Absence instead of presence

We are in the Sacred Nights of Antinous, remembering the Beautiful Boy’s death and deification and honoring the powers that made it possible–Osiris, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys and Persephone, and the serpent power of transformation. Today, the 29th of October, we honor Antinous in the underworld. He passes through the gates of the realm of the dead, defeats the arkhons who would deny liberation to mortals, and becomes the ruler of his own underworld realm, Antinoos Bakkheios.

I think today of my initiation into this mystery, the anniversary of which is about three weeks ago. I have followed in his footsteps and passed the gates to confront the god of the dead on his throne, to die and be reborn as the god.

Today his shrine is stripped, the triptych of his aspects reversed so that I see only its blank white back. But it is not the only thing empty today. There is also an empty bird cage covered with a cloth. On Monday I lost my best friend, my bird companion of 21 years, my cockatiel Rembrandt. He was old, and he had been failing slowly this year, and he died in my hands. To say I was devastated is the bare minimum. He was not merely a pet; he was a pillar of my cosmos, particularly after my separation and divorce. We had two birds then, Rembrandt and Sandro (after Sandro Botticelli); Sandro went to live with my ex and the woman he left me for, but there was never any question that Rembrandt would remain with me.

Blank shrine. Empty cage. On the 27th, the fourth of the Sacred Nights, we reflect on the Ananke Antinoou. “Ananke” can mean necessity, fate, or destiny. Death is the fate of every mortal creature, human, animal, plant, or whatever else. Rembrandt had his ananke just as Antinous had his and I have mine. Even if a mortal becomes a god, they must undergo death to do so.

Tomorrow we will observe Foundation Day, when the body of Antinous is found, his deity proclaimed by the Egyptian priests, and Hadrian vows to build a city in his memory. Antinous is divine, immortal, able to die and revive again and again. Rembrandt will not come back. He will never again perch on my hand and lower his head, asking me to pet him. He will never lift his wings in the shape of a heart and make soft clucks and whistles with his face pressed to mine. He will never sit on my shoulder and fall asleep as I watch a video on my laptop.

I lift my grief, my loss, and toss it into the Nile, into the underworld, in the hands of my god. Rembrandt flies free in the otherworldly realm of the Forest Lord. And it is raining.

Saturnalia: Solstice Carol

Wreathe his brow with ivy now
Warm the wine with spices fine
Though the sun set low and early
Antinous shall make us merry

Light the night with candles bright
Raise a song and sing it strong
Though the dark come soon and swift
Antinous shall bring us gifts

Fragrant bough and holly now
Red and green and gold are seen
Though the days grow hard and chill
Antinous is with us still

Snow or rain may come again
Parties end, come freezing wind
Tomorrow is a longer day
Antinous has come to stay

Antinous as Dionysus, now in the Hermitage Museum

My favorite abbess

It’s the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen: Benedictine, theologian, composer, healer, preacher, visionary, political figure, doctor of the church. For my money, Emma Kirkby is still the perfect soprano, and A Feather on the Breath of God, originally released in 1985, is still the perfect recording of Hildegard’s music.

POEM: Our Lady of the Broken Jar

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In the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto, ON, Canada

It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it:
Somebody has to be the bad girl, somebody has to
wear the red dress, somebody has to be the shadow
cast by the light of the pure and perfect heroine
and hero. Buffy has Faith and the Virgin Mother
has Mary Magdalene.
Whore, harlot, sinner,
sorceress, maudlin, melodramatic, carrying
the repressions of two millennia along with
the fragrance of Eros in her little broken jar.
The broken vessel, the woman with seven devils,
the heir of Jezebel and foremother of Crazy Jane.
Passionate, devoted love, focused attention,
commitment, first witness to the Resurrection,
demoted to the camp follower, the eternal sinner.

On this your feast day, Mary called Magdalene,
uncover your long red hair and shake it out,
make your earrings and your bracelets ring,
lift up your arms and dance like your foremother
Miriam, sister of Moses, beating her tambourine
on the shore of the Red Sea because the forces
that enslaved her people are vanquished.
We will celebrate with you the liberation
long-delayed, the redemption of the red lady,
the fragrance of erotic love arising from
the broken jar, the broken heart, the passion
which is life as well as
death and also life eternal.


