Triduum Musings In 3 PartsApr 05, 2021
first wrote these as a series of posts on facebook, as I sat moved with my spiritual community through the 72-hour liturgy the earliest followers of Jesus called the Triduum: what is now called Holy/Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Though built on research done over the past several years, these are musings, so I ask you to orient yourself towards them more like pieces of art rather than credal statements.
The earliest example of the now ubiquitous image of the crucified Jesus is the 9th century Gero cross, made in then-Saxony (northern Germany). Images of Jesus dated prior to this time show a living person, the resurrected Christ, often surrounded by edenic visions of paradise and the communion of saints. Even where the cross is present, it's present in mere suggestion: nail marks in the hands, which rest against a few blocks of wood, while still depicting the living Christ, eyes open and body intact.
The Gero cross is the earliest example we have depicting Jesus as a brutalized, gaunt, lifeless body.
What happened in the 9th century you ask? Oh, just Charlemagne's reign of terror which brutalized and forced conversion upon the animist peoples of Europe (many of them, like the Saxons, already a hybrid version of christianity communing with Christ alongside ancestors, trees, and sacred wells). Living, victorious Jesus led this army. So the descendants of the Saxons said: no. Our god is dead on the cross, as are we. I honestly don't know if it was a kind of protest art (against empire and/or god), or simply reflected the literal devastation they saw and experienced.
Either way, this had profound and lasting theological and material consequences. Drs Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker write that the subsequent theologies of "blurred the ethical distinctions about who was a victim of violence and who was a perpetrator...it was Christian for Saxons to submit to "Holy Roman" imperial violence, to be crucified like Christ. The Carolingians constructed a Christian piety that used violence to convert pagans and then taught its victims to regard their violation as justified and sanctified...the crucified Christ confronted communicates at every Eucharist, accusing them of killing him. Contemplation of his death evoked an intoxiating mix of gratitude and dread. To be an urepentant, sinful Christian was to be judged a murderer by Christ the victim and judge. Those who knelt before the divine victim petitioned for mercy for their sins, hoping not to be condemned to hell."
What a fucking mind fuck.
When I ask Jesus about this, I get a warm swimming sensation in my belly, like what I imagine is the first flutter of intuited womb-life. I hear the keening song of whales and this old taize chant from my childhood: nothing can ever come between us and the love of god...the love of god revealed to us in christ jesus...
something still wants to be known.
a tickle at the back of my neck prays: may the cycle be complete.
And now I wonder: maybe what would actually "save" us would be for the white imperial "church" to actually embraced its crucified god, make one last kenotic gesture and die.
(All quotes from "Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this world for Crucifixion and Empire." Highly recommend!)
I was sitting in the u-bend, thinking about death
No but for real: I pulled the death card yesterday and today.
For all the fixation on the violent death of our lord, white Xianity actually doesn't handle death well like at all. Definitely disorganized attachment going on there: don't come near me, but can't look away
I wonder if abstracting the pain of other fellow humans onto the crucified divinized man-god helped(s) my ancestors to dissociate from the painful knowledge that they and their-our own unattended wounds were the cause of the pain of those conquered...that they-we had betrayed the living god/gaia...and that despite every death defying theological deflection they-we would each in turn make their-our way back to the womb-tomb...from dust to dust...and no saccarine version of the afterlife could change that.
The earliest examples of crosses we know of being used by Jesus followers was equiform (all sides equal). My mentors who have adopted this practice say it represents the dynamic tension innate to the human-divine experience, the womb-tomb-wedding chamber (that's the actual liturgical language which is weird and I love it) and to the paradoxical unity-in-multiplicity of the I AM in all things.
And just to be clear, I have all manner of well-boundaried love for my heritage. I hosted a lovely backyard Way of the Cross for the World with my own variation of all 14 stations. I am a high church liturgy nerd. I can't help it. I love it. And to paraphrase bell hooks, you can love something and critique it at the same time.
It may surprise you to know that these are very sexy days.
Sexual imagery permeates the earliest known rites of the Jesus followers. Early baptismal fonts are vividly uterine, though which initiating members of the Jesus cult immersed and emerged from the 'tomb-womb-wedding waters'--that is the language of the earliest known but only recently discovered liturgical texts--death to small self, birth to Christ-self-in-unity-with-all-that-is. Sexual intimacy was both literal and symbol for the sacred union with all of creation that Jesus modeled, revealed, and of which he initiated his friends into awareness. In the rite my community practiced tonight, the pillar candle of easter is plunged three times into the basin of baptismal water. One of my first debriefs from this liturgy a few years back involved another community member asking: does that represent what *I think* it represents...??? Our mentors laughed with a resounding: YEP!
