Our first ritual on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete is a death ritual in which we honor the memory of those who have gone before us. Like so many things on the pilgrimage, the death ritual evolved. I did not consciously plan to begin with death. Rather, the death ritual inserted itself at the beginning of the tour. Now I understand that the timing is right.
As we begin our pilgrimage, seeking new insight about the meaning of our lives, about the meaning of life and death, we pause to remember those who have gone before us.
Before the ritual begins, I discuss the communal burials in round tombs of the ancient Cretans, sharing my belief that the purpose of their rituals was not to secure immortality or eternal life for the individual, but rather to affirm and ensure the regeneration of life in the community and in nature. I add that though I have no desire for personal life after death, I care deeply about the continued flourishing of life for human and other than human beings.
On Wednesday, March 22, I had the pleasure to speak at a conference on law, economics, and religion hosted jointly byGeorgetown University Law Center and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Entitled “The Moral Economy,” the conference provided rich learning from an accomplished cast of rabbis, attorneys, and judges, including Pardes faculty members and alumni.
I presented with Dr. Jenny Labendz of the Solomon Schechter Day School and Dr. Deborah Barer of Towson University in a panel entitled, “Death penalty, human dignity and ethics: Retribution and an eye for an eye?” We engaged in a fascinating discussion that covered Rabbinic and Talmudic Law alongside the Gospel of Matthew, the Beatitudes, and Catholic Social Thought. I felt privileged and honored to learn from them in an interreligious exchange.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Passing of Arthur,” Idylls of the King
It’s arbitrary, of course, this designation of January 1st as New Year’s Day on the Gregorian Calendar, but it’s also unavoidable. Everywhere around us, people are gathering, celebrating, making resolutions, ringing out the old, ringing in the new.
The Jewish calendar’s Rosh Hashanah, near the Autumnal Equinox, always feels like the real New Year to me, with its time-honored rituals of renewal and return. The ancient Persian New Year, observed at the Vernal Equinox and recalled in in the Jewish and Christian celebrations of Purim and Mardi Gras, also moves me. And, like so many of my brother and sister pagans, I experience the Winter Solstice as a truly numinous moment, a time to release the past and welcome the future as the sun dies and is reborn.
This year, it’s especially meaningful to find Chanukah so close to the solstice, filling the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I’ve been lighting my candles each night with particular pleasure. Yet I’m happy, too, to join the rituals associated with the secular, popular New Year. In my view, there can never be too many moments of renewal and return.
In early December 2016 I visited central Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, where my 2x great-grandparents Thomas and Anna Maria Christ and their son George and his family, including my father’s father Irving John, lived for over fifty years. I had compiled a list of all the known addresses of the family in Williamsburg from census and death records. The family lived in a several block square area surrounding Most Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church on Montrose Street for all that time.
Most of the buildings at the addresses where the family lived had been torn down and replaced with housing projects in the mid-twentieth century. Some of the remaining ones are being torn down today, as this area of Williamsburg is being gentrified. Still, enough of the old buildings remain to give a sense of what the neighborhood was like in the 1800s. Continue reading “Ancestor Connection in Williamsburg, Brooklyn by Carol P. Christ”
This is a continuation of Molly’s piece from Wednesday, 10 August 2016. You can read Part 1 here.
After explaining that the homebirth of her second son was her, “first initiation into the Goddess…even though at that time I didn’t consciously know of Her,” Monica Sjoo writing in an anthology of priestess essays called Voices of the Goddess, explains:
The Birthing Woman is the original shaman. She brings the ancestral spirit being into this realm while risking her life doing so. No wonder that the most ancient temples were the sacred birth places and that the priestesses of the Mother were also midwives, healers, astrologers and guides to the souls of the dying. Women bridge the borderline realms between life and death and in the past have therefore always been the oracles, sibyls, mediums and wise women…
…the power of original creation thinking is connected to the power of mothering. Motherhood is ritually powerful and of great spiritual and occult competence because bearing, like bleeding, is a transformative magical act. It is the power of ritual magic, the power of thought or mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as well as to social organizations, cultures and transformations of all kinds… (page unknown).
