Grief, madness, and Easter

Holy Saturday, they call it, and here I sit, grieving.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar, Pom left us, the little dog about whom I’d been writing, the gentle spirit over whom I’d been praying, the world’s sweetest creature whom I’d accompanied to Raleigh so that she could have the surgery that would save her. And that fine team of medical professionals had worked their best and saved her, and we’d been so excited and grateful and we’d come home to the mountains to celebrate, and two days later a fast-acting infection set in, and her soft flesh, recovering, her weakened little bodyself couldn’t withstand any more trauma, and so she is gone from us, with the countless many who have left this place we call home, this earth we share, we humans and other animals and bits of creation, the countless many creatures dead and gone, leaving us here to grieve, to take that last step in all true love.

And sometime during this period, on or close to Good Friday, somewhere beyond the small personal space of my grieving Pom, Trump and his generals dropped the super-giant MOAB — the great Mother of All Bombs — obscene name for an obscene invention — on some caves in Afghanistan.  This, we are told, was to kill some ISIS fighters and destroy their stockpiles of weapons.  But also, we know, this show of violence was for the benefit of the crazed leader of North Korea and anybody else who doubts the madness of our man who loves war toys and will not hesitate to lob some your way if he decides you’re one of the bad guys.  “Sad.” “Terrible.” “The Worst,”  he declares, pumping his fist in the air to show what a  big boy bully god he is  over the whole world. “Believe me.”

There is nothing new about the madness playing out on the world stage — crazed, greedy,  men who love themselves most and who hurl obscenities at each other, including bombs — just as there is nothing new about losing our loved ones.  Nothing at all new about human depravity or about the dying of those whom we love.  But still, there are a couple of old lessons that we have a hard time learning:

Madness and evil are human productions which invite — no, which demand — human responses.  We can respond with bombs and obscenities of our own to throw back at the madmen or we can work for their undoing in whatever creative nonviolent resistance movements we can build together.  The effort to dump Trump is, for example, neither violent nor obscene.  It is a moral imperative.

Grief is not a human production.  Grief  is shared by many species.  Many of us believe grief is also  woven into the fabric of the Spirit from whom it emanates, the Sacred Power whose strongest impulse is to beat those bombs into plowshares as surely as she is sad, but ready, to receive into the fullness of her ongoing presence the life and death of one small Pomeranian.

It’s the presence and power of this Sacred Spirit, this irrepressible and reliable Source of Love, that we can count on.  Tomorrow, Easter Day, Christians will celebrate our shared belief that She is unable to be undone by bullies and bombs.  Our grief and our everlasting love for all creatures, including those whom we lose, has the last word.

Pom, not Trump, wins the day.


To whom or what to pray?

Waiting with Pom

Sitting, waiting, lots of waiting, at the NC State Veterinary Hospital, for my next visit with “Pom,” my 11 year old Pomeranian. Pom is here for cardiological care and also surgery to remove a huge, cantaloupe-size – and we hope benign– tumor, which is attached to the outside wall of her chest, an ugly mass of red and purple “stuff” that is literally dragging her down.

Figuring I’d be here for several days, waiting in this room for visits with Pom and consultations with staff, I brought several books and this computer along for company. In keeping with the site and occasion, my first read has been Franz de Waal’s Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (NY: Norton), 2016. From it this quote:

“Yes, we are smart enough to appreciate other species, but it has required the steady hammering of our thick skulls with hundreds of facts that were initially poo-pooed by science. How and why we became less anthropocentric and prejudiced is worth reflecting on while considering all that we have learned in the meantime. In going over these developments, I will inevitably inject my own view, which emphasizes evolutionary continuity at the expense of traditional dualisms. Dualisms between body and mind, human and animal, or reason and emotion, may sound useful, but they seriously distract from the larger picture. (Emphasis mine) Trained as a biologist and ethologist, I have little patience with the paralyzing skepticisms of the past.” (5-6)

And a few pages later:

“Every species deals flexibly with the environment and develops solutions to the problems it poses. Each one does it differently. We had better use the plural to refer to their capacities, therefore, and speak of intelligences and cognitions. This will help us avoid comparing cognition on a single scale modeled after Aristotle’s scala naturae , which runs from God, the angels, and humans at the top, downward to other mammals, birds, fish, insects, and mollusks at the bottom. Comparisons up and down this vast ladder have been a popular pastime of cognitive science [and I would add, of Christian theology] but I cannot think of a single profound insight it has yielded.” (Emphasis mine) (12)

So here I sit — theologian, not ethologist or biologist; Christian theologian, not Jew or Buddhist or Pagan; Christian feminist theologian, unwilling to accept the patriarchal logic that has produced both the Platonic dualisms and the Aristotilian “scala naturae” (natural scale of value) secured as precious foundations of Christian thought.

