Sunday, April 29, 2012

Something to Think About . . .

Recommended Off-site Links:
Vatican Crackdown: Rome Says U.S. Nuns Don't Adhere to Church Teachings (April 18, 2012).
Vatican Orders LCWR to Revise, Appoints Archbishop to Oversee Group – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2012).
LCWR: Why Are We Not Surprised? – Robert McClory (National Catholic Reporter, April 24, 2012).
We Are All Nuns – Mary E. Hunt (Religion Dispatches, April 25, 2012).
We Are All Nuns – Nicholas D. Kristof (New York Times, April 28, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Jesus and Homosexuality
Jesus and the Centurion
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus Was a Sissy
The Wild Gaiety of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Song
Our Limitations, Not God's

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"We Are Sojourners on This Earth . . ."

O Loving presence,
You are with us to the end,
whatever the measure of our days;
our life passes by as the blinking of an eye!
For the gift of life fades too soon away,
yet how precious are we in your sight!
Surely your plan for us is written in our hearts.
Surely your angels stand ready
to guide us on our way.
Surely there is nothing to fear,
for You abide within us;
You await patiently for us
to awaken to your Love . . .

I'm currently in Australia for two weeks. Although at the moment I'm at Swallows Ledge, my parents home in Port Macquarie, most of my time will be spent in Sydney with a family of close friends who are experiencing a very difficult time.Your prayers of strength and support for this family and for all who love them, myself included, are greatly appreciated.

I share this evening some photos of my first days in Australia.

Above: The clock tower of Sydney's Central Station, the largest railway station in Australia – April 24, 2012.

Above: ANZAC Day in Port Macquarie – April 25, 2012. I heard on the news last night that this was the first year that there was no World War One veterans present at any of the ANZAC Day parades or services as there are now no longer any left alive.

Above: A young cormorant on the break wall of Port Macquarie – April 25, 2012. I think this is the closest I've ever been to a cormorant!

Above and below: Visiting the rock platform below Swallows' Ledge that I love so much. For my writings inspired by this place, see here, here and here.

Above: April sun in Australia. The rock platform in the previous photos is located just below those trees behind me (right).

Left: With my parents – April 26, 2012.

Above: With Mum and Dad and friends George and Yonni – Thursday, April 26, 2012.

. . . And now, O Loving Friend, for what do I wait?
My hope is in your guidance.

. . . Hear our prayers, O Listening Heart,
give ear to our cries;
wash away our tears with your peace.
For we are but passing guests,
sojourners on this earth
as in all generations.
Look upon us with mercy,
that we may know the joy
of living in the realm of Love,
now and in the Life to come.


– Excerpted from Psalm 39
as translated by Nan C. Merrill
Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness

NEXT: Leichhardt

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Media Matters

The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper has been doing a lousy job covering the full range of Catholic responses to the "marriage amendment." Of course, it's not the only mainstream media outlet to have fallen short in this regard. Yet given its standing as the major newspaper of the Twin Cities and the fact that it actually has a religion editor, I find its failure to offer broad, well-balanced coverage on the range of Catholic opinion and action on the marriage amendment to be all the more egregious.

I've been aware for some time now that, for whatever reason, the paper is extremely reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report on in any depth, the growing opposition of the Catholic people to the anti-gay, pro-amendment activism of the Catholic hierarchy. Locally, such activism is led by Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Minnesota Catholic Conference (of Bishops). As executive coordinator of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, I find the Star Tribune's lack of coverage of the people, perspectives and activities of this group both disappointing and frustrating.

Here's one example of what I'm talking about: During Lent, C4ME-MN organized and held a series of Sunday vigils outside the chancery office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Eighty people showed up for the first vigil on February 26, and each subsequent Sunday saw an increase in the number of attendees. At the last vigil on Palm Sunday, over 250 people gathered in prayerful opposition to the Archbishop's expenditure of energy and money on promoting the marriage amendment rather than on actions that reflect Jesus' Gospel call to care for the poor and marginalized. Despite two different media releases sent by C4ME-MN to various staff writers and columnists, the Star Tribune failed to cover C4ME-MN's presence at the chancery. Yet a few months earlier, in October 2011, Archbishop Nienstedt's announcement that he was establishing committees in every parish to push for the amendment made front page news.

