For my beautiful Butterfly on Valentines Day.
Eros stands upon the tower wall.
Far below the city moves,
and the wheel turns gently on it’s path.
Determined to seek,
inspired to find.
His heart beats with one desire–
The vision of his sweet Aphrodite.
His gaze finds rest on a delicate sight,
dimly seen…through an open window.
His Venus lies on a bed of white.
Satin dancing in the flame borne light.
Her body exposed to the coming night.
Naked but not ashamed.
With the blessing of Cupid, he draws his bow.
An arrow flies,
Piercing the heart of Love.
Racing over rooftops,
He stops outside the open arch.
Waits to be invited in…
“Come to me my lover…”
“May our hearts be joined as One
and Eternity hear,
that I am Yours, and You are Mine.”
by Jacques Rothmann
In my last post I made some comments on the Genesis story and how the Hebrew might point to a deeper reality somewhat obscured by our English translations. I shared my post with an online community of Christians with whom I interact from time to time. Many enjoyed the post and resonated with the ideas expressed. But one member voiced some concern with making scientific statements from religious texts and that perhaps I was distorting things a bit. He joked a little and said that ‘When God saw that it was not good for man to be alone, He didn’t halve Adam and make a Bruce.’ Of course I completely agree, and this comment, though said in jest, shows that he didn’t fully understand what I was getting at with the halving idea. It also made me want to substantiate my arguments a little more. What follows is drawn from my response to his concerns:
My point is definitely not that God simply split the male Adam in half and that the two halves were thus the same i.e. a potential Adam and Bruce. In fact quite the opposite. My point is that biologically life began as One non-sexed reality. Later this single celled androgynous organism evolved into male and female and continued the long stretch of evolution that would eventually produce our Adam and Eve.
So back to Genesis:
While I fully understand that Genesis is not a scientific document I do believe it is a text inspired by God and thus able to speak to realities that both include scientific reality and go beyond science to the spiritual and metaphysical.
In the first creation account (Gen 1:26-27) the text in the Hebrew says that God created ‘adam’ (which is really just a play on the word ‘adamah’ meaning earth/ground/dust) in His Image. It goes on to say that he created this ‘earth/human being’ or ‘adam’ as both male (zakar) and female (neqebah). So here in the opening chapter of Genesis we have ‘adam’ referring to the entire human race both male and female, not just the male half.
In the second creation account, ‘adam’ appears for the second time. Here it also seems to indicate simply a human being (Gen 2:5) needed to cultivate the land. Genesis follows this pattern with ‘adam’ representing simply the unsexed human creature created from the earth. Of course I don’t think this means that the historical Adam was an androgynous or hermaphroditic human being – but I do think this MIGHT speak to the reality of life starting out as ONE undivided reality which predated the emergence of gender based life.
That the story should not be taken literally/scientifically seems to be quite clear at various points. The poetic formulation of the days of creation is one such point, the presentation of the animals to the ‘adam’ is another. All these creatures seem to be sexed creatures of the male and female variety but the poor old ‘adam’ seems to be the only creature without such a mate. So God gives the ‘adam’ a little spiritual anesthetic and removes one of his ‘tsela’ (Gen 2:21).
In our English bibles we read that God removed one of the ‘adams’ ribs. This is the only time in the whole Old Testament that ‘tsela’ is translated as rib. Unfortunately the only other use of the term rib, is found in the Aramaic book of Daniel and thus cannot be directly compared with the Hebrew. But ‘tsela’ does appear more than 40 times and all other times the word is translated as ‘side’, or associated terms. Thus I put forward that what was taken from the original ‘adam’ was not a rib but a side – the female side to be exact. Now I’m no Hebrew scholar, though I do enjoy researching, but this translation is supported by a number of Jewish scholars and rabbis, especially those who appreciate the mystical aspect of the text.
