A few years back after the local UU speaker’s forum, I was waylaid by an out-of-area couple in the cool of the spring evening. The husband explained that they were trying to relocate back to the Thousand Oaks area, but his wife jumped in to speak of her commitment to caring for the son that had been disabled in the Gulf War. She mourned that sometimes it was so hard to be strong in her faith, that it felt at times as if the window was closing on her.
These impulses come over me at times: I formed a ball before my heart with my hands, then shifted them to the right and opened them higher and lower. “Here it is.”
She paused, hand held against her breast, and offered “Thank-you.” And they looked at each other and asked, “When does Jesus return?”
“When enough of us say ‘Yes, we understand now. We are ready to love as you did. Come to us, right here, right now.’”
These are the closing lines of my exegetical book, The Soul Comes First. The most significant contribution of that work is to explain the Book of Revelation (not interpret, but explain). What is left unanswered still is the why. Why does he have to come again? Why wasn’t once enough?
One part of the answer is that we have free will. I have addressed this before: the true evil of “sin” is that it disposes us to believe that we deserve our suffering. We’re like the judges of the Darwin awards that celebrate those that have committed such incredibly stupid acts that they’ve provided the rest of us the benefit of removing themselves from the gene pool.
To recognize our “sin” is to convince ourselves that we must earn our healing. In Jesus’s era, that was transacted through the priesthood using a system of indulgences based upon blood sacrifice. Jesus came and said “Well, enough of that bullshit. I will be the last sacrifice, and for my sacrifice you will be given forgiveness for your sins.” Now, looking back to Cain and considering the eternal nature of the Divine, obviously Jesus was not changing policy. He was simply trying to get us to stop beating ourselves up so that we could be healed.
In a recent discussion, I asserted that the authority of Jesus over heaven and earth is rooted in the irresistible admiration that comes with his perception of the possibility of our wholeness. This is what gives him the ability to heal the world: the fact that it comes not with scorn, but a joyous “Good job!”, much as that offered by the father to the prodigal son. “You were lost to me, but – Lo! – you have shed your burdens and now are returned!”
So in this framework, Jesus comes again to deliver us the promise of healing that can only be received when we stop believing that we don’t deserve it.
But there’s more.
In the end-times prophesy of Daniel and Revelation, we have the appearance of three corrupted beasts. The first of these in Revelation famously bears the number ‘666.’ This was first explained to me as a numerological reference to the days of Creation, with the conclusion that the beast was man. But that is to make too much of ourselves: it was not only man created on the sixth day, but all of the mammals.
Carrying this back to Daniel, it becomes clear that the beast (the fourth to appear in the dream) is the collective spirit of the mammals. In Eden, human intelligence was protected by the presence of God, but the Fall forced us out into the world to struggle with all the primitive urges that preceded us. Daniel sees this only abstractly: the beast bears teeth and claws of iron that destroy life. These represent the machines that we use to reorder the earth. We use them as predators, not attempting to integrate ourselves with other life, but exploiting it for our gratification.
In Revelation the personality of the beast is resolved in more detail. There are two of them, the second a red beast ridden by the feminine avatar called “MYSTERY.” So what does this tell us about the second coming? The masculine expressions of the primitive urges, represented by the first beast of Revelation, are the hunt and sacrifice. Jesus confronted and mastered them on the cross. The feminine expressions of the primitive urges are intercourse (the mingling of personalities through sex) and maternity. What about this aspect of human nature? When does that submit to Christ?
I feel this confrontation in my own life like a wall around my soul. It comes to the fore when I walk into a store and the counter girl pushes her breasts up at me, or when a pastor looks at me, interrupting my meditation on the cross to suggest that I am sexually harassing the members of his congregation. It has been the focus of so much conflict in my life, from the Sterling Men’s group that tried to force me to stay in my marriage, into the family law system, and in the workplace where brilliant women at home find that I disrupt their influence over the men at work. It is a wall rebuilt every night when I wake up at the witching hour with sex crawling all over my body.
How to resolve this problem, the problem of “MYSTERY,” the influence that reaches into our souls from a distance and leaves us wondering “Why did I do that?” Is the image of Christ in confrontation with this influence that of the rock star with a bevy of beauties moaning in the audience? Or is it the image of the celibate, relinquishing all experience of sexuality?
My two fiction books, Ma and Golem, are meditations on this problem. Ma begins with two dysfunctional erotic encounters – one a casual hook-up and the other a long-term political bonding – and evolves as a slow-moving train wreck with the men struggling against the consequences of their failure to honor their women. Golem elaborates with a truly amazing sexual explosion between Corin and Leelay, both introduced in Ma, that arises as an expression of their service to the survival of Life. And it confronts us with an encounter between the Goddess Zenica (Corin’s mother) as she uses sex to break the will of an old adversary to accomplish the end of her re-incarnation. In relating the events to Corin, she simply offers “I did what I had to do.”
Is that where it ends: sex as a tool?
Revelation does offer us an image [NIV Rev 22:1-2]:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
To me, this imagery is incredibly sexual. And I think that is as it should be: there is no part of our nature that cannot be sacralized, that was not given to us for the purpose of healing ourselves and this reality of corruption by selfishness.
I believe that intercourse must be brought into the service of Christ. So this means that it should be a means of bringing Christ into our lives, of pouring the love that we receive from him out over each other. My interpretation of my experience in church is that the opposite has happened: we take sex as the center of our intimate relations, and when Christ enters into that he is perceived as a threat. Or for sexually active single women, the presence of Christ in a man is interpreted as an opportunity to have really great intercourse – that is, to receive a love that would be given to them directly by the source if only they would ask for it.
As long as this persists, we are going to continue to struggle. My question is whether this is really the business of Christ. Eve was sent to Adam as his help-mate. Jesus confronted the masculine pathologies on the cross. Is it really possible for him to do the same work on the feminine side? My sense is that the end game would be far less painful if women stood up to take ownership of their problems.