POEM: The Last Revelation of Julian of Norwich

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Statue of Julian by David Holgate, Norwich Cathedral

And he showed me a little thing, a book,

scarce larger than the span of my hand,

and it was all I had writ.

My great book of his Showings,

wrote by me with so much labour,

lo, it was gone, as if it had never been.

And our Lord said,

Fret not, for I shall put you away like wine;

I shall hide you in my cellar; I shall keep you

even until last, until your even-Christians

be never so thirsty. And then

I will pour you out, I will crack open

the little hazelnut, and many shall drink

from your book, a multitude shall feast

on the meat of the nut. Wilt thou wait?

Yea, Lord, said I,

if such be thy will, then will I wait,

and all be well.

 

And I closed my eyes, which had gazed so long

on his blessed image, and stepped through

his wounded side into paradise.

 

(January 1999, February 2013)

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Little Poor Man

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints in the world. Churches and church schools hold Pet Blessing services in his honor, letting people bring their dogs and cats, hamsters, rabbits, bearded dragons, and yes, birds to church, where they can sing along with “All things bright and beautiful” or “All creatures of our God and King”. People happily post pictures of Francis preaching to the birds, featuring attentive songbirds (they were actually crows), or share the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace”, which was actually composed by a French priest named Fr Esther Bouquerel in 1912 and became associated with Francis when it was printed on a holy card of his image in 1927.

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The great Giotto, one of my favorite artists, painted a justly famous fresco of Francis preaching to the birds, but he also painted an earlier, no less decisive incident in the saint’s life. b2mf1assisibasilicagiottosf-renounces-wealth

Francis’ father, a successful and wealthy cloth merchant, called out his slacker son for selling off silk from the family business to pay for repairs to the little church of San Damiano, which Francis was doing because he’d heard the voice of Jesus telling him, “Repair my church, Francis, which as you can see is falling apart”. When his father took charge of him, threatening to disown and disinherit him, and the bishop told him he must return his father’s money and trust in God (instead of actually doing what God had bidden him), Francis took the purse of his belt and gave it to his father, then said, “My clothes were bought by you, also, and so they belong to you,” took them off, and dropped them at his father’s feet, to stand naked before God and man.

From them on, so the legend says, Francis lived on alms and said that he was wedded to Lady Poverty. That’s fine once you’ve been canonized, but if you look past Giotto’s wonderful paintings, what you see is a teenaged slacker more interested in music, dance, and the latest hot singers from Provence than in the family business, who then becomes a crazy homeless guy who begs for money, talks about Jesus all the time, and seems to be trying to rebuild a falling-down old church. The gentle St. Francis who preached to birds and wrote hymns about all created beings praising the Creator is easier to like than the crazy homeless guy who was an anticapitalist, or the suffering mystic whose love was rewarded by being wounded with the same wounds as his god.

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But they are all the same person–the slacker teenager partying instead of helping his dad; the crazy homeless guy; the semi-reluctant leader of a little band of brothers who somehow got their Rule of life approved by the Pope; the well-meaning idiot who thought if he just went and talked to the Muslims, they would accept Jesus and all this horrible Crusading would end; the isolated, suffering mystic wrapping his hands like a boxer to hide his open wounds. It has taken me far too long, but I think I’ve finally grasped how and why Francis’ emphasis on poverty and what we would call his environmentalism are the same thing. Standing naked in front of his father, having told him in no uncertain terms that he was dropping out and tuning in, Francis realized that in truth, everyone is poor. No human being can really own anything, earn anything, deserve anything. Everything we live on, everything we need, everything that pleases us is a sheer gift from God, and our job is not to make money and pursue security but to return thanks and praise for God’s gifts, as the sun and the moon, birds, wolves, trees, and everything else does, but consciously and humanly.

His fellow Italians call him Il Poverello, the little poor man. And Francis was poor, and he suffered, but he was also happy. And like all people who are truly devoted to a god, he was and is dangerous, and for that, I venerate him.

POEM: Nine bows

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Nine bows to you, Issan Tommy Dorsey Roshi,
heir of Zentatsu Baker Roshi and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.
Nine bows to you, a gay boy raised Catholic.
Nine bows to you, Navy man and entertainer.
Nine bows to you, enlightened drag queen.
Nine bows to you, recovered addict.
Nine bows to you, devoted meditator.
Nine bows to you, who welcomed those with AIDS.
Nine bows to you, who created hospice for the dying.
Nine bows to you, gay man, drag queen, Zen priest,
Zen roshi, healer of the dying, dying as a master:
The people of Antinous honor you as a saint!