I have been a childbirth educator since 2006 and I have given birth five times. Each birth brought me the gift of a profound sense of my own inherent worth and value. It was the shamanic journey through the death-birth of my tiny third child, however, that ushered in a new sense of my own spirituality and that involved a profound almost near-death experience for me. After passing through this intense, initiatory crisis, the direction and focus of my life and work changed and deepened. Shortly after the death-birth of my third son, I wrote: Continue reading “Priestess as Shamanic Path – Part 2 by Molly Remer”
It is late autumn, 2009. I am 30 years old and pregnant with my third baby. He dies during the early part of my second trimester and I give birth to him in my bathroom, on my own with only my husband as witness. The blood comes, welling up over my fingers and spilling from my body in clots the size of grapefruits. I feel myself losing consciousness and am unable to distinguish whether I am fainting or dying. As my mom drives me to the emergency room, I lie on the back seat, humming: “Woman am I. spirit am I. I am the infinite within my soul. I have no beginning and I have no end. All this I am,” so that my husband and mother will know I am still alive.
I do not die.
This crisis in my life and the complicated and dark walk through grief is a spiritual catalyst for me. A turning point in my understanding of myself, my purpose, my identity, and my spirituality.
It is my 31st birthday. May 3rd. My baby’s due date. I go to the labyrinth in my front yard alone and walk through my labor with him, remembering, releasing, letting go of the stored up body memory of his pregnancy. I am not pregnant with him anymore. I have given birth. This pregnancy is over. I walk the labyrinth singing and when I emerge, I make a formal pledge, a dedication of service and commitment to the Goddess. I do not yet identify myself verbally as a priestess, but this is where the vow of my heart begins.
I do not know at the time, but less than two weeks later, I discover I am in fact pregnant with my daughter, my precious treasure of a rainbow baby girl who is born into my own hands on my living room floor the next winter. As I greet her, I cry, “you’re alive! You’re alive! There’s nothing wrong with me!” and feel a wild, sweet relief and painful joy like I have never experienced before.
Remember the loss, because we’re going to need it for the tomorrows to come and for those that need our protection the most: the next generation. Remember, we are Orlando; now, tomorrow, and always.
I want to tell you a short story about the small town of Ripon, WI. On May 19, the local newspaper, The Ripon Commonwealth, which has served as the town’s paper since 1864, published a story regarding the political right’s uproar concerning President Barack Obama’s executive order that all public schools must allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom which matches that of their gender identity. Angry and upset, the paper’s education reporter wrote an article expressing his clear disdain for the President and also expressing a clear lack of empathy, understanding and sheer bigotry towards the transgender community.
Growing up in Ripon, I always read the paper when it came out on Wednesday evenings. Those of you who grew up in a small town can attest to the luxury of seeing friends, family members, and even the smallest ongoings in one’s town in print for the entire town to see and talk about. However, one thing I never saw in the paper was the clear hate I read in Mr. Becker’s article (the author of said piece). Enraged, I immediately asked myself: what can I do? Having connections back in Wisconsin, I immediately turned to friends who owned businesses, a friend who is the Director of a vocal and important group in the town, and community organizations and friends to begin to write letters. Continue reading “Remember by John Erickson”
Of the many letters Caroline wrote to her lifelong friend Luise, one of the most intense (the 57th Letter) dates from seven years after the 4th Letter discussed in my last post. By then both were married; only a few months earlier Caroline had given birth to her first child (Auguste); though Luise already had children, Caroline knew that one of them was terminally ill. In the first paragraph Caroline describes how difficult Auguste’s birth was for her; in the second she consoles Luise over the impending death of her child. She thus subtly parallels birth with death and hence the labor for one with mourning over the other.
Fifteen years later, only a few months after the death of Auguste–the last of her four children to die–Caroline’s generally positive disposition evidenced in the 4th Letter and her experience in grappling with birth and death evidenced in the 57th Letter were being put to the test. Though she was holding up well, Friedrich Schelling (Friedrich), the man who was to be her third husband, seems to have been suicidal from feeling guilty (rightly or wrongly) for having failed to do enough to cure whatever illness killed Auguste. Caroline wrote frequently and urgently to him, offering advice and comfort. In one of those letters (274d) she characterizes the challenge of overcoming grief as a formula to be solved: “(death/pain) x (love/bliss) = (life/peace).” She terms this one of her ‘primal axioms’ (the “Ursatz”), although she seems playfully to concede to Friedrich that he or perhaps someone else shares responsibility for it.Continue reading “Caroline Schelling on Birth & Death by Stuart Dean”
As I was writing this story, my Word program froze several times, and I lost what I had written. This has never happened before. The fifth time, it occurred to me that Artemis was not happy with the way I was telling the story of her life and death. I lit a candle and prayed for her spirit to fly free like the gulls over the sea that I could see out my window and began again. The words in italic are the ones she added.
