Ghouls (I like this letter. The editor didn’t…)
6th December 2012
Your excellent reports on financial skulduggery (Offshore secrets, 30 November), and the harrowing, intractable conflicts in Gaza and the Congo (Undying hatred in Gaza combat zone; Congo once more descends into chaos, 30 November) are linked by synapses arising from their shared taproot in a global economic system that’s accountable only to profit, and therefore radically skewed against morality and justice.
It seems to me obscene that the four biggest earners in the world economy are people trafficking, the trades in weapons and illegal drugs, and pornography. Three quarters of the world’s armaments are manufactured by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, US, UK, China and France. In this schizoid conflict of interest, how can peace ever prevail over violence lucratively institutionalised as war? Since most manufacturers, dealers, traders and users of weapons are men, with women and children forming a disproportionately high number of victims, the arms trade is one of the vilest manifestations of patriarchy. How is it that we not only sanction these legalised cannibals, but continue to tolerate an economic system that cheers them on? Why aren’t these ghouls, who foment mass murder and feast on living flesh, indicted before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity?
Peace be fiercely with you
A Partridge in a Pear-Tree? Twelve Gifts for Christmas
I was born into a family of Protestant atheists, yet Catholicism, when the Church and I finally found each other – both parties resisting furiously – turned out to be as deep in me as race or gender. Fifteen years on, I’m still as in love with the sacramental church as I am at odds with the institution – a paradox uncomfortably familiar to many Catholics.
Though the Church is where I most deeply ‘belong to be’, my life is continually enriched by other spiritual traditions. Almost half of humankind faces harassment, arrest, torture or death for attending a religious gathering. I’m all for plurality – anything to curb the blight of fundamentalism.
The divine is so inconceivably vast that in its presence we’re the proverbial blind women trying to describe an elephant; rather than squabbling about who’s right, let’s pool our ignorance. I have rich conversations with a Tibetan Buddhist, translating each other’s metaphors in order to understand we’re talking about the same thing. I’ve encountered ‘the peace that passeth understanding’ in a Baptist prayer group, at a Quaker meeting, in a yoga class, among dancing Sufis and once, unforgettably, at the feet of a guru; I was one of hundreds in the queue, yet when it was my turn I was struck by a lightning bolt of bliss that lasted for days.
Twelve insights from other pathways.
The Buddhist practice of tonglen. Breathe grief, anger, pain – your own, a stranger’s, the world’s – into your heart where suffering is transformed into compassion. Breathe out compassion for yourself, the stranger, the galaxy.
The mother of one of my English language students is a devout Hindu; whenever I visit, she’s weaving cotton-wool into candle-wicks. When she’s made 100,000, they will be lit on the altar in a glory of sacred fire. I was delighted to be introduced recently to the Hindu deity Akhilandeshwari – the Never Not Broken Goddess.
Once a year the Kyoto Monks of Tibet come to Hobart and spend a week making an exquisite sand mandala. When it’s finished, it’s ritually dissolved into the Derwent. The chanting of the monks gives my soul goosebumps.
I’m still coming to terms with my father’s recently disclosed Jewish heritage. Now, when I hear Old Testament stories, it’s with double vision; I’m both outside looking in, and participating in my own history. I celebrate the Jewish concept of tikkun olam – collective soul-work for the redemption of the world.
’Islam simply means surrender to divine will. We demonise Moslems just as the Crusaders did; as Catholics and Protestants massacred each other all over Europe; like the Holocaust. One of my doorways into ’Islam is the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, mystics dancing with Theresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen on the head of a pin.
I’m so awed by the spirituality of indigenous Australians, by the Dreaming, songlines, the interwoven sacredness of place, humans, animals, plants, rocks and stars, that it feels presumptuous to say anything. I’ll tell a small story instead. I was once introduced to an Aboriginal Elder. Not knowing how to respond, I went into a corner and meditated. Very delicately, clear as bell, he greeted me in my mind. My eyes flew open; we met in a hug in the middle of the room.
Might we listen to what atheists are saying? Allow ourselves to be challenged? See ourselves in the mirror they hold up to us?