Only once God has taken the woman from the ‘adam’ is the original ‘adam’ referred to as man/husband (ish) and the new being referred to as woman/wife (ishah). Their relationship is immediately shown to be one of cleaving in which the two will become ‘One Flesh’ again. I think this supports my case, as man cleaves to his missing half rather than his missing rib. From here on the ‘adam’ often indicates the male person and ‘ishah’ the female.
Only in Genesis 3:20 is the ‘ishah’ given a name, ‘Chavvah’ (Eve) because she is the mother of all who ‘Chayah’/’Chay’ (live/living). At this point it becomes clear that the male human being continues to be known simply as ‘adam’.
In chapter 4 ‘Adam’ and ‘Chavvah’ the original husband/man (ish) and wife/woman (ishah) have been expelled from the garden and life as we know it begins. They love, they fight, they buy a house and have babies ;), some of whom turn out well, others, not so much. But just in case we forget that though the ‘adam’ now refers to the male human being in the family it wasn’t always so, the story ends with just such a reminder.
In Genesis 5:1 we are told that we are reading the book of the generations of the ‘adam’ in the day that God created the ‘adam’ in His own Likeness. Male and female He created them and blessed them and called THEIR name ‘adam’ in the day when THEY were created. And subsequently Adam dies.
After Adam’s death the word ‘adam’ continues to be used to denote the entire human race both male and female (e.g. Gen 6:1 and on).
In conclusion I’ll leave you with another interesting fact to add to this little investigation. The belief in the androgynous nature of the first human being is actual quite a cross-cultural phenomenon. It is found explicitly or implicitly in the writings of the Hindus, Greeks, Romans, and Sumerians, as well as in our case, the Jews and Christians. This link will give you more details should you wish to explore some of these other accounts. While I find the author’s research interesting, I wouldn’t go along with his rather literal approach to the data, but as I said I believe these myths point to the spiritual and metaphysical truths behind the story.
For those of you who know the Enneagram, I relate strongly with the type 5, but also with 6 and 7, all of which fall into the head center (the other centers being heart and gut). As such I live most of my life in my own head, a fact that my wife will confirm to be quite true – to which I thank her both for her gracious acceptance and her encouragement to explore the world beyond my own mind. I’m an extreme introvert and struggle immensely with interpersonal interactions.
When I became a Christian I wrestled deeply with the implications of Christ’s message and the challenge it posed to my natural personality. For a long time I felt like just being myself was sinful. I’m naturally so anti-social that most of the ‘community mandate’ of Christianity scares the living daylights out of me. I took some comfort from the fact that history was dotted with mystical hermits who felt quite justified living isolated lives committed to the God of Christianity. But I also realized that in my own life, with a wife, two kids, and a job, I would never be able to adopt the solitary lifestyle of a detached recluse. I also never felt completely comfortable with the hermetic model since I wasn’t sure whether it actually did justice to the relational focus of the Christian Faith.
All of this caused a great deal of internal pressure both to follow my own heart and to conform to the seemingly extroverted character of biblical Christianity. In the end I’ve decided to go with my own heart – and something quite interesting has started to happen.
As I’ve become more and more comfortable with just being me I’ve also felt a shift in my ability to move towards people. It seems as though my introverted psyche felt attacked by my desire to be less introverted and thus expressed itself even more. But once I accepted my introversion as normal and natural it allowed that part of myself to let go a little and allow other elements of my internal world to express themselves again.
A similar struggle and shift seems to be occurring within my mind-body dichotomy. My “headiness” and intellectual pursuits have often been condemned by my ego as un-masculine and weak. The result has been an overwhelmingly single-minded focus on all things mental and intellectual to the absolute disregard for my physical body. From this has come a distrust of gut and heart reactions, which are both quite bodily, and a biased favoring of the powers of the mind and intellect.
Here too I’ve been experiencing a shift towards acceptance of my mind as a wonderful tool through which to engage the universe – and again this acceptance has led to a quieting of my mental voice so as to make room for my body to once again be heard. This in turn has led to a greater freedom to experience embodied reality and embodied spirituality.