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POEM: St Benedict calls to Raven

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Icon by Sr. Mary Charles McGough, OSB

Come, Raven, bring me that bread
which you brought to Elijah alone in the desert
the body of Christ prefigured
sufficient for all my needs
Come, Raven, bring me the bread
of wisdom, lechem of chokmah
the milk of Sapientia
made firm like a stone
Christ made loaves out of bread
fish out of fish
wine out of blood
bread out of flesh
everything out of words
the Word of his being
I give you that word,
Raven, messenger,
black-plumed angel,
come, give me the bread
that I may live

Feast of Saint Benedict — Necromantic Matters

Today the church remembers Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino, c.540 Born at Norcia, Italy around 480 AD That historical time frame, a mere four years before the Western Roman Empire formally fell by the deposition of the last Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, the life of Benedict and his works laid the foundation both for […]

via Feast of Saint Benedict — Necromantic Matters

POEM: Stonewall

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Marsha P “Pay It No Mind” Johnson

 

The first Pride was a riot, they say
The first Pride was a moment of Wrath
A moment of Had Enough
A moment of Fuck the Pigs
The first Pride was a riot
that began with a brick thrown
by a woman
by a black woman
by a Black, trans woman
named Marsha P Johnson
What does the P stand for?
Pay it no mind, she said
it might as well have stood for
Passing is for the weak or
Pride means no more police raids or
Parades are no substitute for justice

St Marsha of the Pay It No Mind
didn’t throw a brick so you could
have marriage equality
St Marsha of the Pride Is A Sin
And I’m Proud of My Lust
didn’t start a riot
so two gay men could hire a nanny
a black or brown woman
to raise their adopted child
St Marsha of No Pigs at Pride
didn’t suffer and die
so lesbians could have
a joint mortgage
St Marsha and her dear friend Sylvia
Sylvia Rivera, a brown trans woman
a brown queer woman
did not fight the power
so you could fit in
at the suburban barbecue

The letter after P is Q
and Q stands for Queer
Queer as in here
Queer as in fuck you
Queer as in no gender is illegal
and every binary is a lie
Marsha and Sylvia and Miss Major
didn’t dirty their hands
so yours could be clean
didn’t shed their blood
so you could be white and bloodless
and safe and nice
and buy rainbow merchandise
from nice friendly corporations

We are still waiting, some of us
us queers and enbies, bi and pan,
ace and aro folks, we are still waiting
for you to make St Marsha proud

Vigil

Today is Maundy Thursday, and I miss the liturgy I cannot attend tonight, in the midst of quarantine. It is one of the most dramatic liturgies of the whole year. The readings and psalms of the Eucharist revolve around the institution of the Eucharist, that is, the Last Supper when Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples and told them to break bread and drink wine together in remembrance of him.

After which he was arrested by the Temple police and interrogated by the priestly authorities, and turned over to the Romans as a terrorist the following morning.

All four of the Gospels tell slightly different accounts of Jesus’ Passion, but as is usually the case, Mark, Matthew, and Luke are in general agreement, while John has a completely different take. John depicts Jesus striding forth into the torchlight of a troop of armed soldiers to confront Judas, practically holding out his hands for the cuffs. But the other three Gospels say that after the Passover meal, Jesus requested some private time, accompanied by his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, and holed up in a garden called Gethsemane to pray and come very, very close to backing out.

It’s clear that Jesus came to Jerusalem intending to provoke a confrontation. It’s clear that he expected that confrontation to end in some way with his own death. Now that he’s on the brink of that final commitment, he is mortally, humanly afraid. And he is deeply disappointed that his friends, instead of praying with him and bearing witness to him, fall asleep while he prays.

In my churches’ tradition, this vigil in the garden is acted out with great ceremony. A piece of consecrated Bread is kept aside from the Eucharist and wrapped up, together with some of the wine. It is carried in procession, with an ancient plainsong hymn, to a side chapel decorated like a garden, where it will be set up in a position of honor and left overnight.

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Maundy Thursday 2013, Grace & St. Peter’s Church

Once the Bread and Wine have been removed, a terrible and shocking thing happens. All of the decorations and furnishings of the altar, the chancel, the most honored place in the church building, are removed. The priest and the acolytes strip down to their cassocks and begin to carry out the books, the candlesticks, the censer. The flowers, the frontal, the fair linens are taken off the altar, revealing the bare stone. Even the rugs are rolled up and the kneeling cushions taken away. Most shocking of all, the great hanging lamp which reminds visitors of the sacramental presence of Christ is lowered from the vault and put out, not to be rekindled till the Easter Vigil. While this takes place, Psalm 22 is recited or sung: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Walking out of the bare, dimly lit chancel of a church after singing that psalm over and over is, indeed, like walking away from a naked body lying on the ground, vulnerable and helpless. Walking into the Chapel of Repose, where the sacramental body of Christ is kept, where candles are still burning and the air smells of incense and flowers, is a blessed relief, a reminder that the story is not over yet.

