bitter pill the church wants us to take as our rightful medicine this week. What sort of a faith is it after all if you just look away from the bits you don’t like and don’t grapple with them? So here I go in my dialogic perpetual struggle with the bits of texts the men in dresses want us to read.

I can’t actually say I relate to the first reading. I used to be able to practice spiritual contortionism enough to stay quiet in church and believe I fit in there and in those days I used to somehow contort my brain to believe that this first reading talks about ministry; that an angel will come and cleanse my lips with coal to make me pure to speak God’s word. I no longer see God’s word that way- coming out of pure lips in a pure way. I think of the Word as also being Wisdom, that wanton woman who frequents places she ought not go and I feel relief at that. She comes to me not because I am humble, or worthy or “clean” but because she loves what is human, she loves what is messy and true (please note any reference to “truth” I make may contain traces of its own demise).

She sits with sinners.

I don’t believe for a moment that my guilt is gone or my sin is blotted out or whatever and I don’t even ask it to be. How dare God just “blot out” the sins of first world, privileged, comfortable, white people while the earth is still dying and myriads are still suffering? The way I want to get rid of my sin is by God making the world better not just filling me up with the spiritual equivalent of Valium while other people suffer. And if God throws it back on me and says “your sin, you clean it up!” what then? That is certainly what I would say in God’s position.

The thing is as privileged people we are accountable and nothing can take our complicity away. The thing is as vulnerable and broken people we are not solely accountable and we may be affected by our circumstances. And only God can really hold that in balance (or at any rate I hope she can) and lead us to a better future (which entails us deconstructing and diminishing our own privilege in the cause of radical justice.

There is grave danger in those who speak for the church claiming to have their sins magically blotted out.

So here I am God, send me! Not the pure of heart (or lips). Not even particularly keen (it would actually be more convenient to only think of my career and the next holiday I could take my son on). But you call me and I love you and I will respond if you show me how. But if I have to say “Lord” and look upon thrones with militaristic mythical creatures attending some sort of even more privileged icon of the ruling class then forget it. God there is a class war on, there is a line I can’t cross even for you- now there’s heresy if you like.

So then the psalm is full of this mighty splendiferous God breaking cedars (why? is he three years old?) and making places skip about. Actually, God in this psalm sounds like the sort of scary climate disaster I have been reading about and suffering nightmares about and which looks increasingly likely in our near future. Shaking the wilderness while flashing flames of fire do you God? Are you testing a new type of bomb or something? So all of that fire and earthquake and flood but all is well because the “Lord” sits “enthroned”. It makes me wonder, in the context of that psalm whether I want the “strength” and the “peace” offered in this kind of faith.

So far…

 

the readings are like cement slabs

gaoling me in an outdated building

a church of powerful men.

 

Where is there a breath of life?

 

A shoot of green rising

between a hairbreadth crack?

 

That with the advent of life-again

might begin to crumble

my prison?

 

There’s a crack in the cement in Romans. I am not a great fan of the flesh/spirit dichotomy since a major battle of my life has been to learn not to hate and despise my flesh (that gift from God that keeps me whole and grounds me to the earth). But I didn’t receive a spirit of slavery apparently- so by implication I am allowed to disagree with tradition. I have been reading Carla Rinaldi about the child’s right to express themselves and think differently from the teacher because they are not slaves. Then if I see God as teaching, leading, guiding or parenting me I have to assume God is more enlightened than me and able to see how counter-productive it would be to silence who I am.

So that one little line is like a license to critique everything else. So if I was to cry “Abba! Father!” (which doesn’t actually come that naturally to me to begin with) it seems the reading is leading me to do that in some confidence, in a spirit almost of entitlement before God. I don’t mean to fall back into that first-world entitlement where God will do good things for me just because we have this great relationship; if God is my Dad, then I am certainly NOT Daddy’s little princess. It is more that I am entitled to have this dialogical relationship of questioning and growth with God because it is somehow in God’s interests to nurture me (the heir) and to teach me how to continue God’s work. An important note here is that any entitlement “I” or “we” have as a result of being God’s heirs is also shared by the “others” by “them” by whoever our social structures and ways of life oppress. So we will inherit God’s grace WITHIN the perpetual struggle for justice. We will inherit an accountability which it would be wise to become more ready for. Roman’s talks about suffering with the suffering Christ as the way to be glorified with the glorified Christ.