Celtic Christianity touches my heart. The Celtic cross brings the divine feminine into balanced relationship with the male. The prayers weave the sacred into daily life: “I tend the hearth as Mary tends it.” “ May the light warm your heart till it glows like a great peat fire.” And that loveliest of greetings, “What blossom is on you today?”
Do creativity, sex and prayer all arise from the same well? Music, poetry, art transcend and illumine. The best sex is a template for divine union. When I do a silent retreat, I know – then forget – that I spend most of my life splashing in the shallows while a vastness beyond my richest imaginings lies a breath away.
Our planet is a miracle. Consider the wisdom contained in a handful of seeds, the nano-structural genius of a feather. A friend, contemplating the mind-boggling intricacy of DNA says, “DNA is my god.” The genome of just one person, written as music, would take a century to play. Humans share nearly all our DNA, and our planet, with 8.7 billion species whose wellbeing is crucial to our own. I lament the failure of all major religions to act on climate change, on ecocide.
Physics is awe-inspiring. Solid matter isn’t solid. The universe we see is a half of one per cent of what’s actually out there. We live in a multiverse, many dimensions folded in on each other. Humans are midway in size between the universe and the smallest sub-atomic particle.
Muddle, paradox, chaos, radical amazement, being wrong, metanoia, the thirteenth fairy, not knowing…
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the spirit of peace to you.
Published in the ‘Tasmanian Catholic’ December 2012. Reprinted with permission.
Spiked again! That makes twice the GW has turned down my excellent plans for a Catholic spring in St Peter’s Square. Read on…
15th October 2012
Alleluia, Hans Kűng! The pope heads a moribund theocracy terminally blighted by its own misuse of power. By gagging its media, forbidding dissent and free speech, the Vatican both reinforces the behaviour of the dictatorships whose redemption it prays for, and infantilises Catholics by usurping the primacy and accountability of individual conscience. Its denial of the basic human right of contraception is a crime against women and the overcrowded biosphere. Its virulent sexism differs only in degree from the Taliban’s. How can an exclusively male God be anything but sterile?
The dysjunction in the Church is so deep it’s schizoid. For within the corruption is hidden the ‘pearl of great price’, the living water I’ve found nowhere else in a lifetime of searching. Though I only entered the Church as a convert in my late forties, Catholicism is as innate in me as race or gender. I can’t extirpate it by leaving. I may not, by my silence, collude. Therefore I must be part of the struggle for change. In Tahrir Square, protesters risked their lives for justice; we Catholics are challenged to surrender only our comfort zones. The rot is too entrenched for a mere facelift. Like the Berlin Wall, the Church must collapse, undergo the death and rebirth at the heart of its own teachings, and set its people free.
What could the Church look like if it were restored to congruence, to the integrity of its founding vision? It might shift from power as dominance to power as trust, reciprocity and liberation; joyfully incorporate women at all levels; redistribute its vast wealth; face its own body hatred and sexual terror; hold democratic elections; appoint an ombudsperson; sign the UN Convention on Human Rights; turn its fixated gaze from safely dead prophets and instead support their living exemplars grappling with the ecological, religious, moral and political ferment of our own times.
At the heart of the Church’s feral grip on power is its control of the Eucharist; Christ, who was wholly inclusive, is wrapped in barbed wire. Communion – the bread and wine, the astonishing fractal moment where the finite and the infinite touch – is withheld from all non-Catholics, and from those Catholic subsets – gays, lesbians, the serially married, and heretics – of whom the hierarchy disapproves. Is this not discrimination as rank as ‘Only whites may walk on this beach’?
Might the breaking of this stranglehold be as simple and profound an act of civil disobedience as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus? How can I feast when you’re hungry? If you’re excommunicated, and I’m not, may I share my bread, my Host with you?
Five hundred years ago, my father’s Jewish forebears, expelled from Spain by the Inquisition, went to Wittenberg to work with Luther and the Reformation. Is there a gene for heresy?
Occupy the Vatican? A Catholic spring in St Peter’s Square? Why not?
Peace be radically with you all