Stonewall Anniversary: Honoring One True Man

June 28, 2014

Today I reblog this piece that I wrote last November to honor my friend Jim.  His poem about marching in New York’s Gay Pride Parade in 1987 still carries the emotion evoked by Stonewall.

Ms. Beatrice

We arrived in Berkeley in September 1978, young theology students, eager to change the world.  I was, anyway.  Jim wanted to play.  He was so full of life and passion for all things beautiful.  Years later he would admit to being more immature than anything at that time.  So was I.

A month later all hell broke loose.  Harvey Milk was murdered across the Bay, and Jim’s life was never the same.  Along with several other priests in our program he claimed his identity and joined the march for gay rights in San Francisco.  The intensity of his rage frightened me for a long time, until he found peace and I found courage.  We left Berkeley, and our former selves, and continued 32 years of friendship.

Not likely to be branded as a mystic by strangers, Jim was, nevertheless, an extroverted mystic extraordinaire.  He was like King David, life spilling over in love and sin; joined at the hip to the God he so passionately loved.  At age thirty- six he wrote an essay entitled, “My Life in the Good God balloon.”  He described how he pushed, pulled and recoiled off the balloon’s boundaries, always moving closer to the center.  He said that the shape is God, and that his destiny was to always move to the limits of the shape.  He felt called to always love the shape, himself, the testing and pushing, and his fellow testers.  I am deeply grateful to live in that balloon with him and with our soul-sister Cynthia, in a new way now that Jim has died.  The balloon has expanded to massive dimensions!

Blinded by stereotypical concepts of mystics, strangers would not have readily seen the deep waters of Carmelite mysticism running through Jim.  They expected, instead, to see prayer beads, and lowered eyes.  With Jim, I got his alter-ego, Beatrice, an elephant gallivanting in a dazzling tutu, shouting to me, “Live, Reet, Live!”  I miss Jim’s irreverent humor, and even the tirades he rained down on me when fear convinced me to stand down in the face of injustice.  To honor his courage and expansive love, I stand for the rights of all those who experience injustice because of their sexual identity.  Not because it’s politically correct but because it’s right.  Here is the poem he wrote on the occasion of the Gay Pride Parade in New York in 1987.  Perhaps you too will re-frame your portrait of a mystic:

balloons

Corpus Christi: New York “87”

Sunny Sunday in late June.
Thousands march.
Joyous and free.
I joined.

Searchers and seekers
Walking with dignity and pride.
Approaching the Cathedral:
A contradiction!

Blue barricades, blue flashing lights
On cop cars and paddy wagons;
Blue shirted police arm to arm
Protecting the Cathedral.

A Crucifixion?
The front steps blocked by
A blue Army in blue berets
(looking psychotic)
Shaking rosaries, thumping Bibles
Yelling “Sinners Sinners” as we passed by.

“Shame, shame, shame,” we murmured
Softly in reply.
I looked for Jesus beyond the barricades.
Not there!
“Thank God,” I said.

At 3 o’clock the parade stopped.
Silence
A city fell silent.
Bells tolled.

From the Village up Fifth Avenue.
Coming closer and closer
Passing over us
Until the whole sky was filled with
Colored balloons.

My heart burned within,
I remembered all who died of AIDS.
Gazing at the heavens,
I watched a great loving God
Gather balloons, holding them high
In God’s bright blue sky
Above the blue baracades, blue lights
Blue armies & blue shirted cops.

My God gathered these children,
Sons & daughters into a peace-filled
Eternal embrace.

I wept.
Turning, I saw two older women,
Pioneers and witnesses of the movement,
Weeping and holding each other as they
Too gazed upward.

EASTER and ASCENSION.
CHRIST HAD COME AGAIN.  GLORY TO GOD!
Peace to you and me!
Birthday

Jim's signature

“What a Wonderful World”

Pretty in Pink

 

“What A Wonderful World”

I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.I see skies of blue,
And clouds of white.
The bright blessed day,
The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying,
“I love you”.I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Oh yeah.

Louie Armstrong
Louie has been in my head for a week.  Every day I wake up singing it.  I go to bed singing it.  It’s a sign to me that I should make you sing it too.

Yom Ha Shoah: Holocaust Day of Remembrance

 

YomHaShoah SIX CANDLES

  Yom HaShoah

 

“You just keep living until your are alive again,” said a character in last Sunday’s BBC episode of “Call the Midwife.”  The words stir me to write on this eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Survivors, their families, indeed, the whole Jewish community endure, and even thrive, with a resilience I can hardly even dream of mustering.  I repent and grieve for the evil perpetrated against Jews and others in the Holocaust.  I celebrate their resilience, born from a deep well of faith.

Inaugurated in Israel in 1953, Holocaust Remembrance Day is ritualized differently throughout the world.  Common threads are the lighting of six memorial candles to represent the approximately six million victims.  The Mourners’ Kaddish is often recited to show that despite their loss, Jews still praise G-d.  At the memorial ritual in Auschwitz, school children participate in “The March of the Living,” which is a profound defiance of the Death Marches to the crematoriums.  I am reminded of the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, who calls for a “prophetic imagination” which re-appropriates acts of injustice as positive acts of life- a way of living until we are alive again.

One Sunday I came to Hebrew class at Temple Beth El- always the only Christian student- this day, the only student.  My teacher, whose relatives did not survive the holocaust, took the opportunity to teach me some of the more obscure facts about anti-Semitism.  She said with searing pain, that in the Spanish Inquisition Jews were denied the right to recite Kaddish.  The refrain that G-d will “uproot foreign worship from the earth,” threatened the power of Christianity, I presume.

As I imagine the youth reciting Kaddish on their March of Life today at Auschwitz, I rejoice in the hope their action evokes.  In them, their ancestors live on.  Paul Celan’s poem, “Death Fugue,” draws us inside life in a death camp.  The images are shattering, but we must look.  We must remember.  After embracing the horrifying reality, I return to celebration of the resilience of a people who still chooses life.  L’Chaim!

 

Death Fugue
by Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are
flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a
grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at
sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents
he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair
Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes
there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you
others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his
eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play
on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you
at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master
from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then
as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one
lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink
and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in
the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is
a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Translated by Michael Hamburger

Clip Art Credits:  http://free-bitsela.com/

Dawn

Lynn Schooler DAWN

 

DAWN

Flecks of sunglow
Penetrate
The long-chilled backbone of
My soul,
Thawing teardrops caught
In transit.

Spirit-inspired dawn spawns
Hope
Drawn from the integrity of
Living winter well.

© rita h kowats Spring 2014

 

Photo Credit:  https://www.facebook.com/lynn.schooler

I am grateful to Lynn Schooler for permission to use this exquisite photo experience of today’s dawn in Juneau Alaska.  You have a rich experience awaiting you at his facebook page.  Thank you, Lynn.

Feather and Shadow

hope is a thing with feathers

Canada geese cast
Quilt-like shadows
On the now-rumpled lake,
Announcing Autumn’s Advent.

My soul
Flys with the geese,
Her feathers borne
On the breath of God
Rescued for the moment
From shadows of
War.  Hate.  Greed.

Alleluia!

This moment of ecstasy was shattered by the loud, strident voices of three homeless men who arrived at the lake eager to party.  Imagine, life getting in the way of spiritual revelry!  All efforts to keep my feathers flying failed, so I continued on my walk.  Once disappointment faded, I realized that this is life: feather and shadow.  I resolved to use these gifted moments of flight to prepare for battle with the shadows of injustice.

Thanks to my soul-sisters, Emily Dickinson and Hildegard of Bingen, for the loan of their sacred images of hope and feather.