A New Lamb’s War
May 26, 2014 § 9 Comments
Uh-oh. I’m not going to start a new series on “God”, after all. I think I’ll leave off that kind of theologizing for a while. Suddenly, that kind of thinking and writing just feels like so much farting in the windstorm, as a college friend of mine used to say. And a Quaker talking to Quakers about Quakerism—sometimes it feels like holding the mic up to the speakers.
Meanwhile, I’m going through some kind of transition. Not really a crisis, but I sense a change coming.
I’m moving in the next couple of weeks and moving makes you rethink things. First, you decide to leave the home you’ve made and the place you live in and you’ve decided on a new home and a new place (and a new meeting). And then you go through your stuff and decide what to keep and what to pass on and what to throw out. That sweater I inherited from Dad; it’s really too big for me—donate. Three cartons of bioregional literature—keep it; that’s the direction I’m going. You find things you had forgotten about and you end up unpacking parts of yourself that you had forgotten. You redefine yourself, in some ways.
And I am moving from the country to the city. Now: woods on two sides, meadow on the other two sides; peepers in the woods, rabbits in the yard, a new catbird in the yard this year—at least, his song has radically changed from last year. The neighborhood mockingbird was singing when I went to bed at midnight. (That’s one of the reasons the mockingbird is my totem: they sing at night in the spring; and some of them dance when they sing, jumping up a foot or two and fluttering their wings. I love that.) When we left the new house in Philadelphia a few days ago, I heard a mockingbird singing to the northeast not far away. Made me so happy. Yesterday, we were there and so was he, on top of a utility pole; and he was dancing! Leaping up into the air a couple of feet and fluttering his wings. I don’t think I had seen a mockingbird dance in ten years. It brought tears of thanksgiving to my eyes.
And two of my friends have died in the last month. I had already been thinking about death a lot; I’m 66.
And I read an article in The New York Times Magazine about a British environmental activist who has realigned himself. He’s decided to stop deluding himself that all this activism will work. He hasn’t given up; he’s decided that integrity demands that he acknowledge that we are losing, that many of the trends toward eco-collapse are now unstoppable and that the consequences are too dire to ignore. It’s time to start thinking about how to deal with the inevitable: massive disruption from global warming, a species die-off that will usher in a new geologic epoch, the utter destruction or distortion of all primeval habitats and ecosystems and of the indigenous peoples who live in spiritual relation to those places. The demonic hegemony of global corporate capitalism.
He has become an apocalyptic.
I have been an intellectual apocalyptic since the early 1970s, since Watergate, since the fall of Saigon, since the murder of John Lennon, since the rise of Ronald Reagan. My salvation is that I’m upbeat by emotional temperament, so, though I can think myself into a funk in ten minutes, I can stop thinking and drift back up again.
When I came back to the Bible, I made a special study of biblical apocalyptic. I understand the books of Daniel and Revelation. I understand Mark 13. I understand David Koresh.
And I fear them all. For the apocalyptics are always right about what’s going wrong and about what’s going to happen, and always wrong about why it’s going to happen and when. When, amidst the innumerable forest fires, the West loses its water, as it inevitably will, the Christian apocalyptics will be ready with their “I told you sos” and they will welcome the chaos as a sign. When the next category five hurricane drowns New York City, as it inevitably will, they will know that they star in the greatest drama in the six-thousand-year history of the world, and they will relish their role. When the United States government lurches more quickly toward authoritarianism than it is doing now, even under Barack Obama, we will see them prodding the Beast with the pointy end of their crosses, which after all is a sword planted point down in the Place of the Skull.
It’s time for me to realign, as well.
For in no essential way does traditional Quakerism directly speak to any of this—to dancing mockingbirds, to spiritual ecology, to a religious culture of place, to the defeat and despair of the apocalyptic. Unless we reignite the Lamb’s War . . .
I love Quakerism. But I am at heart a pagan. And an apocalyptic; by which I mean that it seems obvious to me that people only really change in radical ways when horrible things force them to.
When I say that I am a pagan, I mean that in some fundamental ways my spiritual identity is tied to the natural world.