In January 2012 the Star Tribune had another front-page story about the Archbishop's pro-amendment activism, a story about how in a speech and subsequent letter to the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese, Nienstedt had demanded their full obedience to his pro-amendment agenda and expected no public dissent from them. Missing from the Star Tribune's coverage was the fact that the paper was tipped off about the Archbishop's communique by a media release from the Progressive Catholic Voice, which leaked the text of Nienstedt's letter. Now, I could take the matter personally, being as I am the editor of the PCV, but what I think is really happening is that, like C4ME-MN, the PCV is not "official" enough in the eyes of the Star Tribune to warrant a mention. Maybe the editors of the paper take Archdiocesan spokesperson Jason Adkins's word that those of us involved in such groups are "masquerading" as Catholics.

What convinces me of this theory is that the sole voice of opposition that the paper does quote is that of Father Michael Tegeder, an outspoken critic of the Archbishop. Tegeder is also, of course, an official part of the church hierarchy. Now, I admire and respect Mike Tegeder's tenacity and courage, but he is just one voice of opposition within the clerical caste system of the church that is pushing for the amendment. There are many, many others outside this system who are organizing, inspiring, and building a grassroots movement of respectful yet firm opposition. It's an opposition rooted in the Catholic tradition of social justice, the church's teaching on the primacy of conscience, and the ancient understanding of the sensus fidelium, the voice of the faithful. As faithful lay Catholics we have unique experiences and insights. We also have the duty to share these with those in positions of authority. Is it too much to expect secular media outlets to understand, explore and articulate such Catholic realities? Perhaps. But the near total lack of coverage as we've experienced with the Star Tribune is definitely a sad state of (media) affairs.

But wait! Thankfully, things appear to be changing – not, as far as I know with the Star Tribune, but in terms of media coverage on the existence and work of C4ME-MN and the reality of the growing discontent and opposition of "ordinary" Catholics to the political activism of the bishops around the issue of the marriage amendment. This coverage is coming from what some might call the "alternative" press, though given the changing nature of the media world, the "alternative" is fast becoming the new mainstream for many, especially for those under 40.

And so I'm happy to report that the online news journal MinnPost recently published an article by local writer Beth Hawkins that offers what I've long been waiting and hoping for: a cogent, in-depth and balanced report on the range of Catholic responses to the marriage amendment. Indeed, not since Tim Gihring's May 2008 Minnesota Monthly piece on Catholic responses to Archbishop Nienstedt, has a local Catholic issue been so thoughtfully and thoroughly explored.

Hawkins' MinnPost article is just the beginning. In the last few weeks I've spoken to reporters from both City Pages and Minnesota Public Radio and/or directed them to other Catholics to interview. Local media across the board, it seems, are finally starting to acknowledge and cover the full range of Catholic perspectives on the marriage amendment. And if the Star Tribune comes calling so as to "get on board," all of us at C4ME-MN would be more than happy to talk to them!

Recommended Off-site Link:
Conflicted Catholics: Consciences Wrestle with Church Actions on Marriage Amendment – Beth Hawkins (MinnPost, April 18, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Responding to Whiny Catholic Bishops Who Cry Victim
"Come On, Ethel, We're Leaving!"
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Palm Sunday at the Chancery
Sharing the Good News of Marriage Equality at the Basilica Block Party
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the Garden of Spirituality – Ilia Delio

The Wild Reed’s series of reflections on religion and spirituality continues with an excerpt from Franciscan nun Ilia Delio's 2011 book, The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe.


We are called to love this created world as God loves it. We are to help transform this universe from within by seeing Christ in the heart of matter – in all peoples, creatures, elements, stars and galaxies. Such vision requires openness to new relationships, new ideas, abandoning messianic expectations, accepting incompleteness as part of life, recovering the capacity of wonder, and living in the primacy of love.