So we struggle, we suffer with the refugee Christ and with the single-mother Christ and with the rejected GLBTIQ Christ and with any place where Christ is and any work that Christ is doing or calling upon us to do. And that is where we tend to become like Nicodemus and want to ask stupid questions and deconstruct all the wrong things (don’t you see me doing that often enough) and to show our bad-tempered side when things don’t go our way.

And I really hate what Jesus says to Nicodemus in this gospel and I could become distracted by that and the awful way I was brought up to interpret it as a rejection of the supposedly obsolete bodily existence (that comes out of a female body of course) in favour of a patriarchal higher spiritual reality. It all sounds very gnostic to me and full of male privilege and I wonder if they would still all be too superior in their “spirit over flesh” ivory towers if someone (probably a woman) wasn’t being exploited to take care of their bodily needs which they scorn.

And I say this right back to you Jesus (if you ever, in fact said any of this nonsense)! What is born of flesh is flesh and damn well better have some gratefulness. What drinks its mother’s milk better not be saying it is better than its mother and you of all people should understand the sacrifice of sharing your flesh and blood to give life to another! If you were just a spirit then how did you eat and walk and talk and touch people? If you were not flesh how did they kill you?

What is spirit we know lives in flesh and its yearnings are written on the flesh and its strange and hard to understand sayings are also formed of flesh; of tongue dancing around teeth, of wind moving through vocal chord, vibrating through the living, breathing, heart-beating immediacy of FLESH. You made us of flesh and spirit when your name was Wisdom.

I am baptised but I don’t want to say I was “born again”. I came out of my beautiful, fleshy, fragile mother and I see her face now only in the mirror. I in turn pushed out three fleshly, spiritual beings and they were baptised but they did not need a rebirthing to negate my hard work. The beings of flesh and spirit that call us to accountability (especially this Reconciliation Week) that desperately call for justice in our world today don’t need us to think we are “better than” earthly demands for adequate food, housing and meaningful work.

Once again I have chosen not to allow the angel to hold the coal of blotting out to my unclean lips. I do not blot out my flesh, my material reality. I ask you God to take the person I am in reality, not some idealised image of perfection and I ask you to let me honestly and brokenly strive to follow you. And you are not my God because you sit upon a throne and are waited on by magical creatures who have little imagination when it comes to lyrics; you are my God because your place is in the struggle. As is mine.

Stef wrestles with the text (anyone can)

To justify the way I rough and tumble with the readings and refuse to submit to them I thought I would write a very short extra post that I can simply link to when I do it instead of constantly re-explaining. Maybe some time I will make a longer post on this topic.

Look at this strange reading!

Like Jacob I refuse to give up until I get some sort of blessing out of the readings. Not all of them give it up easily.

Reclaiming Darkness

 

Forgive me readers for posting this extra post just before I add my struggles with this week’s readings. It was in my head and I thought I would get it out.

I remember being that pious child that just took on board everything that was said at church no matter how much it outraged my experience of reality. If what the man in the dress said conflicted with what I could see and feel and know then I was wrong and I had to shift my thinking, it was as simple as that. Unsurprisingly this led to me losing my faith and my sisters and I (much to my parent’s disgust) developed a habit of giggling, making sarcastic comments under our breaths and rolling our eyes at the patriarchal words that rolled from the pulpit and altar at us.

One of the things that amused us was the use of the word “men” to symbolise humanity (but this word only sometimes means that). “Since by man came death” sang the choir, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive”

“Christ isn’t a man then” we might sneer.

Another was a hymn we had to sing:

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the eye of sinful men thy glory may not see

Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee

Perfect in power in love and unity

See how a couple of those themes fit with this week’s readings? But we latched onto the inability of the “sinful man” to see. Maybe we could see then we speculated since we may well be sinful (and defiantly so) but we weren’t men. The sexist term seemed almost like a loophole at times. Just as we were not included in full participation, ministry and full salvation by being only an auxillary to the great default “man” so we also felt we should then escape having responsibility and escape judgement.

Later at theological college I read something about women “reading between the lines”. I immediately recognised how I had done that at times, both in my current adult wish to move back into the church and in my childishly laughing resistance of what didn’t even attempt to speak to the “me” that goes unrecognised in church. Still you know churches fail to recognise women and especially queer women. We are all subsumed under an “everyone”, but this inclusivity assumes a heterosexual, middleclass, white, male subjectivity and for us to be included we more or less need to be willing to wear this type of drag- I am told this is even more so true for priests and ministers. “Differences” are either exoticised, or more commonly white-washed (and male-washed) because they make us feel uncomfortable, something is demanded from us by the unashamedly “different”.

