"the world is empty now"

Our friends are coming tonight for a pre-Easter prayer time. I'm planning to use the dramatic reading Heather wrote five years ago, when we led the Easter service soon after moving here. Here's the beginning, with Mary Magdalene speaking:

My eye is pressed to the crack in the shutters,‭ ‬looking for light.‭ ‬The doors and the windows are locked and barred.‭ ‬What are they so afraid of‭?

The sky is growing gray in the east,‭ ‬I think it is,‭ ‬I know it is‭; ‬soon it will be light enough to go.‭ ‬Shabbat is over now,‭ ‬that terrible Shabbat.‭ ‬Sitting in the dark,‭ ‬not moving,‭ ‬not speaking‭; ‬the shuffle of someone's foot in the darkness,‭ ‬then silence again.‭ ‬Nothing we could bear to say.‭ ‬I sat with the other women around the spices and the smell of the myrrh made me dizzy,‭ ‬and the shadows would shift and float,‭ ‬and I would come to myself again and again.‭ ‬Almost before I had time to think‭ ‬it's not real—it's a nightmare,‭ ‬I was jolted by the knowledge that it's not.‭ ‬It's true.‭ ‬It happened.‭ ‬I was there.

He's dead.

He's dead and the world is not what I thought it was.‭ ‬He's dead,‭ ‬and it wasn't true.‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬oh I know nightmares if anybody does,‭ ‬they walked beside me in the living day,‭ ‬in the time of my demons...‭ ‬I saw water turn to blood under my hands,‭ ‬I believed my touch would kill children‭; ‬I ran from them.‭ ‬There were voices,‭ ‬they were with me when I lay down and when I got up—whispering‭ ‬God hates you...‭ ‬Until he came.‭

He told me they were lies.‭ ‬He said to trust him.‭ ‬He asked me if I wanted them gone.‭ ‬They were flailing and screaming but I shouted over their voices,‭ ‬I shouted yes with all my strength—and he whipped them.‭ ‬Oh,‭ ‬if those men could have seen him then,‭ ‬those soldiers,‭ ‬those priests,‭ ‬if they could have seen the power in his hand,‭ ‬the light.‭ ‬His eyes were like the sun—terrible as an army with banners...‭ ‬And they really thought they could‭ ‬kill—Him‭?

And they did.‭ ‬They did.‭

There is no doubt.‭ ‬I watched him die.‭ ‬I watched his body broken on the tree.‭ ‬His breaths grew shorter‭; ‬farther apart‭; ‬desperate,‭ ‬fast,‭ ‬inhuman gasps,‭ ‬with silence in between.‭ ‬One last one,‭ ‬and then—no more.‭ ‬There is no doubt.

‬He's dead.‭ ‬And the world is empty now.‭ ‬And everything he said‭—

(The whole reading is available here: "Before the Dawn")


When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors...


All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.


Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.


american gods

I just finished reading Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. Well written and pretty interesting. I used to enjoy comic books by him years ago. This story is about a clash between the "old gods" of classic mythology, brought here by immigrants, and the "new gods" of modern American culture. Gaiman obviously finds the old gods more appealing. His new gods are pretty vague and undeveloped as characters. I like one of his main observations, though, that the old gods are dying because they need people to believe in them in order to exist.

Belief seems very important in the book, but this belief is presented as very individualistic (not surprising these days) and so misrepresents the nature and worship of such gods. That probably also explains why Gaiman seems unable to clearly recognize the new gods of our modern culture. It's said again and again that America is "a bad place for gods." But why? And is that really true?

The classic gods of various cultures throughout history were not the gods of individual devotion, but the gods of a particular culture, a particular group of people. They only made sense, and only had power, in the context of that group of people. As I've written before, the power of idols, of false gods, has always been (and still is) "the power of the people." Gaiman presents a eclectic mix of gods from various cultures, those that apparently most appeal to him. But the development and purpose for these gods, and the power of them in the lives of their devotees, cannot be truly understood apart from the culture and people that created them. Perhaps it is true that America is a bad place for the gods of other cultures, the gods immigrants brought with them. But that is because such beliefs cannot be sustained, and the gods cannot maintain their power in human minds, apart from the group of people that spawned them.

Similarly, the "new" American gods are created and wield power as part of our American culture. Gaiman doesn't seem to be able to identify them very well, falling back on "this is a bad place for gods." But, from what I can see, our culture is creating idols just as every human culture has. We depend on them and fear them and serve them just as the ancient pagans did. And our American gods are made by people, consciously or unconsciously, just as the ancient ones were: for a social purpose. Appealing to a deep human need, in a way that will unite and subdue individuals for the sake of social power and security. They may be less supernatural these days (which may be part of the reason Gaiman doesn't find them so interesting) but they are just as transcendent, "something greater than myself." We, the People continues to demand our homage and obedience.



adrift at Orlando International

We're stuck at the airport, our flight delayed by hours. It made me think of Lao Tzu, who it is said wrote the revered Tao Te Ching while waiting two days for transportation along the next leg of his journey. After sitting here two hours I can already identify with these lines:

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don't care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty...

(My favorite passage is here)


We're visiting my parents in Florida for a week, enjoying a little sun.
Here's a family photo, slightly edited. Can you spot where I touched it up?