This growth has been fruitful in many areas. I’ve found new energy to engage my wife, my kids and God with my whole body instead of just my mind. I’ve started exercising again and doing yoga, and I feel a deeper desire to use my body to encounter the world around me.
My relationship with God has experienced its’ own development through this process as I’m trying to bring my prayer life out of my head and into my body as the temple of God. I’m starting to feel a more consistent move within myself to express my praying through my breath, my body posture or movement, groaning, tongues and listening to the movements of desire and energy within my body. While I’ve experienced similar initiations in my prayer life before it seems as though my internal battle between body and mind kept them from deepening into what they now seem to be becoming – an embodied spirituality.
This embodied spirituality has caused me to reconsider my body both generally as a human body and then also more specifically as a male body. The flip-side of this is that I’ve also realized how dominated the Christian Faith seems to be by male images of God.
While other faiths seem to generally have a well balanced approach to the masculine and feminine aspects of both the human race and of God – I’m thinking here of Taoism, Buddhist and Hindu Tantric spirituality, Kabbalah etc. – this seems less true of Christianity. Partly this can be accounted for by the fact that the relationship between the Father and Son is one of the central realities within Christianity. This can therefore eclipse other more feminine aspects of the Divine. Certainly I don’t think this exclusion of the feminine is a wholesale reality within Christianity – Catholics for example include Mary quite deeply within their understanding of the divine economy – but even here, Mary is still only human and not actually part of the Divine Identity as such. And it is also true that feminine images of God exist in the bible, but they are usually only cited as a defense against feminism and not to encourage any real exploration of the Sacred Feminine.
I think a helpful place to begin looking for the Divine Feminine is in the revealing of the Shekhinah in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the new. While both the Old and New Testaments reveal God as Masculine, Father, Son, King, Warrior etc., the mystical traditions of both Judaism and Christianity have looked to the Holy Spirit to provide the necessary balance to the “male” God. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit is actually female, but that she provides one of the best opportunities to envision the female characteristics of God. God is pure Spirit and therefore without gender. But perhaps a better way to say it is that God is pure Spirit and therefore contains within God’s self both male and female. Since the Father and Son provide such obviously male images, perhaps the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life and Rebirth, the Helper and Companion, the Sustainer, Giver of Gifts and Producer of Fruit, is a fitting model for the Sacred Feminine.
I find it interesting that even biologically the first life-forms where single-celled, neither male nor female. But that as life developed the creator saw fit to split the unity of the “one” and to create from it both male and female. And then later in the biblical story of Adam and Eve we see this same division of one into two. The original Hebrew should be read in a way that sees God creating a genderless “earthling”, who He later separates into male and female. He does this, not by removing a “rib” (which is an often used yet untenable translation) but rather by removing “one side”, as the Hebrew actually denotes.
I see so much potential in this for both men and women – instead of seeing God only as beyond gender, we can see that the very image of God in us includes both the feminine and masculine. That our very sexuality forms an integral part of our spirituality both as individuals and as couples. That just as there is no separation in God, it is the union of male and female that provides the clearest vision of the whole Godhead.
Through the image of the Sacred Feminine woman can see themselves as absolute equals in sharing with men the image of God. Men have easily seen themselves in this light. Maleness and Godhood stand side by side all over the biblical text. Both in sonship and fatherhood, kingship and priest, men have multiple accounts from which to draw divine likeness. All women have been offered is a rib, and a male rib at that. But in the creation account, understood as the division of One Divine Image into equal parts – Male and Female – we have a truly empowering vision for all women, created in the image of God, to embrace their sexuality as divinely inspired.
