I made it to church this morning for the first time in a few weeks. The opening hymn was Our Great Denominational Fight Song: “The Church’s One Foundation”. (That’s the Episcopalian fight song. If you’re Lutheran, it is, of course, “Ein’ Feste Burg”; if you’re Roman Catholic, I believe it is “Tantum Ergo”.) The closing hymn was its close cousin, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” sung to the great tune by Henry Purcell known as “Westminster Abbey”.
In between, the interim rector preached well on the readings, touching on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub and the responses to it that she saw online. The Old Testament reading, which struck me most, was the mystical and almost spooky story of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by horses and chariots made of flame. Elisha picks up his mentor’s fallen mantle and lashes the water of the Jordan, saying, “Where is the God of Elijah?” The water parts for him and he crosses the river dry-shod.
However, when the rector, who happens to be a woman, began talking about living in such a way that we put others first instead of ourselves, I stopped thinking about the mysticism of the Chariot or the determination of Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, “setting his face toward Jerusalem” and letting nothing stop on his journey to confront the powers that be and started thinking, “No.” Because honestly, calls to put others before myself are *not* what I need. Calls to prioritize God, our neighbor, our family, our spouses, our children, the telemarketer, the boss–everyone and anyone before ourselves are not what many women need. As far as I can see, putting others first is something men in our culture may need to practice, but not women.
After communion, we sang a hymn of unknown provenance that had a tune somewhat like a Broadway ballad and a text that was, shall we say, a little too on the nose. ” Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?” Will you do all these self-sacrificing things for other people, in my name, if I call on you to do so? The truth is that my answer is No. I honor Jesus as a wisdom teacher, a healer, a deified mortal, and a savior who provides a place in the afterlife for those who follow him, but I realized at some point that I could not be his disciple. I could not live by the values he proposed, nor did I want to. If I use up my energies putting others first by service or volunteering or political action or whatever, in Christ’s name, by all the good works the Church has proposed over the centuries, I won’t have any energy left to do what I have always believed to be my actual work, my calling: Writing, singing, creating liturgy.
That said, I will continue to attend this Episcopal church, because I feel a real sense of community with the people there. I am probably going to train as a chalicist once again, authorized to administer the cup of wine at the Eucharist, and I’d like very much to have a full-time position with the choir come fall. I’m a good singer; the repertoire that I sing best happens to be church music, go figure. I also had a strong sense this morning that Antinous had come to church with me; that it was not inappropriate for a god, especially one who is also a hero and a daimon, to worship another god. I don’t have to leave Antinous behind in order to participate in this community.
On my way out of church, I snagged a couple of cookies and looked over the bins that had been set out with items from the church’s lost and found. To my amazement, I spotted a purple folding umbrella that I recognized. It’s been missing for two or three years. Now I have my purple umbrella again.
I had wanted to compose this yesterday, which was Memnon’s hero-feast, and I failed to do so. I still wanted to do it this morning, and so I did write the poem and post it now, late but sincere.
To the hero Memnon
Noblest of warriors, son of the dawn,
fathered by the withered old man
who cannot die, Memnon the Ethiopian,
I salute you. Son of the dawn,
dark-skinned and beautiful,
show us your face: In every
hooded young boy
walking down the street,
in every black man
shot without questions,
in every fine actor
confined to thug roles,
in every angry poet
overlooked, sneered at,
in every poor black man
suffering at the hands of doctors,
in every black hero
forgotten by history,
Memnon, most beautiful,
son of the dawn, noblest
of warriors, show us your face,
and when we ask you, give us
your hand, aid us in the fight.
And while I was writing this, I realized I knew of a living person, a public figure, who perfectly fit my mental image of the hero:
John Boyega, whom I had not heard of before his starring as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but whom I will not soon forget. He can act, *and* he can rock a fedora.
O fairest flower, opening now, O precious gem,
buried in the moist dark earth, O knowledge
purer than any innocence, flaming virgin,
your breasts are the sun and moon
lighting up the world, your female flower
is the rosa mundi, sacred center, O white
blossom, O shining flame, O sole and only
golden, generous Venus, I adore you.
It all comes down to this, doesn’t it,
Paneris: That you are neither male
nor female, neither god nor goddess,
not one thing or the other, but
anything when it pleases you, a fox,
a hen, a cloak, a mask, a naked body,
a sleeping child, a mischievous lover,
a provoker of strife, the devil’s advocate
where there is no devil, the prosecuting
attorney when we accuse ourselves,
all this and the one most beloved
of All-Love, the liberator of Eros:
Hail, Paneris! Liberator, challenger,
trickster, I praise and honor you.
From the opposite ends of the world they come together,
brother and sister, mirror twins, husband and wife.
Sometimes he is a bull-headed man
and she is the only one who knows how to find him.
Sometimes she is trapped on an island
and he is the only one who can rescue her.
Sometimes she watches from the stars
while he wanders the underworld and sleeps
in the arms of its goddess. Sometimes
he takes her hand and reminds her that she is
the underworld goddess, white-armed,
They are siblings who have never met.
They are spouses who are never separated.
She has always been here; he has always been there.
The grain and the grape, the myrtle and the ivy,
the bull and the princess who leaps between his horns.
He presides when boys stand up and put on the garments
of manhood; she whispers softly in the night as girls,
dreaming, become women, and hands them the key
to the labyrinth and the clue that will guide them through.
A cup of wine for Liber! A sweet cake for Libera!
Raise up the sacred phallus and honor it
with a wreath of flowers! Father Liber makes men
of boys, and Dame Libera opens the labyrinth
and sets all its prisoners free! Liberation for all!
I am afraid of you, Dionysus, for I am afraid of myself.
I am afraid of your anger, for I myself am deeply angry.
I am afraid of your lust, for my own lust seems boundless.
I am afraid of your masks, for I hide my own truth constantly.
I am afraid of your wine, for it blurs my anxious mind.
I am afraid of your chains, for when you break them, you destroy,
and I have wanted to destroy and clutched my chains instead.
I am afraid of your freedom, for what will I do if I am free?
I am afraid of your love, for you loved both Pentheus and Ariadne.
Yet if I love a god, how can I empty that vessel?
Can my thirst be too great for you, Dionysus?
You only smile and offer me the cup.