Unless we realize the Christ in our own personal lives, however, we shall continue to suffer the violence of blind evolution. We have the capacity to heal this earth and bind its wounds in love, but do we have the desire?

Evolution is speeding up in the universe, and we are moving into a new level of religious consciousness that is more global and pluralistic in nature. Does Christianity have something distinct to offer, or are we too worn out by internal divisions and complex theological traditions? Do we long at times for the old fixed universe?

We are called to be whole-makers, to evolve by uniting, growing and becoming more complex. We are not to seek the living among the dead. Rather, we are to forge a new future, a new hope, a new life that begins with our own lives.

Related Off-site Links:
Sr. Ilia Delio and the Intersection of Science and Religion – Joshunda Sanders (, September 27, 2011).
Universal Savior: Ilia Delio Reimagines Christ U.S. Catholic (March 20, 2011).
A Review of Ilia Delio's Christ in Evolution – Rob Deltete (The Commons, April 1, 2011).
The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

Image 1: Michael J. Bayly.
Image 2: Photographer unknown.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thoughts on the Titanic Centenary

As a boy I had quite an interest in all things related to the Titanic and its sinking. It was a fascination, really, and it probably began with my viewing on TV of the 1958 film A Night to Remember, sometime in the early 1970s. Soon after, as either a birthday or Christmas present, I received the illustrated edition of the book by Walter Lord upon which the film is based and named after.

At around the same time, the sinking of the Titanic was featured in the popular television series Upstairs Downstairs, with the beautiful and stately Lady Marjorie Bellamy (left) going down with the ship! The sinking of the Titanic is never actually shown, but its loss is hauntingly described by Miss Roberts, Lady Marjorie's maid, who survived the disaster.

"But we must go back for m'Lady!"

As a teenager, I was for several years a member of the Titanic Historical Society, and through its publications and other sources I became familiar with all kinds of interesting facts about the ship and its tragic loss. Did you know, for instance, that the Titanic had two sister ships? They were the Olympic (pictured at right with the Titanic) and the Britannic. Interestingly, the latter never saw commercial service as it was launched on the eve of World War One and immediately converted and put into service as a hospital ship. On November 21, 1916, it struck a mine in the Aegean Sea and sunk with a loss of 30 lives.

Above: The sinking of the Britannic.

With my Dad's help I built a model of the Titanic when I was in high school. It went with me to college (left) and then on to Goulburn, where I lived and taught as an elementary school teacher for six years before relocating to the U.S. in 1994.

Of course, when teaching in Goulburn I developed and taught a unit of work on the Titanic which my students found of great interest.

Above: Jason and Ben with the model of the Titanic they constructed in 1992.

By that time (1988-1993) the wreck of the Titanic had been found (right), and, no, it looked nothing like its depiction in the fanciful 1980 film
Raise the Titanic (below).

I remember buying Robert Ballard's book The Discovery of the Titanic, reading it with great interest, and keeping it on my bookshelf alongside my old copy of A Night to Remember!

Strange as it may sound, James Cameron's popular 1997 film Titanic never really did it for me. For a start, Leonardo DiCaprio is hopelessly miscast as Jack, and the film's overall depiction of class divisions is cliched and simplistic. But the really big issue I have with the film is its false portrayal of First Officer William Murdoch (left). In one scene in Cameron's film, Murdoch is depicted panicking and shooting two people when a group of passengers rush a lifeboat. He's then shown turning his pistol on himself and committing suicide! There's absolutely no evidence that any of this happened.

What can be said about Murdoch's actions and conduct during the last hours of the Titanic is this: Shortly after the ship's collision with the iceberg he was put in charge of the starboard evacuation during which he launched ten lifeboats, containing almost 75% of the total number who survived. He was last seen attempting to launch a collapsible lifeboat. He was never seen again after the Titanic disappeared beneath the cold waters of the Atlantic, and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

I must admit it bugs me that, to this day, whenever Cameron is praised for his "attention to detail" in the making of Titanic, he's never challenged or critiqued about his film's depiction of Murdoch. With the recent 3D release of Titanic, Cameron could have easily had cut that scene from the film. Instead, he changed another scene so that the night sky was more accurately depicted!

