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.
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.
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,
come, give me the bread
that I may live
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 […]
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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)
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)
(For the marriage of Hera and Zeus, celebrated around this time in ancient Greece)
Cuckoo in the storm, poor bedraggled thing,
come here, trust me, and I will warm you.
Lady, your hands are gentle, and your bosom is soft.
I will rest here while my feathers dry.
Cuckoo on my breast, are you hungry, are you thirsty?
Water from my cup, golden crumbs from my plate I offer.
Lady, your cup is deep, and your food is sweet.
I will eat and drink from your hand.
Cuckoo on my hand, what a silly song you sing!
Yet it amuses me to hear you say your name.
Lady, your laugh is lovely, and your breath is sweet.
No other mate I have, so I will sing my song for you.
Cuckoo in my home, how you brighten my shining palace!
Your blue-grey wings, your striped breast, your jaunty tail delight me.
Lady, your halls are fair, your home is spacious,
yet I will always come back to roost near you at night.
Cuckoo on my bed, rest here upon my pillow.
Rest only lightly, that I may not crush you in the night.
Lady, to be near you, I would dare death and more.
I will even dare your wrath when we awaken in the morning.
Stranger in my bed, where has my cuckoo gone?
Whose arm is this, whose leg, whose rampant prick I feel?
Lady, it is I, your cuckoo and your brother,
Zeus son of Kronos, lord of sky and storm.
Cuckoo in my nest, how strangely you have wooed me!
Yet I am still charmed by your antics, nonetheless.
Cow-eyed Hera, lady of sky and cloud,
Will you not marry me? Let us rule together.
Cuckoo of my heart, yes, I will marry you,
but you must be faithful, for I am always true.
Lady of my heart, if you marry me,
you will be the queen of heaven and earth, the noblest goddess.
Cuckoo of my heart, that will do for now.
Come, let us marry, let us tarry together in love.
Lady of my heart, the spring is here, the birds are mating.
Our love shall be the rain that quickens the soft earth.
Oh, oh, oh, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!
Ah, ah, ah, cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!
Salus, giver of health, guardian of the people,
on this the Nones of August we hail you once again.
Feed your holy serpent, Salus, that giver of
health and wisdom, predator of pests,
deity of surging energy. O Salus, bless us
with all things that are salutary, with medicines
of prevention and medicines of cure, with
cleanliness and carefulness, with concern
for our neighbors, whose health affects our own.
O Salus, may our offerings to you be
accepted, for our well-being, O guardian
of the people, giver of good health.
(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 8/5/2015)
It is always a curious incident when the dog does nothing,
when the dog that should waken sleeps,
when the hound that should bark lies silent,
when the watch-dog fails of its watch.
In the toilsome heat of August, the Romans punished the dogs
that failed to do anything in the night-time,
or the day-time, whichever it was,
when the Gauls came to scale the city walls
and carry away all that made Rome superior.
Piteous dog crucifixions baking in the heat alongside the road!
Juno’s geese strutting and honking nearby,
pleased with their own superiority: *They* gave the warning
when the dogs failed! Pathetic. Geese are large, loud,
aggressive, and not known to be trusting.
O Hermanubis, temper the ferocity of Sirius!
Hounds of the Dog Star, chase away the roaring Lion
burning up our skies! Gracious gods, protect the harvest,
send us rain and sun in due measure: The dog days
are over, the descent into autumn has begun.
(With thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
(Originally posted to Antinous for Everybody, 8/3/2016)