Friday, April 14, 2006


Today is Good Friday, in the Christian tradition the day that Jesus was crucified and became “the Christ,” the entity sent to redeem all good Christians. In Portland the downtown ministers used to stage an “endarkenment ceremony,” meant to contrast with “enlightenment” which would come at dawn on the third day. The ceremony was Bible readings about the Crucifixion with each of the ministers taking one of Jesus “last words.” A man with a particuarly rich and thrilling voice took the last sentence: “It is done.” All this over a PA system in an ornate old church where the sanctuary had no windows, so that as each sentence was spoken, more lights were turned out until it was totally dark.

Ministers joke about religion a lot and Unitarian Universalist ministers more than most, though it’s inconvenient when some of the ministers are female or black or handicapped, since most jokes everywhere are about what makes us nervous or troubled. Like sex, death, power. Peter Raible of Seattle was always particularly sharp at pointing out examples of our Endarkenment. He’d have had a field day with the present US administration.

But the best symbols come out of truths and in these cyclical ceremonies of seasonal change, they are often weather related. Certainly right here and now our skies are dark with purple cloud, but the rain from them is hopefully calling out what is underground. The bulbs, which have batteries stored from last fall, are pushing up out of the dark soil.

I always enjoyed going to that primal layer when I preached my Easter sermon, which isn’t easy among UU’s who don’t recognize the divinity of Jesus Christ. I never have had patience for smarmy pastel bunnies and chicks. (Anyway, a friend reports that her neighborhood bunny ate all her crocus and the chicks are being tested for bird flu -- talk about endarkenment!) So one year I preached about King Potato. Both Old Joe Campbell (no editor will ever let me call him that, so I’ll say it here) and Mircea Eliade pointed out that the Jesus story comes out of Egyptian mythology in which Osiris is cut up and dispersed as an act of renewal. His sister/wife was dedicated to finding and reassembling him, with the final lost piece being his penis, which was hidden in a pillar. The experts say that this is an interweaving of very early agriculture (tubers had to be cut up and buried in order to start a new plant) with human renewal. (The Egyptians couldn’t have used actual potatoes since that’s an American plant.)

This makes no sense unless you can accept ideas like the one in the recently discussed (it’s been known for quite a while) Gospel of Judas, which insists that someone had to betray Jesus (cut him up) so that he could rise from the dead -- and Judas was the guy whom Jesus specifically asked to do this very difficult thing. (Camille Paglia, who must have thought she was studying obscure and arcane subject matter, has been interviewed on the radio every day this week.)

Every day the newspaper reports another case where someone freaks out and kills his/her immediate family -- even mothers, even ministers’ wives. Is this because their situation has become so barren and corrupt that the ancient and primitive impulse to cut everything up in order to cause a renewal is unleashed by desperation? And was it provoked because the strangehold of the powerful became so choking and anguished?

We’d like to think we’re more sophisticated than that. We hope to create refuges and safety nets and escape valves. But consider Darfur, which no one wants to do. A place where children are taught to chop off arms, feet, lips. How dark does it have to get? Are these family massacres just little Darfur outbursts that are normally suppressed or disabled or transformed?

The human unconscious is huge, bigger than we ever suspected -- even Freud. All those tiny structures in the brain, especially the ones behind the forehead that make us feel for each other and willing to cooperate, are as unconscious as the structures that keep our hearts beating and our lungs breathing. We know how to implant a little machine to keep the heart in rhythm, but there is no machine that can replace the “mirroring” cells, so vulnerable just behind the eggshell of bone in front where skulls are often hit. The idea that the darkness in our heads contains submerged goodness is new.

The growing directions for peonies -- which which I am generously endowed, thanks to previous gardeners -- say that they must go through a really cold winter in order to grow properly in the spring. Only an old-fashioned rose has the lush, almost blowsy, full and pink ruffling of a peony. It’s a far more glorious bloom than the lily we usually associate with Easter. In fact, it’s pastel, sentimental, and appealing as a chick or Easter egg. I may be converted to the idea of the nearly sexual excess of the peony as a symbol of resurrection, rebirth, renewal, return to enlightenment. The “Easter Peony.”

The moon is full right now. According to the radio, which did a little story on names of moons, this is the Christian “Pasque Moon.” But in some culture or other it is called the “pink moon.” (I tried to find this on the NPR website but the issue is confused by a song with that name.) The “pink” moon is called that because so many pink things are in bloom -- cherry blossom country, I guess. A peony moon is not here, not yet. Just the first sharp tips of the plants are showing, more maroon than pink. But any moon would not be so glorious if it weren’t floating in a dark sky.

When I explored this stuff, members of my congregations often said afterward, "I didn't understand one damn thing you said!" Well, that's why they call them Mysteries. Unsolvable but eminently ponderable.

No comments: