Stonewall Anniversary: Honoring One True Man

June 28, 2014

Today I reblog this piece that I wrote last November to honor my friend Jim.  His poem about marching in New York’s Gay Pride Parade in 1987 still carries the emotion evoked by Stonewall.

Ms. Beatrice

We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world.  I was, anyway.  Jim wanted to play.  He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful.  Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time.  So was I.

A month later all hell broke loose.  Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same.  Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco.  The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage.  We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.

Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire.  He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved.  At age thirty- six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.”  He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center.  He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape.  He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers.  I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died.  The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!

Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim.  They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes.  With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!”  I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice.  To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity.  Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right.  Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987.  Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:

balloons

Corpus Christi: New York “87”

Sunny Sunday in late June.
Thousands march.
Joyous and free.
I joined.

Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
A contradiction!

Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.

A Crucifixion?
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
(looking psychotic)
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.

“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
Not there!
“Thank God,” I said.

At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
Silence
A city fell silent.
Bells tolled.

From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
Colored balloons.

My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue baracades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.

My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Eternal embrace.

I wept.
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.

EASTER and ASCENSION.
CHRIST HAD COME AGAIN.  GLORY TO GOD!
Peace to you and me!
Birthday

Jim's signature

Solitude

Solitude like a forest

 

This magnificent elephant cedar graces the entrance of Richmond Beach Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Shoreline, WA, a community a little north of Seattle, USA.

The quote is from the book, Women Who Run With the Wolves pg. 293.  If you are unfamiliar with it, you will be fortunate indeed, to pick it up.  I can meditate for an hour on one paragraph on one page.

The Cloven Pine Syndrome

Prospero Releases Ariel by Cate Simmons Flicker 2

 

In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ariel is a sprite, a free spirit, imprisoned in a cloven pine by the “blue-eyed hag” Sycorax for disobeying her.  He was confined a “dozen years” until another magician-master, Prospero, opened the pine and set Ariel free.  What Ariel didn’t realize is that he was always free, whether or not he exercised that freedom.

Psychology and spirituality make good partners.  I have studied the work of Eric Fromm and compared his theories about authority with the experience of mystics.  Strange bedfellows, atheists and mystics, but bear with me for a moment.   Fromm‘s experience of the Holocaust enlightened him on the human tendency to relinquish personal authority to the highest bidder.  His theory is not unlike Kohlberg’s stages of moral authority.  He says that most people are stuck in level four where behavior is dictated by external authority.  Like Fromm, Kohlberg sees the highest stage of moral authority as acting out of intrinsic principles, rather than external laws which may or may not be morally right.  The path of the mystics is similar.  One lets go of ego-entrapment to get to the core of his being.  She meets the Other in that place and this relationship grounds her in the moral authority to do justice in the world.

Some chapters of my life story have been characterized by idolizing external authority.  It crippled me with guilt and encased me in a mail of fear, protecting me from my own freedom.  Like Ariel imprisoned in the cloven pine, I longed to be free, to return to the blithe spirit of my childhood when God was real and I was real.  I have come to realize that we return to this state by returning to the womb of our souls.  But how to return?  A Dominican theologian, John Caputo, says that, “When the soul unites with the divine Godhead it returns to its own womb….”  God calls us to live this radical self-acceptance  with the divine.  Life in the Godhead is not life in a cloven pine.  Rather, it is a life which frees us to exercise all of our human potential.  It is a life which empowers us with the authority to call others to conversion.  It is a way to escape the idolatry of stage four morality.

My journey to live moral authority has long been inspired by this paraphrase from Leonard Bernstein’s theatre piece, Mass:

You can lock up the bold ones
Go and lock up the bold ones
and hold them in tow,
you can stifle all adventure
for a century or so.
Smother hope before it’s risen,
Watch it wizen like a gourd,
But you cannot imprison
the word of the Lord.

 

 

Photo Credit:  “Prospero Releases Ariel” by Cate Simmons https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/steeringfornorth/6748694173/ I invite you to visit this link to Cate’s drawing.  Her story of its creation is lovely and moving.

Here you will find a snapshot of Eric Fromm’s theories and a bibliography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Fromm

Here you will find an explanation of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg’s_stages_of_moral_development

For a thorough and thought-provoking treatment of how a dearth of moral authority has created an empire out of church, see the books of my friend, Wes Howard-Brook:
http://www.amazon.com/Wes-Howard-Brook/e/B001K8HOY6

 

“The Words of the Prophets Are Written on Subway Walls…”*

Prophets Words on Subway Walls

 

 

I have noticed that consistent spiritual practice helps one to grow, but paradoxically it also sets us up for more human frailty.  The more aware I become, the more judgmental I am.  It’s a great struggle to choose love instead of judgment, when the more we see, the more we judge what we see.

This piece of Sufi wisdom came across my Facebook timeline last week and I have been using it as a practice to avoid passing judgment.  It is very helpful to me.  Asking the questions as preparation before entering a situation where I am likely to get into a negative space of judging stops this thought process from taking over.

The fruit of this practice is nonviolence, even if for a moment.  I have a lifetime of travel ahead on this journey, but it feels good to have this walking stick in my hand.  Maybe it will help you too.

May your week-end bring you joy.

Rita

 

 

*Thank you, Paul Simon!

Spiritual Balance

human interaction can be hell...

 

“Community…calls us to the kind of relationships that walk us through minefields of personal selfishness, that confront us with moments of personal responsibility, that raise us to the level of personal heroics, and lead us to the rigor of personal compassion day after day after day.  It is when we see in the needs of others what we are meant to give away that we become truly empty of ourselves.  It is in the challenges of the times that we come to speak the Spirit.  It is when we find ourselves dealing with the downright intransigence of the other that we understand our own sin.  It is when we recognize in the world around us the call of God to us that our response to the human race becomes the measuring stick of the quality of our souls.”

Joan Chittister Illuminated Life:  Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light pp. 32-33

 

 

 

 

The Wound of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price signed

“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl. “

-Stephen Hoeller

 

 

The idea of this post emerged from my read of an excellent post, “The Dragon’s Pearl” on http://whatashrinkthinks.com/.  I hope you enjoy Martha Crawford’s journey through identifying and healing our psychological and spiritual wounds.