Likewise men can also benefit from contemplating the Divine Woman. It is through the Sacred Feminine that men can best understand their own passionate desire for that part of creation that carries with it the potential to realize the fullness of the divine image – male and female united as one. In a world plagued by pornography and the sexual exploitation of woman, we could all stand to gain from a re-emphasis on the image of God in woman. We need to move beyond both shameless exposing of the feminine image, on the one hand, and the complete disregard for the beauty and splendor contained in every female, on the other. The answer is not a prudish renouncement of the power of female sexuality – by hiding the image under a burqua or disfiguring it in business suit and tie so that male and female can no longer be distinguished. No – a far harder task it to celebrate without exploiting, to welcome the passion it evokes without turning that passion into promiscuity or licentiousness. We need to recognize that the passionate male response towards woman does not come from sin, or evil, but from a deep desire for transcendence.
And so begins my own journey towards embodied spirituality and the embrace of the Divine and Sacred Feminine.
My friend Sean recently wrote a piece called Heartbreak Empire in which he discusses the biblical narrative as a critique of Empire Building. My comment on his post was getting a little lengthy and so I decided to post it on my own blog instead.
Thanks once again for a thought provoking and well written post Sean.
You reveal a critical aspect of the biblical story – God’s disapproval of Empire – and I fully agree!
In all its’ horrid manifestations Empire is always opposed to the Kingdom of God. I do find myself wondering though whether we at times conflate Empire and Institution when we speak about the church. I think we all know what we mean when we criticize the institutional church. But I also think that sometimes our meaning is lost on those who operate in and minster out of healthy institution. I’ve been feeling led recently to write something of a flipside view of church as institution.
I say this because in a sense institution is simply another word for organization, association, society and the like. In this sense it is nothing but the visible manifestation of people organized around a common goal or mission. Therefore the church is naturally institutional. In fact human beings are naturally institutional since the opposite of institution is generally anarchy or at the very least disorganization.
Institution can be many things, amongst others it can be organic, healthy, holistic, love-centered, people-centered, edifying, self-sacrificing. But it can also be oppressive, power-hungry, corrupt, selfish, profit-centered, static or life-less.
While I also agree that the adoption of Christianity as state religion under Constantine had major implications for the direction the church took in subsequent generation. I also see a bit of a danger in overstating a romanticized version of the Church before Constantine and demonizing most of what followed as though there is no continuity between the church pre-Constantine and the church post-Constantine (Which I don’t think you necessarily do – but I think there is a danger there).
As you know, I’ve often been drawn to these kinds of black and white scenarios. But recently (in part through you and Chris) I’ve been trying to see things a little differently. When I was studying the Eastern Orthodox Church I was surprised to see how much continuity actually exists in the church when viewed through the writings of the Apostolic Church Fathers both before and after Constantine.
Many of the things we think occurred through Constantine were already established in the 1st and 2nd centuries. As you note in your post this is well within the “persecuted church” stage of history. I’m talking about things like, church governance with bishops, priests and deacons serving a special and unique role in the church, the setting out of clear theological boundaries against Gnosticism, Judaism, Ebionism and other heresies (and thereby the justification for continued boundary setting in subsequent centuries), the discussion of the new ‘apostolic writings’ and the stages leading to their acceptance as Holy Scripture at Nicea (the Canon was not officially closed until the Protestant Reformation).
Of course I also agree with you that in the writings I’m referring to these realities are in their infancy (though still clearly accepted by the church) and under Constantine and Rome they gradually became more and more solidified as the Church grew in size (and power) – which led to both good and bad consequences. Many of these growths however were the natural consequence of a growing institution. When things are small they are easier to manage and require less formal structure, but once Christianity had become as big as it did it required greater institutional management – which was neither all good, nor all bad.
I think the ‘Parable of the Wheat and Tares’ speaks powerfully to this reality. We should always remember that under Constantine, under the Roman Popes (even during the Middle Ages) and even in the Western Institutional Church today we have a mixing of Good and Bad that Jesus warns us we are incapable of uprooting. Not that we should say nothing when we see evil (or even just unhelpful) realities in the church, but that we should remember that our vision is limited and sometimes we may think we are seeing Tare when in reality it is Wheat (and vice versa).
