Tuesday, March 06, 2007
An Email to Father Tom at St. George's Episcopal Church
Thank you so much for the honor of presenting the alchemical reading of the passion narrative at St. George's. I read the Mark narrative last night in McDonalds while Andaluna played. And I just wept, Tom. Wept. Christ was so real to me, and the story, which I have read before, just resonated not with fear and terror and the anger I've been taught to feel against the priests, some righteous indignation which has blocked me from the meaning I received last night. What I saw was Christ's isolation at his darkest hour. In the Peshitta Bible Mark says, "and he began to be sorrowful and depressed. . . and he went aside a little and fell to the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass away from him." This "sorrowful and depressed" part and the desire to let an event pass without our being in it is so beautiful. It fits in with what I mentioned about Jonah yesterday, that there comes a time when we can't "think" through something and must relinquish control to our emotions so they may carry us. As the men fall away then in the series of betrayals, the ones who are left to witness are the women. (tho who that mysterious man in the loin cloth who runs off naked is invites so much inquiry--he's like the last male witness before the trial.) In the alchemical process, reason has to disappear in order for the soul to be free to unite with God, to enter this psychological heaven. Reason, being a masculine aspect, does fall away here. The women follow Christ. And the women are the first to see him after he rises. It is the feminine which remains the constant if we are to traverse death into rebirth. We must let go of our reason and allow the dark to carry us through, and the feminine aspect is what moves us. This is the thread throughout much of the whole Text. The women may be on the sidelines, like the animals, but they are the carriers through of the most profound transformations.
The great gift of this new way of seeing scripture is that we can invite illumination from the brethren faiths of Navaho, Buddhism, all. And this is our death myth. This is the myth and ritual we revisit just as we let winter fall from us. But the traversion of the border between seasons, particularly that from dead winter to living Spring is no small hop. This is serious. How do we get across? How do we ensure safe passage? This is so gorgeous: when the woman with the alabaster jar (the jar a symbol of the feminine of course) pours all the perfume over Jesus's head, he praises her actions as opposed to wishing she'd saved it for the poor. This is the key--do everything now, commit to this moment. be here. It's zen. It's about not thinking through the moment, weighing alternatives, but rather about just pouring all you've got into it in the spirit of sacred kindness. This is how to let the moment die completely in your hand so it can live on forever in a pure state. It is to act without regret or thought. It is to give.
The cup of suffering a strong figure. Christ knows he is staying in the fire and not forsaking suffering in favor for an easy life. The cup is something we can use to "pass away" from ourselves in times of suffering. We pour ourselves into the cup to be made new. The cup here becomes the metaphor for the crucible in which we are constantly formed. We transubstantiate into it, deliver the parts of ourselves that need taking away. But we don't get to choose which parts these are. That is God's will only.
In alchemy, Al-khaim (and I wonder if this is "chaim" in Hebrew, life?) in Arabic, the crucifix for 7000 years has been a part of the most difficult process, mortificatio, death in which the four elements that make us are drawn to their polarities completely (hence the four points of the cross). In the alchemical process, this is the torture and destruction of the matter so its soul can be set free. When it is done, the matter is covered with linen soaked in dew and left in a "tomb" to putrefy. The putrefactio stage renders the matter without its former identity. It is the death after the death. Most painful. It is the descent into the nothingness before nothing. When it is over, fermantatio occurs. The dead grape has turned to a great bottle of wine. But the key to all of it is commitment to each phase. We must go into the tomb and be in utter darkness.
During mortificatio, Christ transubstantiates and this is mercy--he does the process in a ghost walk, wherein he renders his soul to the maker while his body goes through the motions. It doesn't make it easy, it is a skill that one learns from the other stages because they have suffered enough by this point to be able to walk with ghost. (Glenis Redmond and I have often told eachother, "I'm ghosting" to get through a particularly difficult time.) It is the mastery of dissocation used to its fullest benefit, to get us through unspeakable trauma. It is the ability to move the greatest part of oneself back into God so this world can't hurt us anymore. And God carries us through. To be proud, to think we can handle it without Him, to think we are in this alone--these thoughts interfere with the process of rebirth. It is not enough to die. We have to die before we die. We have to give our lives back to God. It is like a suicide, only done in the right way. We kill our ego so our soul can live on. In putrefactio, we don't have the luxury to transubstantiate. We take on our death whole. When we rise, there's nothing left of who we were. The butterfly's got nothin' in common with the caterpillar.
In a garden, it would be wrong to try to keep the flowers alive through winter. To do so would be to interfere with the necessary husk and drain of the season. Andaluna got incredibly sad in the autumn when the last red leaves fell from the dogwood. I had to explain to her that this has to happen. We have to let go of the beauty so it can return to us in new form. The paradox of giving is always this--we can't do it thinking of what we'll get, but we can always know that in giving everything we will get more back in return. The motive must be separated from the action. This is the left hand path I suppose. The cup must be separated from the man. And all things must be permitted their course through the darkness--be they daffodils or us.
Speaking of daffodils--did you hear that thing on NPR years back, the man whose manic, troubled mother sent him a thousand bulbs which he, angry with her, didn't plant carefully but just, fed up with the space they took in his garage, dumped them all at once into a hole in his garden where a tree service had removed a tree. And he forgot about them. And she died and he still did not think of them, his countless issues with her madness unresolved. Then in Spring, there were these thousands of blossoms screaming gorgeous yellow from the unwintering earth. It is like this--this constant act of letting go of everything. This constant giving back to the earth what belongs to the earth and never stays.
In Native American tradition, every story is medicine. There are songs for our illnesses, rituals for great maladies. This is our medicine story of the greatest transformation, that which occurs in the final three stages of the alchemical process, and through which we all go as well symbolically, and hopefully as gracefully as Christ.