Yesterday morning I heard the church bells tolling a plaintive, “dong, dong, dong,” as they do when someone dies. Quite a few people die in our village in winter, and I did not wonder who it might be. You didn’t think of me? A few hours later, I saw the death notice on a telephone pole next to my car. My friend and neighbor Artemis died. The words “Theos voithos,” “with the help of God,” came immediately to my mind. Continue reading “Releasing Artemis by Carol P. Christ”
In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of rituals. The rituals of the Easter season helped me process some difficult emotions. The way that rituals mark time and demonstrate consistency has been a comfort for me when facing new challenges and settings. But I am quite aware that rituals can become empty. In one of the comments to that post, a woman named Barbara responded, “There came a time for me when familiar and meaningful ritual no longer made sense. I had changed in understanding of what the ritual symbolized and celebrated. And haven’t found new rituals that make sense for me now…or at least I’m not aware of any.” Barbara’s remarks capture not only the loss from no longer being able to relate to existing rituals after life changes, but also the difficulty in finding or creating new rituals to take their place. I thanked Barbara for her honesty and decided that this post would continue the discussion, focusing more on discovery and creation of new rituals.
As I was preparing that post, I watched an episode of Call the Midwife that prompted me to reflect on the need to create rituals when existing ones just don’t work. Call the Midwifeis a BBC-PBS show about nurses and midwives living in a convent in London’s East End at the end of the 1950s and early 1960s. The show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, and it does a better job than most primetime dramas of showing female characters’ experiences the joys and challenges of their professional lives and personal lives. As it is set in a convent with several characters who are both nuns and midwives, the show also explores the theme of vocation. What does it mean to be called to the religious life? Called to nursing? What does motherhood demand? Continue reading “The Importance of Rituals (Part 2) by Elise M. Edwards”
My sister once said about me, “One thing you have to understand about Elise—she takes the ritual of whole thing very seriously.” My sister was right and her words helped me see this quality about myself. What ritual was she talking about me taking so seriously? Happy hour on Fridays.
It was a different season of my life when she said this. I don’t have Friday happy hours regularly anymore, although I did gather with my friends nearly every week for food and drinks for many years throughout my 20s and 30s. It was often on Fridays, but at one point it was Wednesdays and then, for about a year, it was Thursday nights after a late shift at work.
More recently, I would meet a friend for crepes at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. Although the day and the time and specifics of these gatherings would vary, the act of setting aside a weekly time to connect with people dear to me and relax as we indulged in good food or drink was a ritual to me.
In 2014 I wrote about the passing of my dear Pop and the painting that burst forth when I was told very clearly that Pachamama had come to accompany him on his return. It is with a very heavy heart that I now write with news of the recent passing of my dear Nanna. The anchors of our family now both gone. When I was told of her passing, I envisioned her being carried by angels; at peace and free of pain.
The last time I saw her she told me the spirits had been visiting. “I’m not scared,” she declared. This was not surprising for Nan always had a close relationship with spirit. I remember her telling me of a ghostly experience she had many years ago. It was very late one night and someone had come knocking at the door. Out of bed she got and answered it only to be greeted by her brother who had died many years before. He asked her to come with him and she told him it wasn’t time yet. Nan swore it wasn’t a dream. It had really happened. This is just one of many otherworldly encounters she told me about over the years.
Much of my childhood and early adulthood was spent at Nanna’s house so there are plenty of fond and funny memories of her. Her obsession with ghost and horror stories stands out as one of them. When we were children, she would get my sister and me to stay up late with her and watch all kinds of mystery murder shows. I remember watching The Hounds of Baskerville with her and being scared witless. The bonus however was getting to cuddle up in bed with her for the night.
Reading was one of her greatest passions, and she read everything from Shakespeare to Stephen King. I believe it was Nanna who inspired my love of history and over the years we swapped and shared numerous historical books. Her knowledge of Old Britain was astounding, and I remember many a discussion over the fate of Mary Queen of Scots – Nanna was always a bit anti-English, and we often wondered how history may have unfolded if Mary hadn’t been de-throned and exiled. In fact the last book she sent for me to read was another about her.
Stargazing was another one of her loves and is something she will be dearly remembered for. Many evenings were spent out on the deck looking to the night sky. Nan knew where all the constellations and zodiac signs were and she rarely missed an astronomical event. Whenever I have looked to the stars I have thought of Nanna, but now when I look to them, she is one of them. Shining down on us brighter than ever.
