Wives and Slaves.

St. Paul lived in a world where there were slaves. The economy of the ‘ancient world’ depended on slave labour, as did our own until the industrial revolution, when it shifted from out-and-out slave labour to the factory floor.

 

Paul’s injunction that slaves should obey their masters seems to me less a ‘let there be slavery’ statement, and more a realistic assessment of the opportunities for spiritual growth that any status quo presents. Your master had the right to beat you, to sell you, and if you engaged in revolt, you could be crucified. He recognized that placing oneself in service to another human is always a strong spiritual path, and he reminds the slave that he is, after all, serving God when he serves any other human being.

 

I find it useful to read the ‘wives, submit to your husbands’ directive in the same context. Women at that time were chattels. Not submitting wasn’t really an option, but submitting to the man of the house as a surrogate for God made an interesting choice. Paul was by no means a social revolutionary, and it seems likely that a major concern for him would be rendering Christianity as acceptable to the largest number of people.

 

He does, of course, include instructions for husbands, and for the owners fo slaves. They must remember that the people who serve them, serve God, and that to abuse or mistreat any servant of God is wrong. This is true, and good, and perhaps the furthest one can go. A master has the choice to abuse his slave; the slave cannot choose to disobey. Ditto wives.

 

I don’t think any of this invalidates Paul’s wisdom or his inspiration. I think it shows rather that he was working consciously and compassionately within a social order he chose not to attack. Jesus can be seen as a revolutionary; Paul cannot.

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to the sea!

“River carry me/Your child I’ll always be/River carry me/Down to the sea.”

I live in mountain country, in what is properly called the Interior Wet Belt of British Columbia. Wet for sure right now. Huge silvery-green twilights with lightning and wild roses, a crazy wet lushness pouring out oxygen and fragrance, everything in flower. At night the creeks, full of the roar of melting snow coming down from the alpine, sound like freight trains, heading for the Columbia River and then for the sea. It’s a wild hullabaloo of thaw and moving water and rain curtains and rainbows stitched with the silver calls of robins.

 

I find it bringing me to a time of letting go. Of what, I’m not entirely sure. A couple of nights ago I dreamed there was a mountain I had to come down from. The old man at the top (interesting, eh, ‘the old man at the top’) told me I’d have to let go and slide down. There was a long run of smooth rock, curving slightly to one side, and I was a bit worried that I’d bump into things. But I didn’t. I came down in a nice fast easy arc.

 

I’m finding this happening in little ways all over the place. It makes this blog difficult to write this evening. It has generally been a reflection of a knot, something I’m struggling to integrate, bite through, or get around. There’s nothing like that right now.

 

It can be a tricky place for sure, and there’s a poorly guarded border between it and depression, between letting go and giving up. It’s worth a shot, though. I’ve acted by my will so much in my life that I’ve worn out my will centre; in another idiom you might say I’ve damaged my hara. Maybe, in fact, saying “it’s worth a shot” already puts too much emphasis on my doing something. Can one try not to try?

 

As I’m feeling all this happen, I’m also feeling the water get very deep. My feet don’t touch bottom any more. I’m not feeling permitted to stand, get my bearings, get some perspective. Everything’s rushing down to the sea, and I guess I must be, too.

 

 

 

timor Mortis

I that in heill (health) and gladness

Am trublit now with gret seiknes,

And felit with infermite;

Timor mortis conturbat me (Fear of death troubles me).

 William Dunbar.

 

A few nights ago I attended a play-reading. The play was “Freud’s Last Session”, a debate between Christian C.S.Lewis and Sigmund Freud in his last days. Freud rails, on fire with bitterness and brilliance, tortured by a badly-fitting protsthetic upper jaw, his mouth stinking and ravaged by cancer, the palate gone. He is bleeding throughout the play, and speaks with mad ferocity. His illness, both physical and mental, and his brilliance, are played out against a radio broadcast as Germany invades Poland. While Freud rages and Lewis expresses (in the play, not very well) his gentle Angilcan theology, planes come over. Maybe an air attack. They both leap for their gas masks and for cover with equal enthusiasm.

 

What do we do when the Reaper comes knocking? Is there any point in even theorizing about this? We can propose one stance or another, but our response to the knock when it comes probably defines us. “Rage, rage, rage, against the dying of the light” leads to rage at everything, finally. Not so much point maybe in raging against what comes for us all.

