The altar is where human beings present things to god. The altar is related to the mystery of food, where life feeds off of life, where life must kill to live. The Eucharistic meal is a civilizing force, a feast not of meat but of bread. It is a chance to “lift our hearts to the Lord,” and walk above the fear of death and our daily participation in it. It is the meal of the lamb, that of peace found when our hearts truly understand the gentleness of our creation far exceeds its terror.
Knives, and metal implements generally, are needed and used with hardly a thought to carve the tender flesh of the animals we eat. Yet, at some level of our own awareness, I propose, this terrifies us. The history of torture devices make clear the way metal applied to flesh can cause pain. Metal on naked flesh is the fear the crucifixion captures in the nails forcibly introduced into the body of the Christ. It is also the fear that is captured in the moment of panic in the Christ story when the initiate, wearing only a flimsy white robe, is suddenly surrounded by soldiers in full armor and armed with weapons. As Mk. 14.51,2 states, this initiatory panic causes the disciple to flee in terror. (As said earlier, once the spirit is driven by fear out of the body, that’s it, it is not possible to push a tortured being further.) It is the divine grace that allows the Christ alone to stay with the terror of those nails, to allow them to keep him held in place, fixed in pain, and not panic. Hence, by his blood, it is said, we are saved once we have aligned ourselves with the Christ. After the rooster crow of the bloody dawn, after our three betrayals in seeking the all-powerful Christ of the religious temptations, we too are called to take up our cross, the sliver of the divinity-task that is ours to bear within the mystery of human love, suffering, and redemption. The next time we see the white robe it is in the empty tomb, Mk. 16.5. Seeking god as an answer to death one finds “he is not here.” This which we are dealing with is the god of life. Through the panic, through the encounter with the teacher’s healing exorcism, the initiate has learned we shall not die the death in life that is a life burdened by superstitious fear and meaninglessness, but live even as the Christ did. Though we may bear the marks of our wounds, the flesh as grave was unable to hold us, we have found liberation from the evil that was done to us and that we have done.
Mark’s Gospel is particularly telling in how this resurrection promise is worked out using its shorter ending. The resurrection promise is that by which human hope in goodness is kept alive (some may recall our conversations about Santa and Easter Bunnies). There are no resurrection scenes in Mark, only the word to the ladies. “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed!’” I emphasize where I think the rich symbolic vein is to be found, one related, in part, to the difference between being child-like and childish. The first words spoken in the empty tomb, ‘Do not be amazed!,’ these are serious. This part of the mystery story is related to the John Barelycorn sacrifices and is not the central point. It’s miraculous reality should not amaze us, that is, it should not enchant us and bewitch us. We should not let the unknowns around death become a wedge by which liars manipulate us through our fears. The seed must die for the crop to arise, but it is not the farmer that makes it grow. The Christ story is not one about the mystery of creation, but of the mystery of redemption within that creation. Those who make a big deal of the ancient phallic-cross and womb-tomb associations are missing it.
The short ending goes on, “But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They were just told not to be amazed and here they are, bewildered. What to do, where can we find Jesus on the road to Galilee and learn to properly be a disciple? Back at the start of the Gospel, just after the prologue. “It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. . .” The terrifying and bloody death of the Crucifixion, when the Shepard was slain and the sheep scattered, this story asks us if this is really the end, are we ultimately left alone to suffer in painful, deluded confusion? Only you as a reader can answer that for yourself. What does your heart tell you? Does it quicken when you hear His words? It is not the end of the story if you take up re-reading it again, and in doing so again and again throughout a long life, encounter there the living one. He is not found among the dead. He has established a feast to which the poor and vulnerable are invited. For those called to this supper, their lives, however long or short they may be, will have seemed in the end to have been good and meaningful lives. What is offered are lives so full of wonder that it is as if they had lasted a thousand years, bringing us the fullness of time. The healed enjoy lives filled with peace and crowned with rest. This is “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”
What has the initiate learned with his encounter with their guardian angel, where the corrupting metal nails have pierced their own flesh? The Book of Revelation gives the inside view, the spiritual view, of the battle on the cross and the resurrected life. Rev. 19.14 “The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing white linen.” From chapter 20: “Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.” How short? “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Christian initiates live their lives abundantly, refusing to bow down in fear and serve the one who rules us no more. We do not fear an hour of judgment from abba, for we have learned to pray to god “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Christians have seen through the lies of the accuser, the destroyer that would set itself up as god.
We human beings are all trauma survivors. Wounded people wounding others is a part of our fate. Through long efforts at therapeutic work, our soulful contemplation and prayer, we can cast out the burdens injected into our bodies and psyches by the evil done to us and the terror it evokes. These burdens are often imagined as metallic invaders planted in, or living in, our flesh during, for example, Parts Work with PTSD persons. Other times the burdens are voices or images more personalized, as if alien intelligence were involved. This is particularly the case when the traumatized are bordering on psychosis or schizophrenia. Satanic nails and devilish demons, these things populate the human-world soul and seek to destroy personalities, whole nations at a time if they can. It is not superstition to admit these factors exist. They are inherent to our “psychological” experience when that experience tends towards the extreme. For example, intravenous drug users refer to their syringe as a nail, murders nail people, and when we succeed against a tough challenge we say we nailed it, as if we had banished something once and for all by, as we say, nailing the bastard to the wall. The war zones we create outside ourselves are, mercifully, small reflections of the ones within us, the ones which are created when we abuse one another. Peace on earth, in fact, starts within us as individuals. It can start nowhere else.
It is a real shame to let religious ideas steal the possibility of an abundant life from a human being. They do so by feeding the fear of death inherent in our mammalian physiology and inferential reasoning. The Christ story is designed to be a corrective to that misunderstanding of what religion and religious imagery is for. The poets had to write, the message of redemption is too important not to pass on. They had to pass it on even as they had received it from those who had passed it on to them. In their wisdom they knew the dangers involved in misunderstanding what they were teaching, and they prepared for that. In their compassion they were inspired to teach us of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits those who are healed by the Christ. This is the story of what the true creator of the universe would look like if he / she / it / X were to look as a man. The point is not the miracles, all wiz-bang and powerful. The point is the care and concern for the people Jesus meets and how he meets them as an individual. What has moved countless millions of faithful believers for centuries is the love this sacred heart displays.
But so much of the dogma seems to contradict rational thought. Faith’s cords of dogma are the poets means of speaking. It is a language at once of reason and emotion when both are touched by the visionary spirit. Dogma is meant to protect the inner coherence of the symbol system it attends. It is a faith that in the inspiration of our poets and prophets, there is a true element of the divine. The assumed authorial authority spoke of earlier, will at times seem to take on an authority beyond what the poet would claim for themselves. It is the most profound mystery of the creative inspiration, the power of the muse, the guardian angel. Over the years it has lead to the building of our so-called Holy Books. The fire of god speaks, darkly but insistently, as tongues of flame touching the heads of those in the upper room.
The Gospel story teaches that the creator is a loving father-architect. It asserts a faith that things are what they seem: that the universe in all its vast mystery, was formed to allow life and consciousness to arise. Not as a pantheistic ocean of awareness, but always and everywhere only through individuals. This is the Christ light. It is the loving creator concept taken beyond concept, to where it matters to you personally. Here is the mystery of the true god = true man. It is your death, your life, your conscience that is being talked about. This Christ light is not owned by any church, though the Catholic rites, both East and West, have protected the coherence of the symbolism through the poetics of dogma. The teaching of abba is a gift to show the Way to the lost, the Light to the blind, and the Truth to the confused.