Anyway, given my history with the subject, I thought it appropriate to acknowledge the fact that today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and to share here at The Wild Reed the following links.

Prayers and Silence Mark Titanic Centenary – Jill Lawless and Lefteris Pitarkis (Associated Press, April 15, 2012).

Historic Titanic Pictures Give Glimpse Into Life Aboard Doomed Ship The Huffington Post (April 13, 2012).

Titanic Anniversary: Ship's Gay Passengers Revealed In New Research The Huffington Post, April 13, 2012).

Gays on the Titanic The Closet Professor (April 16, 2012).

World's Largest RMS Titanic Museum Opens in Belfast – Randolph Jonsson (, April 5, 2012).

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Embraces Its Titanic Connection At Last – Raymond M. Lane (Washington Post, April 13, 2012).

William Murdoch's Great Nephew Lays Flowers at His Grave – Matthew Taylor (ITV News, April 14, 2012).

Titanic Photo Shows Evidence of Human Remains – Claudine Zap (The Upshot, April 16, 2012).

James Cameron's Titanic as a "Body-Guy" Film The Leveret (April 15, 2012).

Titanic 3D and the Limits of Artistic License - Edward Tenner (The Atlantic, April 13, 2012).

Titanic and the 1% - Edward Tenner (The American, April 6, 2012).

What Happened to the Iceberg That Sank the Titanic? - Alasdair Wilkins (Wired Science, April 16, 2012).

Titanic Universe – RMS Titanic Facts and Information

Titanic: 100 Years National Geographic, April 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
Commemorating My Grandfather, Aub Bayly, and the Loss of AHS Centaur

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Quote of the Day

. . . [M]ost of the American “Catholic” bishops are in schism.

They are moral heretics. Because of their undisguised embrace of the Republican cause and their opposition to President Obama’s modest health care plan, they are not “good news for the poor” (Luke 4:18) as Jesus defined his mission, not “good news” especially for poor children, not “good news” for those whom God has made gay, not “good news” for the sick and the elderly, not “good news” for that trinity of persons that the Hebrew Bible (Jesus’ Bible) had an obsessive concern for, “the orphans, widows, and immigrants,” and not “good news” for the “peacemakers” whom Jesus called “God’s children.” (Matt. 5:9)

The bishops are not “good news” for those they insultingly label un-Catholic and outside the cor ecclesiae (heart of the church), the many . . . who dare to reject the pelvic zone orthodoxy the bishops have substituted for Jesus’ “good news.” . . .

– Daniel C. Maguire
"Most Catholic Bishops are 'Moral Heretics'"
Religion Dispatches
April 5, 2012

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Daniel Maguire: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"
Daniel Maguire on the Progressive Core of Catholicism
Daniel Maguire on Catholicism’s "Long History of Demeaning Sexuality"
Daniel Maguire on Sex as Liturgy
Daniel Maguire on the Wedding of Sexuality and Spirituality
Daniel Maguire in Minneapolis

Monday, April 09, 2012

Something to Think About . . .

From Northern Minnesota, Two Excellent Rebuttals to the "Convoluted Logic" of the Bishops' Pro-Amendment Argument

Jason Adkins (pictured at right) is serving double duty. Not only is he the executive director of the Minnesora Catholic Conference (of Bishops) but he's also the vice chairman of Minnesota for Marriage, the official campaign supporting the so-called "Minnesota Marriage Protection Amendment." This really shouldn't be that surprising given the prominent pro-amendment activism of the Catholic bishops of Minnesota – in particular, Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Adkins recently had an op-ed published in the Duluth News Tribune. Following are two excellent responses to his (and thus the bishops') perspective on civil marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Gay Couples Are Also Loving, Committed to Family

In his March 21 commentary in the News Tribune, Minnesota for Marriage’s Jason Adkins used combative language to say gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry. By conjuring up “assault” and “threats” to traditional marriage, Adkins invoked a convoluted logic that must make his law-school professors cringe. His assertion that granting full marriage rights to same-gender couples would somehow detract from the integrity of heterosexual marriage and destabilize our civilization failed credibility.

