Sunday, November 28, 2010

Involutional Melancholia

That she'd rolled out of nothingness seemed queer,

but there was much to occupy her days,

and fiat lux exacted math and faith

magnitudes beyond imagining

even for a poet, which she was,

if only of a minor minor sort.

Home Ec and English Lit prepared her well.

She decked her hearth and pages in grand style --

bloom-heaped wicker's always a la mode --

and made the midnight sky a picture book

to ease her children into harmless dreams

of Little Bear, the Hunter and the Swan.

And when she lay her own self down to sleep

there was a snoring husband and slate-roof

to blot heaven's reproach. Yes, overall,

she earned the highest epithets for each

accomplice in her luminous triune

bright mind, radiant body, and warm soul.

She gave out all she could of heat and light,

rolled inward toward her cooling iron core,

and found the place her nature preordained

as just another burnt-out basket case

in the keyless vast asylum of her kind:

white dwarves, black holes and interstellar dust.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Waltham Mutterance

The Boston Globe came today with a mountainous packet of ads reminding me that all three variants of my seasonal Noelophobic cri du coeur -- it's not even Halloween/Thanksgiving/Advent yet ! -- will all outdate and need to be replaced with my signature holiday inchoate whimpering.

It did not help to read about an internet phenomenon that had, so far, been off my radar screen: the mommy blogger youtube "haul" vlog. Which kind of rhymes with yule log, in an over-nutmegged eggnoggy sort of way. I have not had the Santa Clausian cojones (vide infra for reflections on ecclesiastic linguistic and iconographic phallicity, also applicable to para-ecclesiastic phenomena) to check out any examples of this genre. There are some things that even my hypertrophied sense of irony do not equip me to face. Especially in this most vulnerable season.

And it really did not help to encounter this headline, red-inked by DK, as he commented that most people do not find the ongoing vicissitudes of the Anglican Communion of particularly compelling interest. Well, I confess that I have found said vicissitudes fascinating in the vaguely repellant way that roadkill or zombie movies are fascinating, and tend to track them rather closely. Hence my surprise to hear that GAFCON had just issued a statement , The Oxford Statement, in the long tradition of various other globetrotting primatial ejaculations such as the Jerusalem Declaration, Camp Allen Principles, Dromantine Communique and Kigali Statement, pronouncing the controversial proposed "Anglican Covenant" as "fatally flawed."

"Now wait a minute," I thought, "isn't this whole Convenant thing those dudes' brainchild, something designed to keep the apostate Piskies in line via Section 4's infamous provision for ostracizing the wayward ? Shouldn't the headline read "Anglican Liberals Reject Plan" ?

What more could the dissenting bishops want ? To import the language of "objective disorder" from the Roman Catholic Catechism ? To move the 39 Articles of Religion from the historical documents appendix of the BCP to an honored spot in the front ? To mandate that there be bouquet of Calvinist tulips on every credence table ?

The first thing an Episcopal Priest ever said to me -- I was in the earliest stages of my then-unchurched inquiries, long before encountering my current parish -- was "we are not a confessional church." We have the three legged stool of scripture, reason and tradition and four broadly catholic, foundational and ecumenical principles of the Lambeth Quadrilateral: the scriptures, the Nicene Creed, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and the historic episcopate.

But, for some of the orthodox, those broad principles do not suffice. They want the devilish details spelled out in black and white, presumably as a measure against which "anathema sit" might be pronounced.

They have gathered in a "Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans" who consider the Jerusalem Declaration to be their "rule," a collection of bullet points that includes #8, the marriage as one-man-one-woman thing, which gets equal billing with things like the "gospel of God" and the "universal Lordship of Jesus Christ," and also -- a confession within a confession ! -- #4, which upholds the authority of the 39 articles.

The machinations of power transcend the boundaries of sacred and secular.

All these statements and communiques and declarations and manifesti seem the protestations of men who cannot bear to see their holy sanctuaries invaded by women, to see their patriarchal definitions of marriage and family overturned, or to see their heterosexist models of God and Church interrogated.

To do so, they say, is to violate the deposit of faith, the faith once handed down to saints, to deny the received and literal truth of scripture and to abrogate the will of God, Father & Son.

That's when some of them break into Latin.

When that happens, sisters, you'd better watch out.

The deep wisdom of the liturgical year provides two dark, penitential desert times before the festivals of birth and resurrection. I prepare to plunge into the purple shadows of Advent like a parched woman openmouthed into freshwater.

It is the season of lack and longing, of decidua and mulch, of ravishing dark blue twilights between the horizon's black-as-lead stripped branches.

It's the season when the obverse of that for which we mourn is clearly visible as that for which we are most grateful, not the least of which is the ravishing mystery of being-here-at-all.

I, notorious anchorite that I am, have been chafing at religious anthropocentricity, and I think I would chafe as much if the second person of the Trinity had happened, scandalously & particularly, to have been incarnate as a woman.

