I was born in the United States, but never went to church on Easter. The circumstances hadnt appeared and I wasnt ready. past Saturday I flew out to Lawrence, Kansas to be with my good friend Lorna for her birthday, for Easter, and for the allies program.
Lorna and I met in 1988 over dog shit. Her dog Boogie kept shitting in front of my back door at Patchin Place. At last, one day I scooped up the shit with a trowel, knocked on Lornas back door, and said, I believe this belongs to your dog. That looks like Boogie! Lorna agreed, and with that, we became friends.
Lorna, a working shaman, often made journeys to Perú. I had had ten car accidents and was not in good health. Lorna convinced me to go on two shamanic journeys with her to the Amazon. We then did ceremonies in the States together, combining story and shamanic journey, on the Pumagira (the wild woman), the Black Madonna, Death and Rebirth. Now, Lorna, who has transformed the lives of hundreds of people, is fighting the cancer struggle.
She is staying with her sister in Kansas; and allies visit each week for spiritual sustenance. It is a blessing to be with Lorna. Her eyes twinkle with life. She is covered with tumors, radiant, wracked with pain, putting on eye make–up, and so glad to be living.
The evening I arrived, her sister Kay said they were going to church in the morning. I had wanted to go to church with Lorna, but shes too weak. For years, Lorna has invited me to spend Christmas and/or Easter with her at her home in New York, but Ive always resisted. Residual feelings of resentment about traditions coming from a church who had sought out the death of my people for centuries lived unquestioned inside me. But having worked for six years on the Hebrew texts for Awakening the Soul, and seeing the discrepancy between the texts and the Jewish institutions — between the texts and the Israeli government — have shifted my righteous feelings of resentment and anger. At this time with Lorna so ill, I wanted to go to church.
Kay and her husband go to a Methodist Church. As we pulled up to their Church, I saw there was an Episcopalian Church across the way. I have another friend, Joan Bodger, who is recovering from colon cancer in Toronto [Ontario, Canada]. Once I went with her to her Episcopalian church. This meant a lot to her.
The service hadnt begun yet at the Methodist Church, so I asked Kay to save me a seat and said Id be back. I wanted to say a prayer for Joan.
Who greeted me at the door to the Episcopalian church but a young man with dark curly hair, dark eyes, and a nose straight from the Upper West Side? He wanted to usher me to a seat, but I asked to stand in the back. He was solicitous and pleasant. I looked about. Blond hair everywhere. I wondered if he knew he was from Jewish stock? Had he consciously converted, or had the family been hidden converts for years? And what made me so absolutely certain this sweet Episcopalian usher was of Jewish blood?
It was a beautiful church. Long lit white candles extended the length of the aisle. A high arched polished wooden ceiling. Beautiful stained glass windows on all sides. A chorus accompanied by live trumpets and trombones. There was a freshness and excitement in the air. Then a woman went up onto the pulpit and read from the Gospel of Luke: On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb taking the spices they had prepared.
My ears perked up. Lorna, who always smells of cinnamon and cloves, would love this. Were the women bringing spices or oils? And then the woman reading at the pulpit gave their names: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James. How nice to hear their names read. Then, my heart just broke open. How very very nice to see a woman up there on the pulpit. I was filled with joy. In front of me a mother had her arms around her son who was dressed in shorts. People were wearing all kinds of clothes from Easter bonnets to shorts, but what I felt is what I was always touched by in my synagogue: the desire of parents to give their children a spiritual heritage, to pass on spiritual values. So, as I have done so many times in my synagogue, I wept.
The priest then spoke of Jesus as being a trickster. After all, the priest said, there was a stone in front of the tomb, how did Jesus move it? Mary was confounded. Jesus confounded us, he said. Jesus continues to confound us if we let him. The bells outside were tolling. Time to cross the street.
The inside of the Methodist church was more horizontal, more democratic, earthier, plainer. My soul felt smaller. We dutifully sang the hymns that I remember singing all though public school and at camp in Interlochen, Michigan. The organ played. Then, to my amusement, one of the clergy got up and said, Last night at the Episcopalian church I heard they were ringing the bells and singing loud enough to wake the dead. We dont want the Episcopalians to outdo us. We have the A word [Amén]. We can all sing on the word that begins and ends on A. You know that word. People did sing out on the A word, but not once did anyone shout out or call with spirit.
The parson read from one of the gospels but didnt mention the womens names. She just said the women. I was crushed. I wanted to hear their names called out. As we were leaving, I went up to her and said, Thank you for your service. Do you know the names of the women who went to find Jesus? She said, No, theyre just called the women. I said, I think three of their names are given. It would be wonderful next Easter to hear their names. She looked a bit confounded. What was I suggesting? I said, Its a pleasure to hear their names. She nodded and I wasnt sure it meant well, thats a thought or thats all the time you have left before the next person who is waiting to see me. To be as tricky as Jesus, thats a gift. The Episcopalian priest had said, Jesus has arisen. And we will all rise. We are all stars.
I thought of the Sumerian story of Inanna. She was the morning and evening star (whom we call the planet Venus), the daughter of the Moon God, who descended to Earth. She had opened up communications in all three worlds. When she went to the Underworld, for three days and three nights, she opened up the gift of compassion for the One in Grief. The Hebrews had disregarded her story and created another story, the story of liberation and freedom. But certain human qualities, although repressed for centuries, re–emerge. The Christian story of a child of God descending from heaven to earth to make contact with humans and bring compassion re-emerges two thousand years after the Sumerian story — this time in male garb. Its a good story, with good news; it just depends on how people interpret it, how the ritual is manifested, as well as how the later institutions manipulate the story to mold their political power.
When I got home, Lorna was sitting up. I told her about my church experiences. She had listened to the services on the radio, but she had tears in her eyes as she said to me, I am thirsting, thirsting for the Spirit.
Lorna felt strong enough to guide a shamanic ceremony on Easter night at her niece Prairies house. Prairie built a fire in her backyard. We drummed. Prairie blew the pipe in the six directions. Then, Lorna slowly stood up and with amazing poetry and power called on the Six Directions. Years and years of sharing fire ceremonies returned to me. I remembered her singing, her dancing in Perú, her comforting and guiding others. One by one, we each went up to the fire. Prairie came with the intention of Awareness, her partner, Ian, asked for Discipline, Kays sister asked for Rebirth, Lorna asked for the Shaman and qualified it by saying, If at this time death comes, it will not be a failure. The only failure will be not being conscious in the transition.
I asked for an Open Heart.
April 16, 2001.
N.B.: Joan Bodger died on July 4th, 2002. Lorna Roberts died on September 11th, 2001.