He implied that if gay marriage was legalized, gays and lesbians would marry, stopping the procreation they’re obliged to do. Heaven forbid they’d perhaps try raising adopted children in a non-traditional family structure. It was an argument that bordered on delusional and that suffered from ignorance.

Had I not known and loved family members and friends who happened to be gay, then perhaps I’d be susceptible to the fears promoted by Adkins.

When he begins to discover just who among his family and friendship circles happens to be gay, he’ll understand committed, same-gender couples share the same love and commitment we all do. I believe he’ll then come to deeply regret his current public sentiments.

Increasing numbers of us are realizing that whenever two adults make a public, life-long commitment to one another, the quality of our communities is strengthened. I realize that for some faith traditions, the journey to full inclusion requires wrenching introspection as to what really defines core beliefs. We finally are acknowledging that full equality is right for all Minnesotans.

For all those like Adkins who have yet to travel this road of discovery, I wish them well. I have confidence enough of my fellow Minnesotans will choose to honor and affirm all families next November by voting “No” on the proposed marriage amendment.

– Geoffrey A. Witrak
Letter to the Editor, News Tribune
April 6, 2012

Gay Marriage Foe Described False Choices

It always disturbs me when an issue such as the marriage amendment is boiled down to a choice between two alternatives, and one of the alternatives is described in very negative terms while the other is presented in glowing, positive terms. In his March 21 commentary in the News Tribune, Jason Adkins of Minnesota for Marriage presented two alternatives in just this way.

Let’s examine the two alternatives, as suggested by Adkins.

In his negative choice, he implied that two people of the same gender who wished to be married do not care about anything other than themselves. In my experience, this is just not the case. If two gay adults love each other and want to enter into a committed relationship through marriage it does not follow that they are any threat to anyone else. It also does not follow that a gay couple somehow threatens the well-being of children and society.

In his positive choice, it appeared that every marriage made up of one man and one woman works for the “well-being of children and society,” as Adkins wrote. This also is not always the case. There are many examples in history where children and society have been threatened or wounded by married members.

We simply cannot lump all people into two groups based on their sexual preferences and then proceed to make generalities about every member of the two groups. We have a U.S. Constitution that protects minorities in our society from persecution and discrimination. Adkins does not comment on the discrimination that gay people face every day.

The fact that two gay individuals marry does not threaten my marriage, my society or my children in any way.

Vote “No” on the proposed marriage amendment on Nov. 6.

– Marvin Holt
Letter to the Editor, News Tribune
April 8, 2012

Recommended Off-site Link:
Obama Opposes Minnesota Anti-Gay Marriage Constitutional Amendment – Luke Johnson (The Huffington Post, April 9, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Responding to Whiny Catholic Bishops Who Cry Victim
"Come On, Ethel, We're Leaving!"
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Palm Sunday at the Chancery
Sharing the Good News of Marriage Equality at the Basilica Block Party
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality

Photo of the Day

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Quote of the Day

The undeniable sign of resurrection is joy, looking redeemed, bringing a sense of hope to others that is tangible and irresistible. It is not shallow but deep, abiding and enduring. Death cannot break its hold, and suffering and persecution often strengthen it. It brings light and remembers to seek out the stars in the darkest part of the night. . . . It is the work of reconciliation, and it abhors violence and insensitivity to others' pain. It knows fear but is not paralyzed or controlled by it. It feeds on the word and . . . shares the bread graciously with all. It shoulders the cross and denies itself and turns toward the face of God in all others. It announces the victory of justice and grasps our hands for that victory in our life; it wrests us free of the grip of evil and isolation. [Resurrection] thrives in community.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Joy: The Most Infallible Sign of God's Presence
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas, and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
A Girl Named Sara: A "Person of the Resurrection"
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

The Resurrected Jesus . . .

. . . Not further removed from us
but more intimately connected with us

The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy Week series concludes this Easter Sunday with a sixth and final exceprt from Cynthia Bourgeault's The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


There are many skeptics who say that resurrection is a myth, that Jesus never rose. I myself believe that he did, and I stand my ground with Christian tradition when I affirm that his resurrection does indeed make a profound difference to how we live here and now.

