In the introduction to Buddha, Deepak Chopra remarks that he had become much closer to Guatama than he was before the writing. I took that on face value, and gained great insight from the book. But when he followed up with Jesus, I could not bring myself to read the book. I mean, really, who was he to explain my avatar to me?
So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Sera Beak’s Red, Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story. Indeed, the first half of the book has manifested my concerns. Sera projects the myth of feminine victimization onto Christianity, perhaps not being aware that the very power that she celebrates in female erotic experience is that prison that men were trying to cast off through the celebration of a masculine god. Has the pendulum swung too far the other way? I would agree with that argument, but the question then remains: What kind of balance should we be seeking?
Sera divides her book into two parts, the dividing line being her relationship with a spiritual guide named Marion Woodman. The first part of the book charts her exploration of female spirituality and divine manifestations. From her academic study, she reports that Christian female mystics often reported a deep erotic element in their relationship with Christ. (I asked a nun once whether that was why they were called “Brides of Christ”, and she retorted “We don’t say that any more.”) But Sera goes further than that, identifying herself with the Hindu goddess Kali. From that relationship, Sera celebrates a feminine erotic power that goes far beyond sexuality, bringing healing to those that she pours it out upon.
I will not criticize Sera’s celebration, because in many ways I recognize that she is right. While I see the Whore of Revelation as a manifestation of primitive and destructive sexual urges that originated in ancient eras predating humanity (See the opening chapter of Conrad’s White Fang for elaboration), I understand that sex is a gift that men and women can use to bring love into the world. It cannot be suppressed, and so it must be sacralized. For that reason, there is much to honor in Sera’s writing. Just as the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Mormon angel are ancient gods that chose to survive through Christianizing themselves, so Kali attests that “red and hot” erotic experience is an expression of love for humanity.
But it is here that Sera’s myth of feminine victimization becomes a true liability. Human spiritual experience is terribly complex – look at the Hebrews as they struggle against the primitive will to destroy that is manifested in their God. But what Christ, the final manifestation of our exploration of “Good and Evil”, tells us about the journey is that it is our job to remake both earth and heaven. It isn’t all about us – spirits have their issues as well. That they are far more ancient than us means that they can justify, through the gifts they bring, the sense that we should consider it an honor to participate in their manifestation. But it is not an honor – it comes with the responsibility to push back when they express themselves in destructive ways, and so to force them to evolve.
There are incredibly beautiful and erotic passages in Revelation that inform that process. Sera, as a devotee of Elaine Pagels, does not remark upon them. I have celebrated them elsewhere, but this one deserves to be reiterated: it is the scene encountered by John as he enters the hall of the Lord:
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever.
The “twenty-four elders” are the mightiest and proudest angels of the realm. It is only the celebration of the one on the throne (Unconditional Love, as John tells us elsewhere) by the creatures living on Earth that forces them to lay down their crowns and submit to love’s authority. Sera should not see herself as a protégé of Kali, but as Kali’s mediator – one of a number of human filters that discipline Kali’s expression.
From my understanding of Christianity, this is the wisdom I would offer to Sera: the erotic power of women is the power to bind spirit to matter. That power is sacralized when it is used to bind love to the world around us. I see this view fortified through a throw-away line from the Book of Daniel. In predicting the reign of kings, it is said:
He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.
The “one desired” being Christ. The reason that female mystics in the Christian tradition have an erotic response to Christ is because it only through that intimacy that they can use the power of their wombs to bind to the world the love that was manifested in him.
As Sera reports, that does not occur only through sex, and I have often found myself in recent years beating away (in the wee hours of the morning) sexual attentions from young women by explaining to them that this is something that they can express even while just walking in nature. Sera indeed heralds this power as a critical part of saving the world from the problems that we have created in it.
I hope for further examination of this process in the second half of the book. You see, in buying the book, then, I was hoping that Sera would reveal Mystery so that I could negotiate with this hidden figure. I may have to do that in person at some point.