I’ve written before on some of my concerns regarding the nature and consequences of the protest that happened during the Reformation. While others had “protested” corruption in the church before they had also remained a part of it and sought to change it from the inside. Jesus taught in the temple and synagogues and lived as a Jew under Judaism – even while criticizing many of the failings that had befallen the nation. Similarly Francis of Assisi, who I know you are quite familiar with, remained within the church and brought about positive changes without creating the schisms of the Protestant reformation. Often schism, even for good reason is due to a power-play on both sides of the split – just look at the East West Schism.
That said, it seems true that the realities of the reformation protest did not allow for change from within and simply could not be contained within the Catholic Church. But it also just goes to show that even within an institution as hierarchical and structured as the Roman Catholic one a Saint like Francis can exist and do mighty things for the Kingdom of God.
I may take up this theme in a future post, an examination of the good that has been done in and through the institutional church. Not as a defense of the institution over against the voices of criticism, but just a reminder to myself and others that the Church as an institution is unavoidable. What we want to avoid is bad institution, corrupt institution and this is what we usually mean when we speak of institutional church. But any time human beings act in an organized manner institution is created in the sense that is forms the skeleton around which we, as the muscles, blood, nerves, and skin, may operate. What we want to aim for is healthy and Spirit-led institution. Institution that is organic and life-giving.
I think we would all agree that the church as institution, both before Constantine and since, has never failed to have positive aspects – even if at times the negatives almost seem to outweigh the positives. It is easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of what the church has done and is doing – and at times this is needed – but in the long run I think we also need to remind ourselves of the good things the church has done and is doing as it shares the Light of Jesus with a world caught in darkness.
But just to reiterate, where I fully agree with you and the main point of your post is that God opposes empire, Jesus opposed empire and ultimately it seems that the meta-narrative of the bible really is a critique of human institution as Empire Building and the incompatibility of Empire with the Kingdom of God.
This is my first attempt to reflect on my experience of belief. I want to try, as far as I can, to avoid discussing theological concepts or models of belief. Reflecting simply on what I have experienced as a believer. In this first post I recall growing up believing in God.
For introducing me to belief in God I must thank my parents. And also the Methodist church I attended for much of my childhood. Even though my parents were not very religious, Christianity was cultural and an expected part of growing up. When I say they were not religious I don’t mean to imply that they were atheists either, but simply secular through lack of engagement with their own beliefs.
We attended a Methodist church for no other reason than that my parents viewed it as an English equivalent to my Father’s N.G. (Dutch Reformed) denomination in which we were baptized as babies. As far as Sunday school is concerned, the thing that stands out most vividly in my imagination is worship, especially a song called “Jehovah Jirah” and another called “Love the Lord your God”. I can remember enjoying these and other songs, and sang many of them outside of the Sunday school setting – which is strange given my complete inaptitude for all other forms of music.
At home, my mom sometimes read bible stories to us and at night, I will forever remember the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. How, as a young boy, I pictured my soul leave my body as I lay down to sleep – hopeful that it had made its’ way to God. And that should anything happen to me while I lay there in my bed, at least my soul was safe in God’s hands.
I also remember the need, sometimes, to pray that prayer, and later the Lord’s Prayer, over and over again. These repetitions arose from concerns that I had become distracted, and had allowed the prayer to be completed on autopilot. This of course seemed problematic since perhaps auto-pilot prayer didn’t have the same power as self-navigated prayer. If this was true then perhaps God hadn’t heard that He needed to “keep my soul”, or “forgive my trespasses”, or “deliver me from evil”. Thankfully I never let the autopilot continue once I had noticed it, and usually I was satisfied that the prayer following the discovery was done with sufficient devotion and care to reach the ears of God.
To this day this habit continues and will often manifest as repeated grace during the first bite of the meal, as I move the focalized prayer at the table to my heart, and there reiterate my gratitude for God’s provision. Likewise, the Lord’s prayer is still at times susceptible to autopilot transmissions, and still I feel the need to bring my focus back to the prayer and repeat whatever was spoken without intention. These early struggles are also discernible in my need to sometimes overemphasize my intention, or meaning, in prayer – in case God misunderstood me and thinks I’ve communicated something unacceptable.
