Ten Thousand Places

I don’t have a reason for posting this picture.  I just found online somewhere in recent months and I like it.  It speaks to me of the presence of the divine (Matthew Fox might say “Cosmic Christ”) in all corners of the universe, even in the deepest parts of the Earth.  I see it as a blessing.  May it be so.

As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once said, “Christ plays in ten thousand places”.

Aw, what the heck, I’ll just go ahead and post the whole poem:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173654 on June 3, 2012.

The Erotic Spirit

The first week of spring has felt more like the first week of summer in New York.  We’ve had temperatures in the 80s most days.  This is unheard of in a land where I’ve preached Easter sermons under a blanket of snow.

I’ve come to love spring over the last ten years or so.  It started when I was living in Vancouver, where spring’s arrival is loudly announced by the explosion of cherry blossoms and the rhododendrons just outside my apartment window.  The combined effect is like floral fireworks.

Flowers aren’t the only things popping out either.  I’ve noticed that, as human beings emerge from hibernation, they have some kind of instinctual urge to get out of their clothes in public.  They do it while jogging, sunning, or going to class.

I like to say, “It’s mating season for the earthbound human!”  I stole and adapted that phrase from a movie in the 90s.  While sometimes annoying, this tendency never fails to be entertaining.

Earlier this week, the weather being what it is, I decided to take my work out of the office to the lake.  Grading papers, prepping for next week’s lectures, and quietly meditating.  Not normally sexually charged activities.  I was rather surprised to find, on a weekday afternoon, our wannabe naturists already out in force with all the coy subtlety of Britney Spears’ famous claims to virginity.

In years past, I probably would have stormed off in a self-righteous huff, annoyed at the distractions while I was trying to get work done or “be spiritual” (whatever the hell that means).  It reminds me of something Rich Mullins said (I think he stole it from Tony Campolo).  I paraphrase:

“If you’re a [straight] guy on a beach and a young woman walks by in a bikini and that doesn’t do something for you, that doesn’t mean you’re spiritual.  It means you’re dead.”

So, in the interest of (a.) reminding myself that I’m not dead and (b.) liberating myself from old habits of belief and behavior, I decided to stay where I was and see if it was possible to be spiritual and sexual at the same time.  To many out there, this will probably come across as rather basic, but it’s still a new concept for me, thanks to my previously disembodied (my seminary prof, Loren Wilkinson, would call it gnostic) orientation toward all things theological.

What I discovered in that moment was happily surprising.  I began to recall particular prayers of thanksgiving from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.  In one prayer, we express gratitude for “All beauty that delights us…” and in another, “The treasure stored in every human life…”

I began thinking about the Greek word Eros.  It’s one of several words that sometimes gets translated as Love.  It’s where we get the English word Erotic.  Eros is romantic love, desire, and attraction.  Matthew Fox and Diarmuid O’Murchu, who have written on this subject far more than me, like to emphasize Eros as creative love.  It simultaneously includes and transcends animal lust.  I’m currently coming to believe that lust is neither foreign nor antithetical to love unless the two are deliberately divorced in the name of either licentious selfishness or “purity” (which can become a form of religiously legitimated selfishness).

I found myself saying prayers of gratitude for that indefinable magnetism that draws human beings together.  It drives us to know one another fully.  No other single psychic factor is so motivating.  We yearn for intimacy, not only in our minds and spirits, but in our bodies as well.

The coming together of human beings (in the lab, studio, classroom, boardroom, or bedroom) is inherently life-giving and creative.  It’s also complex, tricky, messy, and requires lots of skill and commitment in order to be fulfilling in the long-term.  I pray that we would learn how to honor the meaning of our connections with each other so that we might sustain the beauty we have created.  In this sense, all of life is as erotic as it is spiritual.

As my time of meditation at the lake came to a close, I surveyed the trees, the water, and the hills of the earth around me.  I thought about the Jewish creation myth depicted in the first chapter of Genesis.  Delirious in the pulsating and passionate throes of creation’s rhythm, God cries out repeatedly in climactic pleasure, “It’s good!  It’s good!  It’s SO good!”

Recrucifixion

I was listening to a podcast of Matthew Fox in the car this afternoon and he was talking about how Christ gets crucified again and again in the species that are driven to extinction and the rainforests that get cut down.  It reminded me of the lyrics to a hymn from The Presbyterian Hymnal.  The language is rather andro- and anthropocentric, but the general point holds.  It was written by Shirley Erana Murray in 1987

O God, we bear the imprint of Your face;
The colors of our skin are Your design,
And what we have of beauty in our race
As man or woman, You alone define,
Who stretched a living fabric on our frame
And gave to each a language and a name.

Where we are torn and pulled apart by hate
Because our race, our skin is not the same;
While we are judged unequal by the state
And victims made because we own our name,
Humanity reduced to little worth,
Dishonored is Your living face on earth.

O God, we share the image of Your Son
Whose flesh and blood are ours, whatever skin,
In His humanity we find our own,
And in His family our proper kin:
Christ is the brother we still crucify,
His love the language we must learn or die.