I dedicated my latest painting to Nanna. For me, painting is how I can process my thoughts and feelings and is also a way to find clarity and understanding on matters such as the nature of life and death. From the moment I made the first marks on the canvas I kept hearing “your ancestors are behind you.” I knew I was being guided by them and tried my hardest to connect in with Nanna’s spirit to see and feel who guided her home. Nanna had strong ancestral ties so it was only fitting to feel them so strongly here. The two younger women standing in front are the gatekeepers, standing at the threshold to the other side. The woman in the centre came with the message that Nanna is at peace – she is peace. She is pictured smelling the roses that were one of Nanna’s favourite flowers to grow. The firebird symbolizes transformation and the flight of her spirit that is seen to the left leaving, heading back to the cosmos from whence she came.
Death is surreal and it still hasn’t quite sunk in that I will never see her again. Nanna was a strong and caring woman who loved her family deeply. Her legacy is one of love, and while the circle feels broken in the sense that she is no longer physically here, it remains unbroken for her spirit lives on forever in our hearts.
I am the daughter of Ramona Cherise Lane, the granddaughter of Ailsa Aileen Rollings and the great granddaughter of Ruth Harrison. I come from a long line of beautiful, strong and capable women stretching back to the dawn of humankind. I honor them and give thanks for all that they have taught and shown me.
Nanna taught me about my ancestors.
She taught me about the importance of storytelling.
She taught me about mystery and history.
She taught me to love books.
She showed me how to crochet and knit.
She showed me how to play cards.
She showed me spirit.
In life and death Nanna has taught me of unconditional love and acceptance.
“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal”
Jassy Watson, who lives on the sub-tropical coast of Queensland Australia, is a Mother of four, passionate organic gardener, Intuitive/Visionary & Community Artist, Teacher, Intentional Creativity Coach and a student of Ancient History and Religion at Macquarie University, Sydney. She is the Creatress of Goddesses Garden, Studio & Gallery; a school for the Sacred Creative Arts. Jassy teaches regular painting workshops in person, nationally and internationally, and online based around themes that explore myth, history, earth connection and the Goddess. Regular creative events and presentations are also held that have included visits from international scholars, artists and musicians. Visit http://www.goddessesgardenandstudio.com to read more about her and the work she creates.
My mother-in-law is currently in hospice and expected to cross over any time now. My wife is with her. Those two sentences alone—since I am a woman writing this blog—signify historic/herstoric change. I am a woman and I am writing about my mother in law and I am writing that my wife is with her. We are in a sea change regarding gay marriage. I will be allowed bereavement to go with my wife, when the time comes, for the services.
What has not changed in my life is my dependence on traditional prayer. Although I am a witch/Wiccan, have done all kinds of meditation from Transcendental Meditation, and Buddhist chanting, to visualization, spell work, and New Age affirmation—when push comes to shove as they say, I get out the Rosary.
Before Olga Eunice Quintero Smyth died on December 4, 2014 at age 101 and 10 months, I was tempted to believe she was immortal, literally. I knew Olga for forty-five years (from age 16 to 61). For thirty-five of those years she was my mother-in-law. Our history began when I was kicked out of high school and went to work at her free-wheeling school, her utter lack of any interest in reforming me a blast of fresh air. It ended with me sitting beside her as she was dying, softly singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
Olga was named for a Russian princess her mother encountered when she was a babe in her arms en route to Trinidad from her native Venezuela. Olga took for granted her descent from Incan royalty as well. Her mother moved the family to New York when she was eleven. A few years later, she won a scholarship to Mount Holyoke College. She married a classmate’s brother, Julian Smyth, great grandson to Nathaniel Hawthorne. If that weren’t enough, Olga claimed for Julian’s line direct descent from the first century Celtic Queen Boadicea. As long as she could speak, she spun tales. “Where in Africa was she born?” one of her nurses asked me. “What kind of a dancer was she?” Continue reading “My Immortal Mother-in-Law by Elizabeth Cunningham”
Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of War and Death, is a dark goddess we mortals tend to approach with fear and trepidation. A great Warrior Goddess, She represents the more terrifiying aspects of female energy; sensuality, magic, prophecy, revenge, and war. She could either shapeshift into a crow or raven or be accompanied by them. In the Ulster cycle stories she also appears as a cow, a wolf and an eel. This indicates Her connection to prosperity, sovereignty and the land. Encompassing all essential divine functions, She is the Goddess of War, Sovereignty, Fertility and the Land.