This profoundly ignorant, ethically damaging, theology has been shaped by ruling class men on this planet and, both in and beyond religion, it continues to provide the philosophical and moral justification for the devaluation and subjugation of women and of all animals other than white privileged ruling class males of the dominant religious tradition and culture..

Indeed, this patriarchal logic – to be honest, this carefully, cunningly cultivated stupidity – undergirds the human insistence that other animals, all other animals, are inferior beasts when compared to human beings.

Waiting during surgery

Sitting here now, during Pom’s surgery, praying for her to come through, praying that the monster mass attached to her chest will be removed once and for all, praying for her recovery and her healing, praying for intuitive wisdom as well as medical know-how to help her heal, praying for some personal strength to come through this little moment of my own small life with my own small dog, yes, I pray with as much sincerity and fervor as I can muster or imagine!

But now really, to whom or what am I praying if not to the Great Deity of Patriarchal Logic, the Almighty Father of all those wretchen Dualisms, He who sits himself at the Top of the scala naturae? If not to Him, to whom or what am I praying today, in this moment?

I pray to the Source of Life, who is also the Spirit weaving her way into and through our dying,.

She is the Energy generating all faith and hope in the extraordinary Power of Love.

She is not really a “she” any more than a “he” — but here and now, in solidarity with women who are routinely overlooked entirely by serious male theologians and philosophers, She steps forward to greet me as a Sister, in this moment a dear little dog and a God/dess in her image!

But how is it that I write to Her, and talk with Her, and walk with Her?

Is she a “person”? No, not really, but yes.

She is not an individual, not a larger than life woman or female in some spiritual form. But at the same time She is terribly personal – an energy infusing my personal space, my personal body-self, my personal psyche, my personal sense of spirituality.

So when I pray, I am “inviting” Her energy into my life – and, in this moment, into the life of my dog – in special healing ways and, insofar as possible, I am opening myself to receive Her energy – and praying that Pom will also be opened to receive Her healing energy in this moment.

For me, “prayer” is a little more “active” – verbally and personally expressive – than “meditation,” which I experience more as a “letting go” of personal expression, words, images, and to some degree consciousness itself. This may be a grossly inaccurate understanding of meditation! I want to discuss this with Jan when we see each other in May.

I experience prayer and meditation as kindred spiritual practices – but I’m more confident in my ability to pray than to meditate.

Not as a scholar of spiritual practices, but rather simply as a human being who prays regularly and irregularly and meditates from time to time, I am certain that the best — most creative, effective, empowering — traditions of prayer and meditation assume non-dualistic and non-hierarchical experiences of whatever is most fully Sacred.  As a Christian, this places me alongside the mystics who, more often than not, have been dismissed as crazy, heretical, or evil by the standard bearers of Christian orthodoxy — charges to which the younger folk would respond with a shrug – and an indifferent, “whatever.”

Indeed, whatever.  I completely agree with Franz de Waal’s cryptic indictment of Aristotle’s logic of hierarchal value, when he says: “I cannot think of a single profound insight it has yielded.”

 Waiting after surgery

Let it be so – that little Pom can be on her way home, to romp with Bailey, snuggle with Sue and me, prance through the woods, observe farm life among horses and kitties and spiders and snakes, eat chicken and yummy snacks, and touch everybody who knows her with a unique and special quality of a  gentleness that heals.

And dear sister Sophia, may I offer the gentleness our Pom deserves in return. Touch me with wisdom to know how to be present in ways that matter most to Pom, Bailey, Feather, the other horses, the kitties – and, lest I forget, the people as well.

Thank you, o God, for the blessing of Shelly Pom Pom!  And thank you, Pom, for the blessing of God!

May it be so.

Have a peaceful first night in recovery, my sweet Pom.