The ancient tradition of the Church is that we do not leave Jesus alone in the garden. His closest friends let him down, but his living friends and followers are going to make up for that. Someone must be in the chapel all night, watching and praying. When I was a child, we did in fact leave the church doors unlocked all night and people could come and go. There was usually a sign-up sheet and people would write their names in for an hour or two. Nowadays few if any churches do this, for security reasons; people may remain to pray on Maundy Thursday or come in early on Good Friday, but no one remains through the night.

I don’t remember exactly how we decided on this, but one year in my early twenties, I and two friends at my church decided that we would stay and keep vigil all night. We could take turns easily enough; there would always be at least one person in the chapel while another could come or go and the third could kip on the couch in the priest’s office, which was cold but otherwise comfy.

It was quite cold in the church that night; I wore a striped shawl that had been my mother’s, handmade in Peru. I spent much of that night sitting cross-legged on the chapel floor, the shawl forming a small tent around me, reading the Revelations of Julian of Norwich and finally finishing the text, which I had been grappling with for a couple years, and praying, deeply. In the silence, in the cold, with the presence of Walt or Tim beside me, the rest of the church dim. I think that our rector came over once in the wee hours to make sure we were all right, and then again early in the morning, but after it got light, to relieve us. Tim and I were both still in the choir at that time, and Walt was our head acolyte, so instead of going home to sleep all day after our vigil, we all suited up for the Good Friday liturgy at noon.

It was, until my initiation with Antinous, perhaps the profoundest spiritual experience I had had. To be alone with my god, with two dear friends who were as committed as I was, and with the words of a spiritual teacher who has never left me, beloved Julian of Norwich. I was young and healthy and possessed of a singleness of heart that I lost somewhere along the way, and I entered into something vast and loving.

I hope that this time next year, churches will be open again, the virus will be a memory, and I will attend this evening’s liturgy and stay afterward, in the garden, to watch and pray as long as I can stay awake.

POEM: Annunciation

On this day the seed is planted:
The earth being soft again after winter,
the early flowers being in bloom,
the hens laying, the rabbits mating.
On this day something bright and
incomprehensibly swift lands on the sill
of a sleeping girl and wakes her
with its rarified fragrance, frankincense
and jasmine and just a hint of myrrh.
On this day the offer is made:
beloved, favored, mother,
the son of David, the ruler,
god with us.
In the trembling of the angel’s wings,
like an anxious dove’s, the girl sees
all that was not spoken: the silence,
the gossip, the looking at and the looking
away from her swollen belly,
misunderstandings, arguments,
loneliness, death–not hers but his,
and the long years after that, outliving
her memories in a foreign land. She cups
the spoken and the unspoken together
in her thin brown hands, holds them,
drinks: I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it unto me according to thy word.

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Image by SAJ-FSP from Pixabay

 

POEM: For Pixie

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All the world’s a stage, and all the Tarot merely scenery,
a painted backdrop for an amateur display.
All the world’s a stage, and all our comedies and dramas
re-enactment of the myths, rehearsal of a few enduring plots.
All the world’s a journey, and Pixie’s Fool goes tripping through it,
feet light as feathers, eyes raised to the sky.
Only the Fool’s dog knows what’s in that bag of tricks,
the wanderer’s bindlestaff over one shoulder,
its humble length an axis round which all the worlds revolve.

(For Pamela Colman Smith, Pixie to her friends, born on this date in 1878, illustrator of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot)

(Image by Daniel Albany from Pixabay)

POEM: Wolf Boys

The wolves tear apart the dog and the goat
and come into the house with bloodied muzzles.
Wipe their faces with wool dipped in milk
and they turn into young men, laughing
instead of panting. They run the streets
hitting women, but only the women who
step forward, hands outstretched, asking
for the ritual blow. A smack from the wolf boy
is good luck, helps you get pregnant.
What rituals do we have to turn our wolves
back into boys? When they come home
with bloodied muzzles, bloodied hands,
broken hearts, do we wash them clean
and give them work to do, or do we
lock them up, chain them down,
throw them out of the house until
they lie down and die on the street?

(For my friend Dwight, who died in January)