POEM: Epiphany

img_phanesFirst, they say, was Phanes: Out of the egg he appeared.
The male and the female, the serpent and the eagle, in one conjoined.
The Appearer, who made all else appear. A light shining,
and his daughter was darkness, Night herself.

Mortals walking on the earth looked up.
Brightness blessed them by day, when all things
appear aright, but the heavenly wheel turned
in the night, the figures on its rim
drawn by Phanes’ prophetic hand.
The Zodiac is a dancing band.

Where a new star rises, an old world sets.
Kings, wise men, magicians, three or many,
they came to an old king’s court. They pointed
to the new star in the east, to the house of
the Fishes illuminated. “Where,” they asked,
“is the new king, the one who will replace you,
he who will rule over the whole world?”

“What time did this star appear?” So Herod
asked and calculated an hour of birth, dictated
an hour of death. But the king’s men with
their swords looked down at the earth, not up
at the stars. They did not find him who had
not appeared, who awaited the Magi
in his poverty and accepted gold, frankincense, myrrh.

A century and a decade later, another child was born,
another star began a journey, and after another death
of one who was young and fair and beloved by many,
a new star in the Eagle told a grieving Emperor
that the tale was true, and his beloved was a god.
Consoled in his grief, he scattered the name of
Antinous like flower petals all over the Empire,
in temples and in statues, in contests with rich prizes,
the garland of red lotus to the finest. Already
in private places others burned frankincense and myrrh
in thuribles of gold and called on the name
of Jesus, feeding on his body and blood.

Phanes, most ancient deity, you who were first
to appear, come and open our hearts, come and
enlighten our minds, shine upon our ways,
illuminate our paths, help us comprehend
our darkness. Phanes, by your light may we see
the gods among us, ever living and dying for
our good, ever coming to us and appearing
where we least expect them, in the dark, in
the daylight, in our minds and hearts.

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POEM: A hymn for the winter solstice

The longest night, the shortest day
Each year it comes and goes its way
The bleak midwinter blest with feasts
To joy the greatest and the least

The newborn light becomes a boy
His mother’s pride, the whole world’s joy
The gods immortal come to earth
In mortal flesh for mortal mirth

Here Jesus sleeps with ox and ass
As one by one the shepherds pass
To worship him the angels sang
On whom the coming centuries hang

Antinous puts on the crown
That Dionysus handed down
Of ivy, grape, and fragrant pine
And bids us to the feast with wine

While Hercules, the victor strong,
Cries, “Io, Io!” with the throng
And Angerona has the right
To keep us silent for a night

So let us keep our flames alight
Through shortest day and longest night
And hold each other, heart and hand,
Till spring spreads forth throughout the land.

The purple umbrella

I made it to church this morning for the first time in a few weeks. The opening hymn was Our Great Denominational Fight Song: “The Church’s One Foundation”. (That’s the Episcopalian fight song. If you’re Lutheran, it is, of course, “Ein’ Feste Burg”; if you’re Roman Catholic, I believe it is “Tantum Ergo”.) The closing hymn was its close cousin, “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” sung to the great tune by Henry Purcell known as “Westminster Abbey”.

In between, the interim rector preached well on the readings, touching on the shooting at the Pulse nightclub and the responses to it that she saw online. The Old Testament reading, which struck me most, was the mystical and almost spooky story of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by horses and chariots made of flame. Elisha picks up his mentor’s fallen mantle and lashes the water of the Jordan, saying, “Where is the God of Elijah?” The water parts for him and he crosses the river dry-shod.

However, when the rector, who happens to be a woman, began talking about living in such a way that we put others first instead of ourselves, I stopped thinking about the mysticism of the Chariot or the determination of Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel, “setting his face toward Jerusalem” and letting nothing stop on his journey to confront the powers that be and started thinking, “No.” Because honestly, calls to put others before myself are *not* what I need. Calls to prioritize God, our neighbor, our family, our spouses, our children, the telemarketer, the boss–everyone and anyone before ourselves are not what many women need. As far as I can see, putting others first is something men in our culture may need to practice, but not women.

