Hosanna to the Son of David
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord
Cut the branches
Go out and cut the branches
Willow and pussywillow
Palm and pine tree
Lulav and thyrsus and bunches of daffodils
It’s time for a protest march
The children of the Hebrews
spread in the way their garments and
cried out, saying
Black lives matter
Trans lives matter
Six million Jews in the ovens of Hitler
Black boys and men on the streets of America
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord
Blessed are those who march in the name of justice
in the name of Jesus, in the name of King,
in the name of Attis, in the name of Dionysus,
in the name of Antinous
Hosanna in the highest
Cut back the flowers
that are just now sprouting
cut back the new shoots on the old trees
make signs, wear hats, wave rainbow flags
blessed is the one who comes in peace,
riding on an ass and not on a stallion
riding on a donkey and not in a chariot
riding on an ass and not in a tank
Hosanna in the highest
The young man dies and the old ones go on
The King of Peace dies and the warmakers live
The beautiful youth dies and his blood becomes flowers
the black boys die and their blood flows in the streets
Poison flows out of the faucets of Flint
Where is the clean water out of the temple?
Where is the city that is at unity with itself?
Hosanna to the Son of David
Jesus went into the city
and threw out the moneychangers from the Temple
the buyers and sellers, the currency exchangers,
the dealers in doves, the gougers of prices
do you think that had nothing to do
with why they killed him?
Break out the palms and sing hosanna
This is a protest march
I am thinking about dead boys this time of year,
how the earth softens and little pieces of them rise up,
fingers and toes, hairs and phalluses,
the curl of the hyacinth petal, the thrust of the crocus,
the daffodil nodding to itself, the rampant white lilies.
Hyacinth and Narcissus, Attis and Crocus,
Jesus, too, though he was a man grown,
bits and pieces of bread and wine,
the monstrous white lilies brought from the hothouse
to choke church choirs with their pollen.
The fathers beat their breasts and the women keen,
wailing and moaning, tearing their hair,
walking up and down and watering the greedy earth
with tears, saying those names: Attis, Adonis,
Hyacinth, Crocus, Jesus, Trayvon, Michael, Tamir,
Narcissus, Eric, all those boys ploughed under.
But they come up again, they come shooting up,
as the sun rises higher and the women hoe the rows,
and Antinous, that beautiful boy, who killed the boar
that hunted him, comes with his spear and holds out
a hand, rise up, Attis, brother, rise up, Adonis, come on,
Hyacinth and Crocus, Trayvon and Tamir, take my hand,
get up, here’s Jesus, here we are, get up, boys,
it’s time to rise up, they’re waiting for us.
Cut the branches for Attis
the pine and the pine cone
carry them solemnly
wave the branches for Yeshua
willow, myrtle, palm
the transplanted lulav carried over from autumn
no pine cone, no etrog
for the ass-borne king
cut the lettuces for Adonis
withering in the sudden heat
under the sun’s regard
hoist the branches, cull the flowers
carry the phallos in procession
all these tender fragile things
springing up, then cut down
blood on the black soil
the earth bearing flowers
the women weep for the dead young men
where are the old men? what do they say?
(Originally published at Antinous for Everybody in February 2015)
Last Saturday I was barely aware that Lent was about to start on Wednesday the 18th. I was quite prepared to ignore the whole season as simply irrelevant to a pagan polytheist devoted to Antinous. Then I was nudged gently into awareness of the observance and into looking again at Jesus.
