“The Irresistible Regeneration of Peace” – oil on canvas painted by Rob Schouten. © Rob Schouten www.robschoutengallery.com
In these days away from our sanctuaries and parish halls, we are beginning to see each other differently. We are welcoming light as Spring springs forth. We are becoming more comfortable with uncertainty – muscles that only grow with use. We are finding new icons. We are noticing new spiritual leaders. We are even developing new DIY rituals. Theologians are writing about women and men using house-wine and fresh bread for unsanctioned living-room Eucharists in isolation. After centuries of waiting for Holy men and women to lead us, we are accessing our inner-mystic every bit as often as our inner-child.
The people who will emerge from this planetary crisis thriving will be those whose spiritual depth and emotional sobriety greet adversity as a teacher and death as an inevitability. Loud children will teach fathers patience. Sullen husbands will teach wives gentleness. Exhausted wives will teach husbands and children responsibility. And the visual and physical absence of our self- quarantined Christian clergy, Buddhist Sangha, Jewish Rabbis, and Muslim mullah may teach all of us that we all have more spiritual awareness inside us than that of which we had previously been aware or accessed. After all, when this is all over, there will not just be fewer restaurants.
As Brother David Steindl-Rast has said, “The mystic is not a special human being. Every human being is a special kind of mystic.”
In looking for an image of spiritual authenticity in a time of too many images, I noticed this painting by my new friend Rob Schouten that sits is in a frame on my letter-desk and is the only art I own from Whidbey Island. It has been my meditation icon leading up to Easter.
The artist explains: (excerpted)
“The lit day-bed acts as an altar, sitting as it does over the dirt-floor ruins of buildings and walls near a flowing river, across from which sits the empty globe-stand. The city ruins near her foot and also the globe-stand – both represent outmoded, limiting, linear, patriarchal views of the world while the young buck on the far left under the Tree of Life represents immature masculine energy at rest, but curious. Her hand’s henna tattoo, held in blessing, shows among other symbols, an Icelandic rune for “irresistibility” – a reminder that what we reach for and release have a powerful call. Her foot is poised in readiness to step off and help others – the only result of real spiritual transformation. The rose motif on some pillows represents the co-mingling of spirit and matter in incarnation. An owl is a symbol of wisdom-sight in darkness. The female priest, having taken the globe from its holder on the earth-floor, has opened it to release light and peace into the shadow-lands until the sunlight reaches the valley of the shadow.”
When I meditate on this beautiful piece of art during our Corona Easter, I can’t take my eyes off her crown of red hair – so beautiful and glistening with the musky oils of real life. One also notices her long neck, so often used in Christian Iconography to symbolize wisdom. The globe she has opened has let loose a light extant in her presence, but pre-extant in the natural room next door, beyond the liminal arch.
We have been using the word “corona” to define a virus. Etymologically, its ancient root as a noun came from the mid-1600s when the Latin “corona” meant “crown.” The virus we now know as coronavirus was so named three centuries later in the mid-1960s for the spikes protruding from the cell’s membranes like the tines of a crown or like the round corona of the sun.
What intuition had her reach for and open the globe? What welcomed the young stag to rest? What destroyed the churches and churchyard-walls I see in ruins beneath her foot? What if our clergy stopped filming themselves in empty sanctuaries with iPhone-tripods and simply lay down on our altar s to rest in the light of the rising Son?
What new thing is happening? Will men and women see that the Holy might not only be in our churches beneath human masks of our Sunday-best clothes, small-talk, and hard-polite smiles, but also in our homes behind real and soft cloth masks? What will happen when people get used to Sunday mornings laughing over happy-face-pancakes with family members or meeting friends for picnics in forests and beaches like I will do Easter Day here on Whidbey Island?
Spirituality is about being alive, not being pious. It is about light, not books. It is about love, not rules. It is about humor, not scolding. It is about pathways between houses, not hallways between diocesan offices.
Perhaps, as Ram Dass has said, we will stop treating everyone as if they are carrying infections of virus, idea, politics, race or religion; and instead, greet everyone and everything as if they are a Teacher in a playful disguise.
Charles LaFond is an Episcopal priest, author, speaker, potter, and fundraiser living on the cliffs of an island in the Salish Sea. He writes The Daily Sip; which is neither.