After I finish speaking, the Storyteller sits in silence for so long that I begin to feel uncomfortable. Has the long tale of my discovery of the feminist theologians been inappropriate? Perhaps it is taking us in a different direction from what she intended.
To my surprise, the Storyteller asks, What more have you learned from the feminist theologians?
The words pour from me as though they’d been waiting for her question. I learned that I’d been living a spiritual life second-hand, that I’d been taught by men, some of them holy, most well-meaning, how to be a good man. I’d been warned about the dangers of pride, lust, anger, none of which were my most serious struggles. I had learned to distrust love, to be cautious with emotion, to value thought over feeling. I’d learned to distrust my desires, my body, my sexuality, all of which, I’d been warned, would lead me astray, away from God. I learned to embrace an ideal of perfection, though I never succeeded in living it out.
One day a young priest came to the Galilee Centre to give a talk on feminine spirituality. From him, I learned that in the classic dualities of Greek thought: spirit/matter, sky/earth, thought/ feeling, supernatural/natural, mind/body, spirituality/sexuality, man/woman, there is a perceived hierarchy. Spirit, sky, thought, the supernatural, mind, spirituality, man are viewed as separate from, superior to, matter, earth, feeling, nature, body, sexuality and woman. This is a worldview where God is separate from creation, from humanity. To find this God, we must soar above the earth..
I learned that to recover a sense of the sacredness of the feminine would be to recover as well a sense of the sacredness of the earth, of the body, of our feelings, of our sexuality. Listening to the wisdom of that young man, I discovered that not all feminist theologians are women.
That day, I began a journey of reclaiming what had been lost, what I had lost. I began with the recovery of desire. What did I really want? Truly, deeply, want. I began with knowing that was the question that would lead me to the Holy One, as truly as the fisherman’s hunger led him to Her. That’s why I asked you tell us a story of desire and longing on the first day we came here.
There is so much more I could say. I stop talking. I look at her. Please. Tell us what you know about the mysteries in this story of the Skeleton Woman. As I ask, I am fingering the silver spiral pendant I’ve been wearing for the past year. I notice her gaze, directed at my necklace.
What are the words on your spiral pendant? the Storyteller asks.
I feel a stab of annoyance. It is not like her to elude my questions, to try to distract me like this.
You know well what they are, I say impatiently. We have often spoken of these words. They are part of a poem by Hafiz, the Sufi poet from fourteenth-century Persia.
What is the poem? Will you read it aloud for us?
As she asks this, the Storyteller places just the slightest emphasis on the word “us”. I look at you, realize she wants you to hear the poem read aloud.
Sorry, I say, to both of you. I had almost forgotten you were here.
I squint at the silver etchings. I didn’t bring my reading glasses, and I can’t make out the tiny words.
No matter. I know them by heart.
There is something holy deep inside
of you that is so ardent and awake.
That needs to lie down naked
Next to God.
In the dry air of the cavern, the words echo strangely. It’s as though another voice has spoken them. After the silence deepens, I ask her again: What have you to teach us today about the story of the Skeleton Woman?
The Storyteller, maddeningly, asks only, What other poems by Hafiz do you know by heart?
I answer, still nettled by her questions. I don’t know any full poems, only a few lines from different ones that speak to me deeply, comfort me when I feel alone, calm me when I sense I’ve fallen short of some ideal…
Tell us these lines, she says. Then, acknowledging my reluctance, she adds, I wouldn’t ask if it were not important.
I muster grace enough to scan my memory. I recall a day when I was driving home from a community meeting where I had failed badly. I no longer remember what I’d said or done, only the familiar surge of guilt, shame, disappointment in myself. A new CD of Hafiz’ poetry was playing in the car’s sound system. For the first time, I heard one of the final tracks. These are the lines I remember, the ones I speak aloud now:
not danced so badly, my dear,
trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style, my sweet, crushed angel…
Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow, and even His
best musicians are not always easy to hear.
As I say the words, I remember the sweet wash of joy that flooded my heart, even as I still marvel how, by chance, that poem should have come on that day for the first time.
Now we are all wrapped in silence, in a magic cloak of love, woven by Hafiz.