In the past few weeks, there have been renewed debates throughout the US about death with dignity laws and the role of government is providing or securing access to health care. The tragic story of Brittany Maynard and the incessant election-year politicking about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) have made issues about human suffering more visible and volatile than usual. These are topics I deal with in two courses I am teaching this semester–one about Christian ethics and the other about bioethics.
I truly admire those who work in the presence of suffering daily by caring for others. It’s difficult to even talk about suffering in the classroom day after day. My intention behind doing so is for my students to resist simplistic responses by either valorizing human pain and suffering or retreating to escapism. I caution them about using religion to legitimize suffering when it accompanies from evil, yet encourage them to see the meaning in suffering as well. We try to maintain the fine line of affirming the experiences of those who claim to gain strength or some other good from their pain without crossing into discourse that names the pain itself as something good. We debate whether there can be any way of discussing suffering as redemptive. We discuss disparities in medical treatment and health care along economic, racial, gendered, cultural, and international divides and what the responses of clergy, medical providers, and everyday people to remedy them.
In my last post, I shared with you my wonderment at the power of music to speak for us when we lack speech and to touch us when we are beyond reach. Now, I experience wonderment at the power of silence. For, it was silence that in the end helped my father-in-law, who was truly my father, to shed his mortal coil. After the noise of caregivers and nurses, of talking and encouraging, of wailing and whispering, there was a window of silence when I sat alone with him, stroking his forehead lightly. I knew he would be free in that quiet to exhale, and with that final breath, he too became silent.
Silence then filled the house, until it was punctuated by the tidal sounds of grief. And, just like the tides, the grief now ebbs and flows between moments of gentle motion and moments of crushing force. Behind that grief, though, and behind the rituals we perform to externalize that grief, there remains a giant silence. It is strange to me that the silence is not experienced as emptiness. It is not a void or a vacancy or a nothing. It is an active presence, that is, the silence itself. It is a deep mystery to be experienced in its own right, without the error of imposing upon it the productions of noise. For, the silence of bereavement is a fathomless place from which to hear something we could not have heard before. The silence is holy. Continue reading “A Moment of Silence by Natalie Weaver”
In the summer of 1960 when I was 14 years old my much loved grandmother Mae Inglis Christ died of a cancer that affected her brain. The last time I saw my Nannie was shortly after her diagnosis in the early spring. While we were visiting, the cancer affected her back, and she took to her bed. In those days children were not allowed in hospitals. I never saw my grandmother alive again, but my mother told us that our grandmother was hooked up to tubes much longer than she should have been. Mother vowed, “This will never happen to me.” I was driven to the funeral in a limousine with my grandmother’s girlfriends. They spoke about my grandmother’s last days, describing how (because her mind was affected by cancer) my little grandmother had screamed and screamed at them for not visiting–even though they were with her every day. They found my grandmother’s outbursts so traumatic that they said they were relieved to see her looking so peaceful in her coffin.Continue reading “Death with Dignity by Carol P. Christ”
When I was about eight years old, I dreamed one night that I stood inside the workings of an immense instrument, so big it filled the sky. It was crafted of wood and gold, and although there was no obvious source of light, it was brightly illuminated. I could have confused it for the inner workings of a clock except that I could hear the sweet music it produced resonating throughout its cavernous hollows. It was curious to me that there seemed to be no atmosphere there either to breathe or to carry sound. Within it, I did not perceive any movement. And, there was no actual melody that it produced, which could be sung or repeated. There was only an enveloping harmonic thrumming. The sound was multiplicative and voluminous although not piercing. I understood it in the dream to be cosmic, structural, primordial, and generative. When I awoke, I had the feeling that I had seen something divine. It was not heaven. It was not God. It was more like the instrument of the universe, or the universal instrument, created as a first work among creation
It was puzzling to me that I had such a dream because I was not then a musician. I felt that I understood its meaning, but I was surprised by its discontinuity with things in my normal frame of reference. My mother played piano, but she had no music theory in her background. She surely did not have any training in musical cosmologies, such as those produced in antiquity by the philosophers and theologians. I occasionally mentioned the dream over the years when context seemed to warrant it, but, more or less, I filed it away. Continue reading “We Are Music by Natalie Weaver”
A dear friend of mine is dying. Yes, the saying might be true—we all die alone. But we all are not necessarily lonely when we die. How can we die happy…with our self-respect intact?