Somehow this experience of recognition that I constantly had to read between the lines- both as a serious pilgrim and as an interrupting-of-patriarchal-flow larrikin –  made me wish for a liturgy where I could just rest in the church’s welcoming arms and goodness and I began to rewrite huge chunks of liturgy- every prayer, every response as well as many hymns to make them less alienating. I allowed them to be radically feminist, exclusively female and probably injected my as yet unacknowledged lesbian identity into my passionate striving for a feminine face of God.

And the song I mentioned above was easy to take over, I cannot remember all the verses but that one verse echoes in my head as an anthem to ultimate female triumph over being subjugated and God’s interest in our liberation.

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the light of patriarchy cannot pierce your veil

Your love makes us holy, called to work beside thee

Wisdom never resting ‘til justice will prevail

 

Here the traditional binary of light and dark are reversed. Darkness hides God, God chooses to be undiscoverable to have some boundaries and not to allow the intimacy that is really domination. Patriarchy, reason, science, the enlightenment cannot rationalise away God or invent rules to understand or control God. Love and call; wisdom and justice are my experiences of God and they are what I celebrated in a hymn rather than perfection, power (kingship), onlyness (peerlessness I guess is the real word) and being above the unworthiness of “man” just as man is above the unworthiness of the rest of creation.

But over the years meditating on this idea of Holy Darkness, and the feminine I have found other connections to grace. Firstly through viewing God this way I can relate to our Muslim sisters better. I can never approve of men hiding them and insisting that they go about veiled, but when white-culture comes in and tells them the wearing of veils is “offensive” I can be moved with compassion and empathy that they should wish to have some privacy and some boundaries in their own way. I have said “them” but “they” are always also “we” if we walk in God. Perhaps instead of giving people impossible dilemmas we need to together find more liberative ways of seeing the choice to cover the self, to withdraw, to refuse enslavement by a brand of “liberation” which does not suit who I am as a person.

And then the idea of darkness can also be redemptive in an ecological sense. Darkness used to interrupt the now endless workday of business, mining, selling, desperately striving. Darkness used to enforce rest and quiet. Darkness (and quiet) is needed by many species of nocturnal creatures to survive, be safe and forage or hunt. The lights of our hypercapitalist world burn so brightly and so endlessly that it becomes hard to see the milky way in the cities and even now the stars themselves. You have to go further and further out of town to experience darkness and quiet. I don’t wish to romanticise darkness, I know that under cover of dark many terrible things used to happen. But increasingly we live in a world of invasive and all-pervading light. Everything we do is seen and commented on, everywhere we turn data is collected about us. Everything must be seen and known and analysed and rest now comes under the heading of “wasting time”.

Holy Darkness redeem us from this, take us into your refreshing bosom where the hens may stop laying for a few hours and the possums escape detection and the owls do not have their eyes damaged by flash photography.

I want to end by sharing how I first came to consider “darkness” to begin with, although since I began I have gleaned much in traditional scriptures, hymns and writings that fits with the idea.

It began when my small son was learning about God and we taught him deliberately that binary opposition was a dangerous fallacy. “God is not a He and God is not a She” we said

“What is God then? An it?”

“No”

“What then?”

“You can say God is a He, but only if you said God is a She. You can say God is white, but only if you say God is black, you can say God is far away but only if you say God is close to us” We playfully went through all sorts of binaries with my son and he picked up on it and added his own that often surprised and educated me “God is red and God is green. God is a cat and God is not a cat. God is a snail because snails are both boys and girls at the same time. God is up and God is down. God is my mother and God is my child, God is hello and God is goodbye”

In church one Sunday, the reader got up and began in an impressively church voice (complete with the Anglican accent)

“God of light…”

“And God of darkness too” crowed my three-year-old little theologian bouncing out of his seat in excitement. He knew this game.

“No it’s only light” the priest told us

“It’s darkness too” my son insisted and I stopped and thought.

And the idea was there in our tradition you know. God is not just the light that gives understanding and meaning. God is the darkness that obscures meaning and gives rest too. Womb darkness, bed darkness, secret whisperings of love darkness, cat purring darkness, don’t touch me darkness, warm and restful darkness, unknown and unknowable darkness, tomb darkness, seed darkness, we know he is risen but we’re still a bit confused darkness, turning off your phone darkness, finally see the stars darkness.

Bittersweet chocolate darkness which is my cue to stop writing  and find some. chocolate