I remember the first time I was hurt by “the church” or rather by members of it. It was the usual bullying that many of us experience at various times when we are young. My experiences unfortunately connected to those who were part of the body of Christ – but also just little boys like myself. And though I no longer connect the hurt to the church, the bullying itself has left deep scars.
I also remember my first unanswered prayer. Oh, there may have been others before this. But this one was different. This was something very personal and something very painful and I wanted deeply for God to change it. I prayed and prayed and prayed, waking each day to find the prayer unanswered. I have no idea how long it went on for or when I finally realized God wasn’t going to answer the prayer. It was an unspoken prayer and nobody knew that I was praying besides me and God. I also have no idea what I thought of God because of this but I do remember the pain of living daily with a reality that I deeply desired to escape and finding no God to take the pain away.
Until I was 16 my outlook on life was narrow and finite. I believed everything I had been taught and had no reason, nor any desire, to believe differently. That was until I read a newspaper report linking God to a part of the brain. Innocently my eyes had fallen onto one of the headlines of the open newspaper lying on the dining-room table. It read something like, ‘Scientists discover God linked to part of the Brain’. In an instant my world changed. Suddenly my clear and solid vision became blurry and unstable. For the first time that I can remember, I had encountered something I had no tools to engage. My childlike faith was never taught about the supposed conflict between science and religion. I had grown up believing that both were true, along with history, geography and everything else. This brief moment would launch me into adolescence in a way that left the rest of puberty looking quiet tame in comparison. In many ways it was the death of my childlike faith.
A quick lament for distance felt
A quiet prayer for Presence
The Wind is blowing where it wills
none can know its’ way.
Sparking faith to meet the Spirit.
Heart ablaze with Love’s sweet kiss.
By Jacques Rothmann
Living in a world of shadows
Looking through a glass so dark
Peering out through veiled eyes
Trying to see the spark
Love is Holy
Love is True
Love alone can see us through
Bumping into half blind travelers
Holding out our hands
Fingers tracing scars of darkness
Wounds of living in these lands
And stop to stare
Sight develops as they care
But even though love guides the way
Rocky roads are here to stay
Straining eyes seek love and peace
Jesus Christ to give release
Holding on to faiths sweet darkness
Hope for light to guide the way.
by Jacques Rothmann
Today I deleted some posts from my blog. It’s the first time since starting the blog that I’ve removed something I previously wrote. There are many things on this blog that I’ve written and then changed my mind about. I haven’t deleted these, but allowed them to stand as developments in consciousness and thought. However, over the last few months I took a radical stance on some issues that I’d prefer not to identify with and would dislike others to encounter should they randomly come across a blog post.
Let me explain. I encountered some radical forms of charismatic and mystical expression a few months ago that left me concerned. This concern grew into fear and the fear gave rise to suspicion and doubt, which was then directed towards ever growing spheres of reality connected to the initial concern. It was one of those “A is bad, A is connected to B therefore B is bad” kind of things that soon became an “everything is bad” perspective. Unfortunately the “everything is bad” perspective just doesn’t sit well with my soul and eventually I had to go back and reconsider whether everything really is bad.
I don’t think it is!
I could be wrong, but I just don’t feel like having an “everything is bad” perspective represented on this blog is helpful.
“Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” Genesis 1:31
I’m keenly aware of God today. Like a warm fire His presence has accompanied me since I left home today. With each breath I feel the joy of Him fill my chest as peace radiates from deep within me. When I stop to feel the fire in my soul it immediately gives rise to praise, and Spirit Songs well up in my gut and like a fountain flow from my throat. It was only during the course of this special morning that I became conscious of the significance of today. And while this makes the experience all the more special, it also reminds me that, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus every day is Good and every day is Holy. God is not beyond us, He is closer than our very breath, and available to all who seek Him. Thank You Jesus.