The ancient ritual of the Easter Vigil lures me after an absence of several years. The parish church doors open to invite us into the Phrygian darkness of night. We stand scrunched together at the back, among friends whose faces we cannot see, whose voices we do not hear. Then comes the flaring forth of vermilion flame as the Easter fire is birthed from flint. It could be the flaring forth of light at the dawn of this Universe, the primordial moment that the physicists cannot yet grasp.
The priest uses the new fire to light the great Paschal Candle which stands taller than he does. He intones the ancient chant: three notes rising: “Christ our Light.” From the single flame, the candles held by all who have gathered this night bloom with yellow light, creating a halo that reveals each face. “Christ our Light”.
A cantor sings the “Exultet” the Hymn of Praise to the Risen Christ, echoing the words of Paul: “What good would life have been to us if Christ had not risen?”
Seven Readings follow from the Hebrew Scriptures, telling the old, old tales….
And this is where I begin to feel discomfort. I who love stories, the older the better, find myself rejecting the Genesis account of creation. Once I could overlook its scientific inaccuracies, defend them to others as poetry, not truth. But tonight I am comparing this account with the enchantment of the 13.8 billion year story of the unfolding, evolving, unfinished Universe.
I feel something like revulsion for this strange god who creates man in his own image, adding a woman only for the man’s sake, an after-thought, giving these latecomers dominion over all of life on our planet while forbidding them to eat the fruit of the tree that would give them wisdom.
Finally, pleased with himself, this god decides to take a day off.
When we meet him in the next reading, this god is asking Abraham to make a blood sacrifice of his only son. After the agony he puts the father through (no mention of Sarah, the mother), he says, “I was only testing you…”
As Moses and his people are fleeing from Egypt, this god “covers himself in glory” by drowning a people who were among the wisest who ever lived….
Who is this god?
I do not know him.
Joseph Campbell writes of him as a “local desert god”, a “thunder-hurler”. 1
Indo-European deities encountering warrior gods tended to have their goddesses marry the male gods. Campbell notes that this did not happen among the Semites who ruthlessly obliterated the local goddesses. He points out that a religious tradition with a father god but no mother god is one where we are separate from God, where God is separate from us, from nature. This is a God who is “out there” rather than within us. To find this God we need religious structures, laws, authorities. We are separated from nature, distrusting, even despising our own bodies. Beauty is itself suspect, a distraction, a seduction.
Still in the candle-lit darkness, I am working myself into a state of high dudgeon, wondering why I came, when the tone of the readings alters.
I begin to hear words of undeniable tenderness. I remember why for so many years my favourite biblical passages were the Hebrew prophets who knew, must have experienced, a Presence of Divine Love, what Julian of Norwich calls a Mothering God.
Isaiah invites all who thirst to come to the waters, to come without need of money for what the heart desires…
Hosea’s voice calls back from the desert an abandoned, heartbroken lover.
The seventh reading from the Hebrew Scriptures begins, one I do not recognize, do not remember having heard before.
I listen to words that tell of a presence who guides, who brings light and joy, when we follow… HER.
What is this?
It is the writing of the prophet Baruch.
Later, at home, I find the passage in my Jerusalem Bible:
Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
Hear and learn what knowledge means.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.
But who has found out where she lives,
Who has entered her treasure house?
Who has ever climbed the sky and caught her
To bring her down from the clouds?
Who has ever crossed the ocean and found her
To gain her back in exchange for the finest gold?
No one knows the way to her,
No one can discover the path she treads.
But the One who knows all knows her… 2
And now we are hearing Paul’s words of promise, of hope, of assurance of our own Resurrection: Paul who never met the earthbound Jesus, who was hurled from his horse when the Risen Christ called his name, who fell in love with the Unseen One and spent the rest of his life carrying his message to others, who did not disdain to tell them he was in labour until Christ was born in them.
Suddenly the dark is rent by an eruption of light everywhere, flowers making a garden of the sanctuary, bells ringing. Two clear soprano voices lift in a duet sung in the pure tones of angels, “He is Risen. He is Risen.”
After the Celebration of the Easter Eucharist, I greet my friends, set off in the rain for home, awash in questions…. slowly I let them settle in me.
I remember Teilhard’s understanding that we live in an unfinished universe. We each have a part to play in bringing it nearer to completion. I recommit to my calling to invite others to join me in providing a space, a place, for the Sacred Feminine to dwell, embodied within us.
1. Joseph Campbell Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (New World Library, Novato, California, 2013) p.xxii and pp. 86-87
2. Baruch 3: 9, 14, 15, 29-32