I wrote the below a few years back before I actually knew all the theosis and cosmic theology that surrounds the early Easter liturgies. I notice a tingle high in my belly as I prepare to share it, And a quiet tightness in my throat: fear. There is also a tiredness, a burning behind my eyes that has been there all day. The emotion is a very light swirl of grief and love, like an eddy at the bank of a stream. My womb is heavy, about to release: calm. sophia. The thought that arises is: for god so loves the world.
Jesus Descended Into Earth/Holy Saturday Sex Magick
if i look like i have a secret it’s because last night i made love to the whole world. i slipped through the soft creases of moss and mud and hallow and lo—she held me firm and high. i saw icebergs break and albatross wings spread. i saw the breadth of waterfalls edge slide down deep down into the mariana trench. i saw an old man die and a baby born. i gasped in your swarm of bees, your flocking feather down goose wings. i knew you in a flash of blue light at my brow, and you poured your honeyed milk on my tongue. into your deepest canyon and crease of cedar bark i sought you, a swirl of spiders’s web stretched taught with dew and waiting. we loved against the icicle walls of hell’s great prison and set its captives wild and hot. we sang from magnolia blossom and sticky fern fronds and a billion stars—Come Back To Me, With All Your Heart. the blade in the fire, bellows, now into ice water, and back again, peak to valley, breath out-in-out. the whole world had me bound and breathless, seared and swooning. i believe now. oh yes, i believe and indeed—i shall never be the same.
[I just want to credit much of these learnings to my teachers and mentors Diane Whalen and Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice and the sweet and humble learning context of the Holy Wisdom Inclusive Catholic Community.]
Triduum musings post script:
Tapering down from these electric days, writing now feels slower, quieter, like sipping some ginger tea after the meal. I'm daydreaming about secure cultural attachment and noting: it doesn't actually matter if my what-would-become- known-as-christian ancestors were having anti-imperial joy orgies in the upper room or were worshipping the unity-in-multiplicity at the sacred springs and trees
I want to believe that is true. I think there is a good case to be made. but it also doesn't matter
what matters is how I relate to them now, and to beings like me and not like me and the world. can I be ok with whatever version of weird, complex creatures they were/are? with the not-perfect version? with the whole breadth of inspiration and devastation? with no grand arc of progress and also no unmarred eden? can I be a casual, loose-limbed node in the web that is still weaving itself?
So much in the so-called 'western' trauma therapeutics involves narrative. Piecing together a (more) cohesive narrative so that the unspeakable, unnamable, coalesces and can have its own distinct nature, and how one got from there to here in this state makes some kind of horrifying yet whole sense. I've noticed an undercurrent in my research and wanderings this longing for some version of the story where my ancestors aren't just irredeemable monsters. Where I am not one of them. Where there is someone else, someone better I can claim as my own.
Having a more cohesive narrative, imagining a better origin story, these can sooth that deep anxiety of culture-less-ness that makes me feel like a desperately annoying needy girlfriend at times, culturally speaking--but I am aware that it is surface-level and temporary if it doesn't always actually change behaviors. Tada, you have said something to the affect: you can culturally appropriate from your own lineage, and 'knowing about' ancestors doesn't automatically change the shape or reality or affect of that anxiety of culture-less-ness. I am still left with what is present here and now, the postures and sensations and numbness, a different kind of story and fractured silences between them. Some things may take more time to know and some things I think I may never know for sure.
I'm settling into a place where that's just ok because there is no redemption in grasping after some long lost pristine ancestor that I fantasize will return me to some long lost state of pre-colonizing wholeness--it was an offhand comment Dare made a ways back that kinda snapped me out of this new age-y spell. How I am integrating that is: there is no saving the ancestors lost--neither colonizer nor colonized--between then and now. That may happen. That would be nice. But that's not the point. The point is to tend to the grasping and the expectation of redemption and the compulsion to save and to be in the here and now.
Here and now are my white Xian siblings and cousins and far more distant cousins scattered, stiff-limbed and amnesia-ridden, acting out a pain we can't remember/keep denying the source of.
Here and now are the strewn calcified exoskeletons of a 'church', mobilized by marionette strings held by some abstraction of 'god', which 'lives' to self-perpetuate and has forgotten how to die.
Here and now is my own pelvic bowl slowly thawing from generations of dissociated alleluias.
Here and now are these many bricks of the temple, crumbled and strewn about; and the night time and the day time and the turning tide.
[I tag dare and tada here to give credit to the web of ideas that didn't start with me, with no assumption of their endorsement of what I choose to do with what I've learned from/with each of them individually and from their collaborative work. I know they will throw down in the comments if they feel the need ]
[thank you so much to all my many teachers, mentors and friends on this journey, and and to anyone whose come along with me on these musings. If you've made it all the way here, big high fives ]