 

Some people see illness and death as the handiwork of the demonic. They posit a world in which there was no sickness or death. This seems to defy all the evidence. The earth is a huge ossuary. Living things have to eat other living things in order to keep living. That means that living things have to be dying – you can’t have one without the other. In one episode of “Six Feet Under” there was a poker game between Life and Death. Death was a sixty-ish guy, strong, flinty, cagey, and determined. Life was a lovely full-bodied black woman. The better he played, the more sexually aroused she became.

 

I’m not doing so well. Body’s kind of quitting on me. Maybe it comes back, but one of these days it won’t. I’m pushing my three score and ten. I think I don’t mind. I don’t feel (I think I don’t feel) afraid of the end point. I don’t like the idea that if it’s true then there’s a dying process that other people will have to deal with. I feel very sad to see my body quitting. I think of all the things I’m not likely to do any more. But progressive blindness has taught me how to let go of all kinds of things. Books. Driving. Personal mobility. Seeing the faces of the people I love. Bird-watching. Big things and little things. And maybe it’s helped in the wreckage of my body. I have to live in an increasingly small world. It’s a garden of amazing beauty, but I live in a tiny corner and there’s no room to spread my wings.

 

This is all about sadness, though, and in a way it feels like dying would be a stunning release. Either I would, at last, open my wings, or it wouldn’t matter.

 

If we believe that illness and death are the work of the devil, then I think we miss a point. It’s the same old same old, creating and supporting dualism. Life good, death evil.

 

And I wonder if strong praying to conquer illness isn’t just a cover for fear, grasping for some illusion of control. Jesus didn’t reject death. He died and rose. Was he saying “Don’t die” or was eh saying “Don’t be afraid of it, because it’s not real.”

 

I think the answer is always the same. Like the old gospel song says: “Talk about suffering here below and keep on loving Jesus.” And remember that other people are real, and love them as hard as you can. The more you love, the less the other stuff is gong to hurt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can there be a counterfeit Jesus?

I recently bumped into a conversation about the “counterfeit Jesus”. The idea is that some agency might disguise itself as Jesus to bamboozle us. It’s a very disturbing idea. If you can’t trust Jesus, who can you trust?

 

I closed in on the conversation and found that it referred to the Course in Maracles and to some Aquarian material, both of which are written in the first person, as if by Jesus Himself. I’m not familiar with the Aquarian material, but I’ve spent, in the past, some time reading the Course in Miracles.

 

I found the first person pretense silly, maybe offensive, maybe a little blasphemous, but the response didn’t come from feeling encroached by the demonic; it was more like an affront, like sharing a table with someone who swears, spits, smokes while they eat, and pats the waitress’s bum. Stupid, offensive, but no great risk to my soul.

 

I think that when we label something as demonic we perhaps allow the demonic to colonize, become maybe its cat’s paw. It’s possible that the real battleground isn’t the world; it’s one’s own consciousness.

 

I wonder, then, what would be the case if I were to accept the first person voice in the Course of Miracles as the voice of Jesus? If, as I am suggesting, labelling it as the voice of the demon invites the demon in, does it follow that if I identify it as Jesus’ work, I invite Him in? I don’t think so. Some writer could be spouting all kinds of drivel in that first person. Or could they? Does using the name in some way authorize the speaker?

 

This opens up the whole question of how text becomes sacred. What we have and accept as Jesus’ words isn’t much, and it’s held in the four gospels. There’s quite a lot of interesting material from that time, some of it claiming to be gospel, some of it very intriguing. We’ve drawn a wall around a set of text and, in effect, asked the Holy Spirit to colonize it. We can’t really prove or disprove the authenticity of the Essene writings, but that doesn’t, I think make them evil. It’s just that when we step off the terra firma of the gospels anything could be true. It doesn’t mean that when we name a certain set of texts as belonging to the Holy Spirit any other text becomes damnable. Tribalism again.

 

Voltaire’s “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere” comes back to me at this point. If God’s centre is everywhere, then God’s centre is the centre of me. it doesn’t mean that His centre isn’t also the centre of you. But as it is in me, it has the power to obliterate anything demonic that approaches it. Demons work in the dark, and in the presence of the fire of God they are nothing. They don’t like that, and they like us to think that external things have power greater than our own.

 

A few years ago, teaching grade eight science, one of my students suggested that fire is alive. “It eats,” he said, “and reproduces itself. How is it not alive?” I’m still not entirely sure about that. Love is the fire of God. It consumes what it touches, turns its fuel into itself. It is the heart of the sun, and the heart of us. Love doesn’t combat the enemy by naming it. Love takes everything into itself. It is the heart of the sun.