Monday, July 16, 2007

Naked for a Sign

This one's not part of my spiritual journey series, though it reflects on it to some extent...

Yesterday, in meeting for worship, one of our members described having had pointed out to her, on a recent tour of Salem, Massachusetts, the site where a Puritan-era Quaker had chosen to "go naked for a sign"--as a testimony against Puritanism, presumably. That member then asked us, in a quiet, powerful voice, how we make our lives speak.

After settling back into worship, a series of related messages came through. I'll report only on those that spoke to me strongly:

In our modern world, how do we choose words to make ourselves "naked" and vulnerable to one another, and how do we choose words to separate us from one another, to hide us, and to make us safe?

If we must have a name for ourselves as a people, why not "pacifists"?

The practice of "going naked for a sign" goes back to Isaiah, Ch. 20, where Isaiah was directed to do so by God, as a sign not to rely on the things of mankind, but only on God.

Names are like clothes.

And finally, my mind kept running back to a thought I'd been having ever since I learned of the disruption by right-wing Christians of the Senate chamber, because a Hindu had delivered the opening prayer.

The Hindu priest, Rajan Zed, gave this prayer:
Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental Glory of the Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of the Heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds.

Lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening. May no obstacle arise between us.

May the Senators strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world, performing their duties with the welfare of others always in mind, because by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. May they work carefully and wisely, guided by compassion and without thought for themselves.

United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be as one, that you may long dwell in unity and concord.

The reason given for the disruption was that the Senate chamber "was violated by a false Hindu god," through Zed's prayer.

Oh, really? The God that "is inside the heart of the Earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of the Heaven," is a false God? Not one that Christians would recognize? Because, you see, that God sounds an awful lot like the one the Christians and other Quakers I sit with in worship on First Days appear to love. That God sounds an awful lot like what I experience within Quaker worship myself, and have experienced in moments of deep communion with the Lady. What, precisely, makes this God a false one?

Ah. No name brand. This one does not come clothed in the familiar words, "Jesus," and "God" (said in unaccented American English).

It occurs to me that "God"--if, by this, we mean the supreme uniting spirit of the universe, as most Christians seem to--is very unlikely ever to have awakened one morning and said to Herself, "Hey--I'm suddenly inspired to name myself. I'll begin with a sound that, once I create/give birth to humans, will become their letter 'G'... add a sound that their tongues will render 'ahw', and finally add a sort of a stop sound, a dental for their as-yet-undesigned teeth to make... I know! A letter 'D' sound. G-O-D! That's me! Name me in any language but good ol' American English, and you're getting it wrong. 'Allah,' will be wrong, 'Sophia,' will be wrong, 'Dryghten', will be wrong, 'Bramah' will be wrong..."

Where did this name brand language for deity come from? What nonsense to suppose mere labels, whether Jesus or God or Kumquat-in-the-Sky, contain the essence of so great a spirit. What nonsense to weigh the mere fact of Hindu ideas and nomenclature against the sentiment given in Zed's prayer, and, based on the clothes we humans impose upon our spirits, declare Zed's God "false."

It's not just nonsense, I've been thinking. It's idolatry. Not the real, juicy, bowing down before stones and trees sort of idolatry which, as a Pagan, I can utterly respect. Nope, it's the kind even I, a heathen to the bone, am against: relying on the things of mankind rather than those of God. It is clinging to the reassuring and deceiving clothing of names, when God has instructed us to "go naked for a sign."

Here's the reflection on my spiritual journey series, and I promise I will keep it brief: I have been told that I'm brave for being so candid in sharing my spiritual journey here. I am trying to be as truthful and open as I can, though some of what I write is not, I know, very flattering to me.

I'm trying, I think, to trust in the things of Spirit. To the extent that I am able, I'm trying, perhaps, to go naked for a sign.

Just perhaps.


Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

One other thing... I'm remembering one of the things my Trad teacher says over and over again, when she teaches the Craft: "The best symbol of a thing is the thing itself."

I think what I'm trying to say here is how essential it is that we not allow symbols to come between ourselves and "the thing itself," when we are discussing matters of Spirit.

R. Scot Miller said...

I would be more apt toward concern over a Senate being violated by the a false prophet Dick Cheney! Sorry, I couldn't resist.

KateGladstone said...

"unaccented American English" --

Please help me out here. I thought I spoke the language fairly well, but I've trouble understanding why you'd use the word "unaccented" to describe a particular accent, such as American. To me, describing an American (or UK, or any other) accent as "unaccented" seems as ethnocentric as calling a particular language "the human language." Do you see it differently? Or did you have some particular reason for calling one particular American accent (one and only one, out of all the hundreds and thousands of accents of English in America and elsewhere) somehow "not-an-accent"?

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Kate, you caught me in a slip. Yes, all accents are an accents, and all dialects are dialects, and there is no one, God-approved correct language. (Which I think was what I was trying to say. Was I that confusing, that my slip kept the message from coming through? Could be. After all, all writers are imperfect writers.)

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