. . . [W]hat Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin. Along the entire ray of creation, the "mansions" are interpenetrating and mutually permeable by love. The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, "hidden with Christ in God" (to use Paul's beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and him) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. If we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point, the rest of the Christian path begins to fall into place.

Yes, his physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognize him at that other level, just as he has modeled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide.

Nor has that intimacy subsided in two thousand years – at least according to the testimony of a long lineage of Christian mystics, who in a single voice proclaim that our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love. These are not statements that can be scientifically corroborated, but they do seem to ring true to the mystically attuned heart. . . . These same mystical visionaries have tended to claim that this "pan-cosmic" saturation of his being into the deepest marrow of this created world was the cosmic cornerstone turned in his passage through death. Without in any way denying or overriding the conditions of this earth plane, he has interpenetrated them fully, infused them with his own interior spaciousness, and invited us all into this invisible but profoundly coherent energetic field so that we may live as one body – the "Mystical Body of Christ," as it's known in Christian tradition – manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. Jesus in his ascended state is not farther removed from human beings but more intimately connected with them. He is the integral ground, the ambient wholeness within which our contingent human lives are always rooted and from which we are always receiving the help we need to keep moving ahead on the difficult walk we have to walk here. When the eye of our own heart is open and aligned within this field of perception, we recognize whom we're walking with.

– Cynthia Bourgeault
The Wisdom Jesus

For more of Cynthia Bourgeault's writings at The Wild Reed, see:
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 2)
Advent 2011: Thoughts and Reflections (Part 4)

For the previous installments of The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy week series, see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
A Girl Named Sara: A "Person of the Resurrection"
Why Jesus is My Man
Jesus Was a Sissy
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Jesus, Sex and Power
Jesus and Homosexuality
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 1)
Jesus and the Centurion (Part 2)
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
When Expulsion is the Cost of Discipleship
Christ and Krishna
The Wounded and Risen Christ

Opening image: "The Road to Emmaus" by Lyndel Littleton.

Photo of the Day

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

When Love Entered Hell

The Wild Reed's Holy Week series continues today, Holy Saturday, with a fifth excerpt from Cynthia Bourgeault's The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)


We arrive now at a strange interlude in the passion drama that many Christians are unaware of because it's not actually mentioned in scripture, only in tradition (including the Apostle's Creed); I became acutely aware of it through my earlier days as a medievalist when I staged several English mystery plays depicting the incident.

While the Bible itself makes no mention of what might have happened during those three days that Jesus lay in the tomb, there is a strong apocryphal tradition that between the time he died on the cross on Good Friday and the time he returned to the flesh on Easter Sunday, he made a visit to hell ("stormed its gates," in some accounts) in order to release the doomed souls there. In the earthy language of the Middle English, this incident was known as the Harrowing of Hell.

The medieval interpretation of this legend is admittedly naïve. This visit solved a theological dilemma – namely, if in order to be saved you had to be a baptized Christian, what happened to all those good people who happened to live on the planet before Christ came? The medieval plays portray Jesus rounding up all those worthy Old Testament patriarchs – Moses with his stone tablets, David complete with harp, and a decidedly craggy Abraham – presumably in order to bring them into the Christian fold.

But setting the medieval naïveté aside, I believe the real meaning of this archetypal legend is entirely serious and deserves our full attention. In a real sense Jesus did indeed visit hell . . . and in confronting the powers and principalities there, he changed the footing on which our present world exists.

Christian theological tradition insists that it was the death of Christ that was the sacramental act, not his resurrection. This surprises many Christians, because it seems that resurrection is the much more obvious place where he exercised his triumph over the powers and principalities. But mystical wisdom has always intuited that the great sacramental fiat was actually accomplished much more quietly and inwardly in those innermost regions of the earth, as the direct outcome of his passage through death.

How could this be? . . .