(Patreon | Ko-fi)

Martyrs of this day

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Hail, Maximilian Kolbe,
priest of God Most High,
who for love of the Blessed Virgin Mother
offered himself to torture and death,
exchanging his life for another’s.

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Hail, Jonathan Myrick Daniels,
student priest and righteous ally,
who in the spirit of the Magnificat
worked for justice and peace
in the Civil Rights Movement,
and in the spirit of his Lord Jesus
placed his body between a white man’s gun
and the body of a black girl,
giving his life for hers.

Hail, martyrs of Christ,
witnesses to compassion, justice, and peace!

One of many, really, just a particular one

This Sunday I had the pleasure of entertaining a friend in my new apartment for a couple of hours. In the course of our conversation, my friend, who is a polytheist like myself and, in addition, a former Catholic, asked me how I was handling returning to regular (Episcopal) church attendance, as a polytheist devoted to Antinous. Was it strange or difficult, she wondered, getting involved with Jesus again?

The question proved surprisingly easy to answer, or maybe not surprisingly, given that I had been thinking about it anyway. And given that I know of more than one pagan or polytheist who is a member of an Episcopal or Unitarian church, I thought my answers would be worth sharing.

First of all, being in church does not necessarily involve a devotional relationship with Jesus, if by “devotional” you mean having a lot of feelings. I have a lot of feelings for Antinous, and I pay him cultus every day; I don’t have the same feelings for, say, Mars or Minerva, but I still pay them respectful cultus at certain times. Sunday is a day when I pay cultus to Jesus, his Father, and the Holy Spirit, in a gathering with other people.

Second, being in church is mostly about the other people. It’s about community and communion with the people sitting in the pews with me, and with the people who came before us in the tradition. It’s about pre-Reformation saints like Benedict, the father of Western Christian monasticism, Hildegard of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich; it’s about specifically Anglican forebears like John Donne, George Herbert, Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle. And it’s about my childhood, the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal, a body of literature that includes but is far from exclusive to the Bible. The luminaries of the Anglican spiritual tradition are also leading lights of English literature. Being in church, thus, is as much ancestor worship as anything else.

It’s true that the Christian liturgy, no matter how progressive or in what denomination, assumes a theology of monotheism and, ultimately, the superiority of Christianity over other religions. However, there is a lot of ancient religious literature, including a good chunk of the Hebrew Scriptures, that assumes polytheism, but still addresses a particular deity as The Greatest of All Time. Many of the deities of Egypt were hymned as creator, all-giver, supreme on earth and in heaven, all-wise, all-powerful, and so forth–while twenty miles away, another deity entirely was praised in the same way. The fancy word for this is henotheism, which Wikipedia defines as “the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities.” In ancient Thebes, you called Amun the supreme god; in Rome, Jupiter was the all-ruler; in Athens, it was Zeus, but the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians did not argue woh was *really* the supreme deity. While I’m in church, the Christian Trinity is the One God (even if I think they are actually three).

Antinoan scholar P. Sufenas Virius Lupus once said to me, “Jesus and Antinous have been friends for a long time.” This seemed self-evidently true to me at the time, and still does. PSVL also once wrote about looking at the gods as individuals who hold certain values, rather than as bureaucrats with certain functions. For example, Antinous is not really The Gay God (a lot of the gods are pretty gay by our standards) or a god of gayness, sitting behind a lavender desk in a celestial bureaucracy and signing forms pertaining to gay people with a purple pen. Rather, he is a god who values gay and lesbian, bisexual, queer, and trans people, along with prophecy, healing, poetry, hunting, theatre, and introducing mortals and immortals to one another at parties. Jesus is a god who values the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the Othered, which means that in our culture right now, he and Antinous are concerned about a lot of the same people. And Jesus also likes parties with plenty of wine.

From a Christian point of view, I suppose, I am a contumacious heretic, but from a polytheist point of view, Jesus is one of many gods and it’s up to me, or any individual, whether I want to worship him. Ask me about my heresies, and I’ll gladly explain them to you.

In honor of St. Mary Magdalene

stmary-magdalene-brkennethhosleyopcHere’s a post I wrote several years ago on my Antinoan blog: “Throwing the First Apostle under the bus”.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed of all our infirmities and know you in the power of his endless life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Collect of the Day and icon of the saint from The Daily Office.)