After communion, we sang a hymn of unknown provenance that had a tune somewhat like a Broadway ballad and a text that was, shall we say, a little too on the nose. ” Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?” Will you do all these self-sacrificing things for other people, in my name, if I call on you to do so? The truth is that my answer is No. I honor Jesus as a wisdom teacher, a healer, a deified mortal, and a savior who provides a place in the afterlife for those who follow him, but I realized at some point that I could not be his disciple. I could not live by the values he proposed, nor did I want to. If I use up my energies putting others first by service or volunteering or political action or whatever, in Christ’s name, by all the good works the Church has proposed over the centuries, I won’t have any energy left to do what I have always believed to be my actual work, my calling: Writing, singing, creating liturgy.

That said, I will continue to attend this Episcopal church, because I feel a real sense of community with the people there. I am probably going to train as a chalicist once again, authorized to administer the cup of wine at the Eucharist, and I’d like very much to have a full-time position with the choir come fall. I’m a good singer; the repertoire that I sing best happens to be church music, go figure. I also had a strong sense this morning that Antinous had come to church with me; that it was not inappropriate for a god, especially one who is also a hero and a daimon, to worship another god. I don’t have to leave Antinous behind in order to participate in this community.

On my way out of church, I snagged a couple of cookies and looked over the bins that had been set out with items from the church’s lost and found. To my amazement, I spotted a purple folding umbrella that I recognized. It’s been missing for two or three years. Now I have my purple umbrella again.

POEM: On giving roses as offerings

O Dea Rosa, you are the sacrificial daughter,
your bodies cut down and offered up
on the altars of Venus, of Jesus,
of Mother Mary. Your petals were torn
and scattered like the spread limbs
of the crucified Jesus by the dying
Little Flower, roses in her arms
and blood on her hands where
your thorns had pricked her, blood
on her handkerchief where she coughed
out her suffering. You beautify the coffins
of our dead and atone for the sins
of rich husbands, together with
the brilliant tears of Tellus Mater,
diamonds hard as an adulterer’s heart,
and the sparkling blood of grapes
gathered in champlains of Gaul.
I place on my shrine, lascivious virgin,
your body of red petals green leaves
and pricked stem and think of defiled
daughters and broken women
and holy mysteries.

POEM: Resurrection part two

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
and his name is Jesus, sprouting up as wheat
to be baked into bread and grapes to be crushed
into wine under the feet of the Magdalene harlot.
Now the green blade riseth, and it is Adonis,
a salad shared equally between Proserpina
and Venus, seasoned with olive oil and
the vinegar of women’s tears. It is a tall
strange hatchet-faced man named Lincoln
whose death bred lilacs out of the dead land,
an uncrowned sacred king, his mad wife
trailing petals in his wake. How can I be happy
when all these gay flowers are dead men
rising up, testimony to those dead too soon?
But they are so beautiful, Flora whispers,
and hands me a bouquet of roses thick with thorns.

Poem: Resurrection

I am thinking about dead boys this time of year,
how the earth softens and little pieces of them rise up,
fingers and toes, hairs and phalluses,
the curl of the hyacinth petal, the thrust of the crocus,
the daffodil nodding to itself, the rampant white lilies.
Hyacinth and Narcissus, Attis and Crocus,
Jesus, too, though he was a man grown,
bits and pieces of bread and wine,
the monstrous white lilies brought from the hothouse
to choke church choirs with their pollen.
The fathers beat their breasts and the women keen,
wailing and moaning, tearing their hair,
walking up and down and watering the greedy earth
with tears, saying those names: Attis, Adonis,
Hyacinth, Crocus, Jesus, Trayvon, Michael, Tamir,
Narcissus, Eric, all those boys ploughed under.
But they come up again, they come shooting up,
as the sun rises higher and the women hoe the rows,
and Antinous, that beautiful boy, who killed the boar
that hunted him, comes with his spear and holds out
a hand, rise up, Attis, brother, rise up, Adonis, come on,
Hyacinth and Crocus, Trayvon and Tamir, take my hand,
get up, here’s Jesus, here we are, get up, boys,
it’s time to rise up, they’re waiting for us.

A few words of wisdom, not my own

For me being a polytheist doesn’t just mean that I affirm and worship many gods. It also means that I allow and affirm many different paths and traditions; other people don’t have to do things My Way. And it means that there’s no one source of wisdom; I don’t have Scripture or a body of Lore. All literature might be scripture for me, sacred text; so might movies, songs, a television show.

So tonight I feel moved to paraphrase one of the teachings of a deified radical Palestinian preacher and healer who was executed for terrorism:

“Love your gods with your whole heart and soul and mind and strength–but don’t forget to love yourself and your fellow mortals, too.”