I find myself wishing Christianity were more like a Chinese landscape painting -- fog shrouded gorges and ancient pines with one tiny human figure on the periphery -- but its path to compassion is through history and narrative, through scandalous particularity, through an incarnate solidarity with suffering outcasts and a penal death -- with forgiveness -- on the cross. Not through demolition of the ego toward the realization that nothing separates us one from the other. Two paths to one destination ?

And what about shopping ?

Sunday, November 07, 2010


Who has no house now will never build one.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke

The autumn's past. This is the house I've built.
A roof, a floor, four walls, a door, that's it,
sub code, badly measured, unvarnished, raw,
overly apophatic, you'll complain,
but even a window would be luxury,
a campy tribute to an enthused age,

when casements spilled their buttery, mullioned light
into the obscure forests of our selves,
or to past nights, when fitful, needling rain
slashed accents graves upon the windowpane
where my face floated, backward, looking in.

Before you know it the bulldozers will come
to plough this shantytown under. Then you'll see,
from freshly fertilized, newly enriched tracts,
glass spires beanstalking up toward eggy gold,
all window, panoptical, endlessly prospecting,
until the light off their fa├žades at sunset blinds you
and you fall to your knees, afraid, misreading GOD.

And then I'll shelter under the startling call
of geese who cross the night-time winter sky
in ragged Vs, dark-of-moon dull, no more
than air wrinkling between the naked trees,
and, at the eye's cold corner, sybilline,
a sudden blinking of the pleiades.


Saturday, November 06, 2010


It's Autumn, and time for the old theme: Self-Portrait with Self-Portrait, or, Two Paulas, one with a big, black prosthetic eye.

I am bound by my body and my history. Maybe that's why I so admire the autumnal community garden, a dilapidating shanty-town of cultivars and weeds.

At the bedrock is Blue Willow, and the child dreaming herself into the quiet blue and white ceramic landscape. The child building huts out of chairs and blankets, saplings and pine boughs.

I have a small collection of books about huts and hut-like places/objects. Margaret Morton's "Fragile Dwellings" and "The Tunnel" form the heart of this collection, along with Harvey Wang's "Flophouse"and, Waldman's book about Joseph Cornell's Boxes, "Master of Dreams."

That's the charm of the community garden: the plots are delimited by walls of all species of wire and grid, bound together by ligatures as random and varied as vines, and they contain objects that, in their repose and isolation, seem strangely significant.. They are not planned communities, with each facade, by regulation, adhering to carefully expounded parameters. They are as organic as the crops that, in summer, they host.

And it's also not a gated community: it allows the likes of me, as far from gardener as anyone can be, to roam freely with my camera, mooching off the labors of others.

Of course, I have not come to eat, only to look, following the crucial distinction made by Simone Weil, who, though drawn inexorably to Catholicism, deliberately chose not to enter the Church as long as it continued to pronounce the anathema sit of exclusion. She felt solidarity, she said, with all the excluded outsiders. She belonged with them. She would gaze at, and not eat the Eucharist.

There is a admirable and wild purity to that view and stance.

How can we happily consume the salvific delights of the initiate when anyone is kept from the table anywhere within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church ?

Churches, unlike garden plots, don't tend to have permeable walls, walls lashed collegially to one another by wire and twine.

Christianity, despite the putative transcending of legalism by its Lord's new admonition to love God and neighbor, is rife with rule books. Just ask a canon lawyer, for example, what non-Catholic, and under what circumstances, and by what chain of authorization, can receive Catholic Eucharist. The answer will astound you in its complexity.

Lately, I have been in a state of perpetual religious exasperation. Everything rankles. And I think I know what's wrong.

Anthropomorphism. God is a man. With a son. Guys with dicks. It all flows from there -- the (hetero)sexist language, the hierarchies, the patriarchies, the oppression, the subjugation, the exclusion, the derision, the rulebooks, the ramparts, the holy wars.

I hadn't realized until this week that the Roman Catholic iteration of the Nicene Creed says For us MEN and our salvation/ He came down from heaven. I'd heard it dozens of times and instinctively overwrote it with the BCP's for us and our salvation.

Needless to say the topic of inclusive religious language is not undiscussed on the internets -- often with jeering derision as a quasi-theocidal lapse from orthodoxy.

So, insofar as "religion" writ large is safe haven for theologically rationalized and sanctified gender-based oppression, shouldn't we outsiders, in soldarity, abstain ?

The notion of God as a "Father" with a "Son" who is the "Lord" determines the whole language and structure and liturgy of Christian practice; with Christ, the Infinite Ground Of Being Itself, if It did not already have one, acquires a phallus.

The scandal of particularity has become a scandal of masculinity. Sorry, ladies, God is a boy !

And, by tortured extension, a scandal of heterosexual, madly procreating masculinity.

And it will be that way for as long as the boys are in charge of the prayerbooks and the catechisms and all the religious lexicons. Lex orandi, lex credendi and all that.

As I said, exasperated.

As the poet Jules Laforgue said, "The moon does not bear a grudge." The moon also does not not bear a grudge. Moon and grudge inhabit two different universes of discourse.

There is a Godly lesson in that.