A huge personal breakthrough in my own understanding of what this Harrowing of Hell mythology really is all about occurred quite unexpectedly in the midst of a discussion I had with a student a few years ago. A tenderhearted soul, she had seen the movie Cold Mountain the night before and had been severely disturbed by the human atrocities portrayed there. After lying awake all night, she arrived at class in a very distressed state and asked, "How could this darkness exist? How can we remove this darkness from this planet?"

"Don't you see," I heard myself saying in response, "that by judging it you only make it worse? By trying to stop the black – to make it all white, all good; by saying that this we can accept and this we must reject, you keep empowering that cycle of polarization that creates the problem in the first place." And I think this has always been the fatal trap in the "God is light" road map, the orientation that cleaves to the light by trying to deny or reject the shadow. It only winds up empowering the shadow and deepening it. The resolution doesn't lie in collapsing the tension of opposites by canceling one of them out. Something has to go deeper, something that can hold them both.

One of the greatest medieval mystics, Jacob Boehme, made the challenging assertion: "God cannot enter hell, but love can enter hell and there redeem it." For many years I had puzzled over the meaning of this statement. But in the very next instant of my exchange with this student, I suddenly understood what Boehme meant and what Jesus was actually up to during that pivotal moment in the passion drama. He was just sitting there – surrounded by the darkest, deepest, most alienated, most constricted states of pained consciousness; sitting, if we can image it, among all those mirroring faces of the collective false self that we encountered earlier in the crucifixion narrative: the anguish of Judas, the indecision of Pilate, the cowardice of Peter, the sanctimony of the Pharisees; sitting there in the midst of all this blackness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love. And in so doing, he was allowing love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise and holding that to the light. A quiet, harmonizing love was infiltrating even the deepest places of darkness and blackness, in a way that didn't override them or cancel them, but gently reconnected them to the whole.

A beautiful poem came across m desk a few years ago, written by an anonymous English nun, which precisely captures the flavor of this deeply sacramental moment. Picturing Jesus in the last moments if his human life, she writes:

In stillness nailed.
To hold all time, all change, all circumstance in and
to Love's embrace.

This single vivid image sums up the whole meaning of Jesus' passage through the realms of hell: to hold all the boundary conditions of this realm (time, change, and circumstance) "in and to love's embrace" and in such a way release them from the grip of duality. You can see why Boehme and some of the other most illumined Christian mystics have considered it a cosmic turning point: not because a single human being personally triumphed over the conditions of this world (an attainment attested to in nearly all the great religious traditions), but because he did it in such a way that did not judge or condemn these conditions but, rather, allowed them to be as they were. In that ultimate "letting be," he transformed them into sacred vessels of divine love. This is the mystical meaning of the great Pauline statement (in Colossians 1:17): "In him all things hold together."

. . . [E]vil is very much a function of duality. When I say this, I am not implying that evil is only in our minds. Duality is an objective sphere. To that extent, evil is also an objective force and larger than individual human subjectivity and human conscience. In those deeply hidden hours of Holy Saturday we find Jesus going to the root of that duality, embracing it, sheathing it in a greater love that will hold it firmly in place under the dominion of that love, and in obedience to that love, if we simply allow the kenotic path* to take its course. With that guarantee in place, we can follow where he has gone.

– Cynthia Bourgeault
The Wisdom Jesus
pp. 119-124

* Earlier in her book Bourgeault notes the following about this path:

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing. And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That's the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything.

NEXT: The Resurrected Jesus

Recommended Off-site Links:
What Did Jesus Do on Holy Saturday? – Daniel Burke (Religion News Service via Huffington Post, April 7, 2012).
Holy Saturday: Not the End of the Pilgrimage, But A Point of Transformation – Philip Lowe, Jr. (Philip's Many Thoughts, April 7, 2012).
Holy Saturday: Let the Memory Live Again – Francis DeBernardo (Bonding 2.0, April 7, 2012).
Where Was Jesus Buried? – Kim Lawton (Religion & Ethics News Weekly via Huffington Post, April 7, 2012)

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Passion of Jesus (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
A Wretched Death, a Wretched Burial

Image 1: Artist unknown.
Image 2: Jean-Jacques Henner.