We are all alone, born alone, die alone …I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness. —Hunter S. Thompson
Many of them, as many of us do, had friends that affirmed their inner identity even as it was hidden to a majority of the outside world. As they grew older, their friends (as many of our friends will do) died. That meant that the friends they had in the gay bars died holding the secret of their gay lives. Many of these women grew up into adulthood without the benefit of a community. For them “gay pride,” “coming out,” and even the word “lesbian” were not words they would ever use in their common conversation. Continue reading “Old and Gay – Dying Alone and Rae’s Friends by Marie Cartier”
Amy Wright Glenn’s Birth, Breath, & Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula is a mid-life memoir of the author’s personal encounters and professional insights drawn from her work in the spaces of birth and death. Glenn gleans from her formative experiences as a daughter and sister, her trained experiences as a teacher and doula, and her wisdom experiences as a mother, chaplain, and friend. In an accessible voice, Glenn reflects compassionately on her early life in a Mormon family. She considers critically the nature of religious worldviews that are doctrinally dualistic and apocalyptic. Glenn further describes the therapeutic and illuminating value she found in the scholarly study of religions as an anthropological phenomenon. Glenn explores how religious discourse both expresses human joy and grief and also aids us in our encounters with life and death. Glenn intertwines her academic study with personal narrative and achieves a professionally-informed and experientially-based “thinking out loud” about the bookends of human life. Her writing is tender, and her vision is thought-provoking. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Amy Wright Glenn’s Birth, Breath, & Death by Natalie Weaver”
As a child, I enjoyed the story of Noah’s Ark. I would often imagine pairs of animals running for safety in Noah’s architecturally majestic haven. Practical questions didn’t enter my mind during this blissful period of naivety. I ignored the part where God expressed regret in creating humanity, or when Noah gets drunk and lies bare naked for his children to cover his shame. My bible study teacher would explain to us that the point of the story was that Noah, a holy man, trusted God and carried out his will.
Disclaimer: I understand that the film is not meant to be an exact representation of the story in the bible, but loosely based around it. Also, if you plan on watching the film, read at your discretion.
In the film, Noah’s character is played by leading actor Russell Crowe, who appears strong, confident, and zealous in his trust in God – all necessary qualities to fulfill God’s demand of killing off the rest of humanity because of their wickedness. Later in the film, Noah realizes that he and his family are also wicked leading to his revelation, ahem, God’s revelation, that humanity must cease with Noah’s family. This doesn’t pan out too well with his children and wife. It was also bad news for Emma Watson, the orphan girl Noah’s family saves and raises as their own, who after accepting that she is barren is miraculously healed and gives birth to two girls. Noah decides that the female infants must die according to God’s will to end humanity. Continue reading “Watching “Noah” Brought Me Closer to Humanity by Andreea Nica”
In David Kelsey’s theological anthropology, Eccentric Existence, he emphasizes that finitude renders creation vulnerable, but he still insists on the goodness of what he terms the “quotidian proximate contexts” in which human life is lived: our ordinary, everyday lives. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels bring together a multitude of characters – ethnically, religiously, and otherwise diverse – in the chaotic yet lively city of Ankh-Morpork (a fictionalized London). The Discworld offers what I see as a theology of everyday flourishing that fits with both Kelsey’s analysis of finitude and with significant feminist theological claims.
The books focus on the men and not-men (women, werewolves, vampires, trolls, a six-foot tall dwarf named Carrot, and a Nobby Nobbs) who populate the city and bring it to life. The characters of Pratchett’s city offer a vivid imaginative rendering of the vulnerabilities and possibilities of life in everyday finite contexts that bring together diverse creatures in the service of the goal of common flourishing. Although all theologies outline a social imaginary, whether implicitly or explicitly, the dry and technical character of much theological reflection can make it difficult for the reader to imagine what life would be or could be like given the proposals advanced by a particular author. Pratchett is a consummate observer of the everyday, and his world brings to life what a theology of the everyday would look like. Continue reading “Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Feminist Theology, and Finitude by Linn Tonstad”
A former evangelical Christian friend of mine sent me information on the intriguing documentary God Loves Uganda. The newly released documentary addresses how the American evangelical movement has prompted a political and social shockwave in the country of Uganda. While missionaries are typically associated with delivering aid and improving the conditions of third world countries, the spreading of Christian values and ideals has inflicted suffering upon ethnic communities through evangelical indoctrination.