First of all, Lent makes more sense when I look at it from a pagan perspective. Many cultures, European and other, observed and still observe rites of cleansing and purification around this time of year. The beginning days of Lent frequently overlap with the lunar New Year celebrated in Asian cultures and with the ancient Roman Lupercalia and honoring of Juno Februa the purifier. Years ago, when I worked at a Catholic-owned bookstore in my twenties, I read an essay in an annual sourcebook for Roman Catholic liturgy that explained both Catholic folk customs and liturgies *and* the neopagan Wheel of the Year. In November you bring home your cattle and slaughter all the livestock you cannot afford to feed through the winter. In November and December and into early January, you eat well on the harvest of the preceding summer and fall. By February, however, those food supplies are running out, but you have milk, butter, and cheese because the ewes have given birth. Pancake Day, Mardi Gras, Carnevale are a last hurrah that uses up the old food stores, and then you fast in Lent because you are waiting for new food supplies: Lamb, salads from early greens, seafood from thawing waters, eggs now that the increased light has caused the chickens to lay again. All of those foods are ready to consume by Easter, which is linked to the spring equinox.
Industrial agriculture has rendered that cycle unnecessary, but Catholic and Orthodox Christian customs still hew close to the old agrarian patterns, unlike Protestantism. The old customs make sense if you look at them from a pagan point of view.
I’m not planning on fasting, though….
Not only does Lent make more sense to me as a pagan and polytheist, but so does Jesus. Once I stepped outside the boxes of the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian definitions, and all those other official fourth-century pronouncements, I found I could look directly at Jesus as an itinerant wisdom teacher, charismatic healer, prophet-as-social-critic, and inspired holy man who could be as disruptive yet auspicious as Dionysus. Once I dropped the official, institutional teachings about Jesus, I was free to look afresh at what Jesus actually taught, and to look at unofficial sources like Gnostic literature (the Gospels of Thomas and of Philip, for example). The unofficial Jesus, the Dionysian sage who becomes a god through his willingly accepted execution as an enemy of the state, is far more interesting than the official Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made–sorry, I learned the Nicene Creed in the Tudor English version.
So in an observance (sort of) of Lent, I have added the icons of Christ of the Desert and early Christian martyrs Perpetua and Felicity to the ancestor side of my altar. Perpetua and Felicity are honored as Sanctae in the Ekklesia Antinoou, anyway, and I have honored them during Lent for a good many years; their feast day is March 7th. Christ of the Desert is an icon that depicts Jesus as a Semitic-looking man, dressed in the white wool robes often worn by holy men in Middle Eastern cultures; for me it focuses attention on Jesus’ life rather than his death or apotheosis, on his teachings, and on his cultural and historical context.
I’ve also begun re-reading some of the key Jesus texts, starting with the Gospel of Thomas, the most famous of the so-called “Gnostic Gospels”. (I am going to leave out all the scholarly arguments over what “Gnostic” really means, whether Thomas is really Gnostic, how old the text is, etc., etc., etc.) At the same time, however, I was nudged to pick up The Lunar Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, a book of daily readings that comes out of traditional Chinese culture. In concert with that, I’m reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s rendition of the Tao Te Ching. It’s worth remembering that LeGuin, who has made such a huge contribution to science fiction, fantasy, women’s writing, and American literature generally, has been a Taoist for most or all of her adult life. I know from her own writings that she has a regular practice of t’ai chi, that she regards the Tao Te Ching as her primary spiritual wisdom text, and that her values have been shaped by her study of Chinese and Taoist traditions.
May this time of cleansing and purification be easy and fruitful for all who observe it, and may all my readers in the frozen parts of the United States stay safe and warm!
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.
O Dea Rosa, you are the sacrificial daughter,
your bodies cut down and offered up
on the altars of Venus, of Jesus,
of Mother Mary. Your petals were torn
and scattered like the spread limbs
of the crucified Jesus by the dying
Little Flower, roses in her arms
and blood on her hands where
your thorns had pricked her, blood
on her handkerchief where she coughed
out her suffering. You beautify the coffins
of our dead and atone for the sins
of rich husbands, together with
the brilliant tears of Tellus Mater,
diamonds hard as an adulterer’s heart,
and the sparkling blood of grapes
gathered in champlains of Gaul.
I place on my shrine, lascivious virgin,
your body of red petals green leaves
and pricked stem and think of defiled
daughters and broken women
and holy mysteries.