Monday, September 27, 2010
“Whenever two or more are gathered in my name…”…there is love? Or there is Jesus? Or the synchronistic appearance of the “Holy Spirit”?
Dear Alistair and Kendra~
When Sophie and I got to the seaside town of Whitby, we checked into the hotel that sits right on the river that divides the Victorian side of town from the medieval side. On one side is where Bram Stocker wrote his novel “Dracula” and on the other side is the ancient monastery ruin where the future of the Christian Church was decided at the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD. Here is where the Celtic Christians lost out to the Roman Catholics. Here is where the monks and abbesses fought over such things as how to calculate the day of Easter celebration—here is where the astrological and pagan remnants of the church were finally squashed.
But Sophie knew I had a bit of an agenda by bringing her here, and she wasn’t in a good mood about it. She knew I wanted to impress her with the fact that there was once a different kind of Christian Church other than the fundamentalist one she is connected with now—and—that there were women—like St Hilda, who was the head abbess here, and who once had a powerful position in the church. Sophie knew that I was hoping that the “supremely romantic ruins with panoramic ocean views” (that’s how the brochure described it) would open her mind. I suspect she was steeling herself against it. But she came on this journey with me because I begged her…
And so after we settled in, I suggested we walk up to the monastery as it was sunset and we still had enough light left. However, I’d forgotten how long a walk it is—and it’s uphill. As we climbed the foot path via the “199 abbey steps” Sophie got cranky. She was still weak from her ordeal in Lindisfarne, and I began feeling guilty for pushing her to do this pilgrimage with me.
“This isn’t going to prove anything to me, you know….” Sophie fingered her cross chain as she continued: “I don’t really care about history, I care about Jesus…and feeling connected with the Spirit.”
“The Holy Spirit? I asked. “Did you know, the 3rd person of the trinity was originally called ‘Hagia Sophia’ which meant feminine wisdom in the original Greek? But then it was changed by the Roman Catholics to the Holy Ghost, and the feminine mysticism of it was suppressed. They did a thorough job of ousting the feminine at the first Council of Constantinople.”
“Okay. So that happened. Is that why you named me Sophia?” She was frowning, and we were getting out of breath going up the steps.
“Well…I thought of it. Maybe I wanted more feminine wisdom myself.”
“And you didn’t get it, eh?”
“No, Sophie, I love you no matter what! And I love that you’ve got such a spiritual passion. But I’m just hoping we can find a way not to be so divided on these things—don’t you think there’s a middle-ground, a place where we can meet on all this?”
We stood on middle ground for a moment—underneath a towering stone celtic cross. She leaned up against it to catch her breath. “This is what I believe in.” She pointed up to the cross.
“Me too…But do you see it Sophie? There’s a circle around that cross which changes its meaning. It focuses on the resurrection, the continuity of life, and that the pain of bearing the cross of life is changed by the belief in—“
“—reincarnation?” Sophie stroked the green moss on the cross and then looked out to the sea that surrounded us. A strong wind seemed to be gaining on us, turning the waves rough and the light was fractured by heavy clouds.
“That’s one way to look at that—you know reincarnation was originally part of church doctrine, until the 2nd Council of Constantinople took that one away as well—and then the Roman Inqusition considered it a heresy, punishable by death—such as what they did to the Cathars in France. But the Christian Gnostics and the Essenes taught reincarnation, as well as this old theologian…Origen….but it’s not just about that, you know…?” My voice began rising higher almost as if I was questioning her, rather than retelling the facts.
“You don’t get it, do you? I don’t care about history, I care about Jesus. What he stands for—why not Jesus, Mom? Why not just him and not the church? Why are you and Dad always arguing these things! I don’t care about theories about God! I don’t care! I want to feel it—here—“ She banged her chest like a true pilgrim. “Have you ever experienced that—that warmth of God, in here? I don’t think you have, Mom.” She took a deep breath—“Come on let’s get to the top of this hill.”
We climbed the rest of the way up the cliff silently, watching the light breaking through the clouds onto the stone arches, lichen-covered tombstones and “circled crosses”. It was as if all of nature, all the stones, light, ocean, and wind were saying: “Talk all you want, but I am here.”
So we stopped talking. The abbey was situated on a plateau, and behind it was a shallow pond. We circled around it slowly, and Sophie reached down to pick up something. We honored the silence with each other and the silence of the place. I could see the last of the visitors heading down the cliff-side as it was getting dark, and so we began retracing our steps, with no words…just the ocean breeze and the dappled light on the angel faced gravestones around the chapel next to the monastery. It was too much for words.
I picked up a smooth round “touch stone” on the ground as we walked and began rubbing it between my fingers. I once called these stones, “worry stones”, but now I wasn’t worrying, just wondering-- why was I re-loving Celtic Christianity again? Was it the resonance between the mandala of the astrological chart and the pre-Christian Cross...? Was there room in my heart for the Christian Cross—for Jesus? I remembered the Irish poet, John O'Donohue saying: "The circle around the beams of the Cross rescues the loneliness where the 2 lines of pain intersect--the circle contains and resonates with the mysterious nature of God's love..." The circled cross held hope for me.
Sophie saw me pick up the stone. She looked at me quizzically, and as I turned to her I could see a spark of sunlight reflecting off the ocean surface over her head. Nothing unusual really, but stunning nevertheless…wasn’t that what happened at Pentacost, when Jesus returned to his disciples? Didn’t it give them the gift of understanding and communicating in all “tongues?” And as I pondered this, we lowered our heads watching the steep steps again, as we began heading down.
Suddenly a wild-looking young man--- a John-the-Baptist-type if I ever saw one--- came racing up the steps, muttering: “The Holy Spirit is not for sale….not for Sale!” He stared at us as he rushed by, and we burst out laughing. Then Sophie turned to me with a sly grin, and took a black stone with a circle around it, out of her pocket.
“Here, this is for you---if you give me yours, I’ll give you mine,” she put it in my hand. “But for you--for free…! No sales pitch needed…” We laughed. I took her stone as if it was a great gift, imbued with magic, and I gave her my worry stone.
When we got to the bottom, we ducked into a little tea shop. There was a soft warm light permeating the rustic shop and I knew it was time to tell Sophie my other story. But it was going to take some effort to try to explain the unexplainable to her.
--and that will be my next email to you both. I guess it’s time I spoke to you all about this….