The intent of the film is to raise awareness of the political and social brutality that the evangelical missionaries are instigating; specifically through their teaching that homosexuality is a sin and should be dealt with accordingly. In Uganda this means death. Given the rise of globalization, transnational religious actors have been more enabled to engender other nations with their respective religious beliefs, often with minimal regard for the cultural and political landscape of the nation they wish to transform. Continue reading “Evangelical Missionaries Preach Death in Uganda by Andreea Nica”
A friend of mine has recently fallen into a deep depression. When I try to talk her out of it, she repeats that they are threatening to cut down the last remaining old growth forest in her home state of Oregon and that she can no longer eat fish because radioactivity released in the Fukishima nuclear plant disaster is reaching the seacoast of Oregon.
When I tell my friend she should not dwell only on these things and that she must remember that the world is still a beautiful place, she responds, “I do not want to give up my feelings. I know I must find a way to acknowledge my sadness and make a place for joy, but I don’t know how to do it.”
I have been in the grip of deep grief about the planet myself, not once but many times. But this happens less frequently than it used to. When I think about the differences between how I once felt and how I feel now, I think the difference is that I have come to terms with and accepted the likelihood that “the world as we know it” is “going to hell in a handbasket”—as I put it.
I believe that the most likely conclusion of the choices human beings are making on planet earth today is massive environmental destruction leading to great suffering and probable extinction for human and many other species on planet earth. This is what I believe, but I also remind myself that I cannot know for sure. The earth and its species including human beings may have resources of resistance and survival, transformation and adaptation,that I do not know about and cannot imagine.
When I began to accept that the world I know and love (where spring follows winter, where birds sing, and where there is hope that injustice can be rectified) may not exist in the very near future, I had an astonishing insight. The death of the world I know and love will not mean the death of our planet or the end of the evolution of the universe.
Thinking about the disappearance of species and the death of human beings from starvation often feels too much to bear. None of this should be happening. Still, it can be strangely comforting to remind myself that the world I love is not the only possible world. There have been other worlds on this very planet—the time when the first cells were formed, the time of the dinosaurs, and many others. Evolution will continue on planet earth for several billion more years, and when our sun burns out, other suns will most likely still be shining in the universe.
This insight was followed by another. The reason for hope is not the conviction that we will be able to save the world we love. The reason for hope—and the reason to keep trying to save our world—is the deep knowing that it is right to try. Even if we cannot save the world we love for all time, we can savor the gift of life, and we can continue to try to create a world in which the gift of life is shared widely today and tomorrow.
I have written many times that we must learn to love a life that ends in death. I was speaking about accepting that each one of us will surely die. I do not fear death. Overcoming this fear has opened me to a greater and more clear-sighted love for life.
Can we learn to love life while accepting that the world we love may be dying? Can we continue to work to improve the conditions of life for individuals and species knowing that the world as we love it may not survive? Do we have any other choice?
For me the hope that can trump despair in our time begins in gratitude for a life that has been given to us, a life that has come down to us through the generations, and through billions of years of the evolutionary process on our planet.
Let us bless the Source of Life.
Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.
Let us turn back from despair.
Let us embrace the gift of life and share it with as many others as possible in the new year.
Yesterday, I visited the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily. In a grotto about a mile or so from the center of the modern city are found the preserved remains of about 2,000 people who paid the monks to preserve their bodies after death, dress them in their finest clothing, and put them on display. Each of them is placed in its own niche along the wall, held up by iron bands, and has a tag around its neck with its name and date of death. The bodies are not displayed in random order: they are sorted (to some extent) by sex, profession, and familial status. In one large recess, a number of children’s skeletons are on display, many of them in heartbreakingly tiny coffins. In another corridor, friar after friar hangs in his robes, some with cords around their necks signifying their adherence to a Franciscan order. Almost indistinguishable from the cords are the braids still hanging from the heads of some of the women’s bodies. Some families are arranged together; in another corridor doctors and lawyers are segregated and in yet another female virgins are gathered together. The oldest body I saw dated from 1599 – high on a wall hangs the body of a monk whose name was almost illegible but who hailed from the Umbrian hill town of Gubbio.