In reality, though, my spiritual identity is quite a mash-up. The current superstructure is Quaker through and through. But the formative experience that shaped my inner life came in a sweat lodge and I was given a relationship with a deva whose name is Fire in the Earth. And I had journeyed for long years much earlier through drug-catalyzed psychedelic landscapes, in which I learned that spiritual energy infuses everything and that the human nervous system can open the doors of perception to an a-stone-ishing world of life-force-in-motion. And after that, I journeyed for long years through eastern religions, and yoga in particular, where I learned some of the science of consciousness and some technologies for deepening and focusing this human consciousness.
Quakerism does not speak directly to any of this. When I found Friends, I thought at first I could not transplant myself into this religion. A dear F/friend, who was a Wiccan witch, convinced me that I could take all my previous spiritual gifts with me, so I joined. And here I am.
But I’ve never been sure that Carolyn was right. For one thing, as I have said many times in this blog, I have since become settled that Quakerism is a Christian religion and that I am a guest in the house that Christ built. And just what kind of relationship do Jesus Christ and Fire in the Earth have with each other? Do they look at each other with distrust, or something more hostile than that, while I sit there in meeting for worship trying to commune with them both?
And traditional Christianity is worse than a total loss when it comes to the fate of the planet. It is not one of the demonic drivers of eco-destruction, like our carcinomic capitalist economy. It is in many ways an enabler, though. But mostly, it simply isn’t interested. Fifty-plus years since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and Christian theologians began responding with their earth stewardship theology, and still more than half the country (if you believe the polls, which, I admit, are almost impossible to believe)—more than half the country believes that Genesis tells the true story of creation.
And how can you blame Christianity for this failure to invest the natural world with spiritual commitment? Jesus has almost nothing to say about how to live on this earth in a sane and sustainable way ecologically. If he doesn’t talk about it, why should we?
Although: the church is utterly blind to his example—how he could have been a wilderness guide to the deserted places of Galilee and Judea. How he included the sacred landscape of his homeland in his own spiritual life. Is there even one single seminary in the country—or the world, for that matter—that sends its seminarians into the wilderness for 40 days as part of its spiritual formation program, as Jesus himself did, and John the Baptizer before him? (Are you listening, Earlham School of Religion?) Do they not all send their graduates to small, rural parishes to learn their chops, only to move them on to big suburban parishes with lots of money as the ideal trajectory, leaving the country and country people bereft of spiritual succor in the face of the destruction of their way of life?
We are going down, and not one established religious community is seriously engaged. Except the apocalyptics, of course. Only small indigenous communities scattered here and there, trying to fend off corporations after their land, and the dominant culture after their children, and the loss of their traditional ways after their minds and hearts and bodies—and losing.
What would an apocalyptic Quakerism look like? What would we be doing if we acknowledged that the shit is already flying off the blades of the fan? How would we be preparing to live in a totally human-made, machine-crafted world disinhabited by whole phyla of our fellow-creatures, under the eye of Pharaoh, whose heart is ever hardened, force-fed commodities mass-produced by a mass-extraction, mass-production pipeline bolted to our gullets, under a firmament heated to extinctive temperatures, and in the path of one gigantic tornado after another?
Do our meetings have the wisdom and the courage of this British environmentalist, to face the wave of oncoming suffering, both human and nonhuman, and begin to prepare a ministry of palliative care, while we continue to fight tooth and nail with the ferocity of a bear in a trap, not because we have faith in our success, but because we have no choice? Because we have heard the word of the Lord, as it were, and we have the fire in the belly. Only the Lord—she’s a Lady.
Is Yahweh concerned for the fate of the earth? He’s destroyed it once and promises to do it again, this time by fire. Is Jesus Christ concerned for the fate of the earth? He was an apocalyptic, too.
We don’t know. So far, the signs are not good.
But Gaia is concerned. Her very life is on the line. And She still sings and dances as the mockingbird, while she screams the death of her seas.
What about us Quakers? Can we hear her song? Can we hear her screams? Can we reignite the Lamb’s War, inflamed by the apocalypse of the Word?