Some of the skeletons presented death’s heads; others had skin dried to a leathery tightness over remaining bony protuberances. Some of their outfits are well preserved; others have disintegrated under the relentless assault of the years. The practice became illegal around 1880, but until then, people chose – or perhaps their relatives chose for them – to be preserved in this seemingly macabre manner. Continue reading “Seeing Death and Resurrection by Linn Marie Tonstad”
There were some things about my grandmother that I didn’t find out until after she died. For example, in 1974, she co-organized a “Women’s Exchange” in Fresno, California with the theme: Stop the World…We Want to Get On. How much I would have liked to talk to her about that! While I didn’t know about the fair, I do know that she was successful with her vision of getting on this brightly spinning world. My grandma was a woman who was hiking in the Channel Islands one month before receiving a diagnosis of aggressive pancreatic cancer. She was incredible.
After reading Grace Yia-Hei Kao’srecent post about giving a eulogy at her grandmother’s funeral, my thoughts turned to my grandmother’s memorial services this past spring. What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy? Grace wonders. In reading this, I reflected on the components of the services I prepared and participated in for my grandmother and I believe they fit the bill. In a pleasingly feminist move in itself, I was asked by my extended family to serve as the priestess at my grandmother’s “committal” service (in which her ashes were interred in the above-ground burial chamber that received my grandfather’s body in 1989).
It was deeply important to me to have multiple voices represented during the small, family-only, service and I enlisted all the grandchildren present, as well as her step-grandchildren, in an adapted responsive reading based on Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”. I chose it precisely because it spoke to the irrepressible, adventuresome spirit of my grandmother. It was a lot of pressure to be responsible for the family ceremony for the interment of her ashes. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted it to be what she deserved. I wanted it to “speak” to every person there. I wanted it to be worthy of her. I hope it was enough. Continue reading “An Epic Woman: A Feminist Eulogy by Molly”
My grandmother, my last living grandparent, recently died. She was 84 years old. Because I’ve just come back from Taiwan where I participated in all of her funerary rites and delivered a eulogy therein, I’ve been thinking a lot about memorializing the dead. Is there such a thing as a “feminist” or feminist Christian way to remember the dead? What, if any, are the components of a feminist eulogy?
Most people really love this time of year and I share much of that. Living in South Central Texas we actually only have two seasons, with a perhaps two to three weeks in between what we laughingly call spring and fall. Because the winters are not harsh here, the step into spring feels different from those whose winters are frozen for months on end. We do experience some relief when our temperatures finally drop a bit in October. Even then those drops are only teasers. When we do finally get a briskness in the air in the wee, early morning hours of dawn but when the sun rises overhead, any memory of that coolness is forgotten. This morning at 5:30 am, when I woke, it was 54 degrees. I stepped outside to smell and feel the air, so clean and cool. And yet, now it is 85 degrees and rising, it once more feels like summer. We don’t have the sudden frosts that turn our trees to vibrant reds, yellows and browns. Yes, the leaves eventually turn and fall to the ground, but we have no heavy freeze and so our colors are pale compared to those in the North and colder climates.
Many Texans think the emotional feel for our two seasons is backwards, believing that summer, with its blazing sun, is the time to withdraw. Then in winter, when the weather is mostly mild, that’s the time to come out to play. This is a reversal of pagan thinking about the seasons in North America. Continue reading “Feeding the Dead by Deanne Quarrie”
“A woman can spin a primal umbilical rope within her womb through which she passes life-energy to the future.” –Melissa Raphael
“In some indigenous cultures of the Americas there is the practice of finding one’s death song while alive. This song becomes the ally of the person throughout their lives, so that they become very acquainted with what the song means in their lifetime. Death then, is a companion of life, and is never forgotten. In the hour of death, these people would, if they were able to, sing their death song–exiting this world with song on their lips and no doubt feeling the power their ally-song had gathered by being with them in their life. I can see that a death song would provide a connection between the person and the cycles of life, guiding the dying person into the next world and helping to allay fear…” –Leslene della-Madre, Midwifing Death
I was introduced to blessingways, or mother blessing ceremonies, as a girl when my mother’s group of friends hosted them for each other during their pregnancies. I loved attending the ceremonies for my mom during her pregnancies with my younger brother and sister and witnessing the web of love, support, and commitment woven around her. They touched me deeply with their sacred, magical, and mysterious flavor. When I was twelve, the same group of friends had a coming of age blessingway ritual for the daughters of the group, ranging in age from 10-16. It was a mystical, beautiful experience. We wore wreaths of flowers in our hair and were blessed with wisdom and tokens from the wise women of our tribe. At 34 years old now, I still have my folder of prayers, quotes, and messages from that day. For years it smelled faintly of rose petals.