As Carlos catches the return tram, he’s still reminiscing about his seminary studies.
He learned about Theology of Blessing, about the incarnation of God as stirring word and breath of pregnant silence made flesh. Incarnation was seen as a relationship between our Blessed Mother and Jesus as the Christ. For every person, the joy of love has begun when the child is fed milk and cuddled, in a love between infant and mother (or main care-giver). So everyone experiences this at least from the child’s side, and many from the mothering side as well–a few men, and lots of women. Blessed Mary as Mother of God–signed as divine presence by her ‘immaculate’ conception–is the place of effluent dawn mystery of the incarnation, and Jesus the Christ is its noonday mystery: the two reaches of incarnation. So God took flesh of humankind in both a woman and a man–namely, in the love between them.
Carlos thinks of his church’s panels on either side behind the altar: on the one a pieta with Mary holding the adult body of Jesus on her lap; on the other, the Cana wedding feast with Jesus touching a large amphora, beside a Mary figure whose upturned palm points toward it. He is completing her invitation to change the flowing water of love to wine.
People don’t think this means that all women should be mystical mothers, and all men marvelous traveling rabbis. And they know that each person has masculine and feminine elements. But they see this story of the human psyche as modeling the ‘I’ to ‘you’ and ‘you’ to ‘me’ in each fully human relationship, where people take turns being initiator and responder, the holder and the held. He recalls how the ‘Gloria’ is said nowadays, in a direct address to God as the best “You” of all: “Glory to you in the highest, God, and peace to your people on earth,” ending with “. . . in the glory of God, Father and Mother. Amen.”
On marriage and sexuality, his seminary class took their first course with the med students at a nearby affiliated university. They learned how sexuality is experienced in different cultures. As a historical example, they studied views of the early Christian ‘fathers’ on the supposed inferior, oversexed nature of women, and on human sexuality as innately corrupt. They learned how these attitudes emerged from a combination of patriarchal Hebrew law and aristocratic Roman stoicism, in the middle of slippery, highly erotic Roman politics.
As the tram is half way back to Carlos’ stop, he hears its ozalert sound, and the glass panels along its side automatically convert to green, protecting the riders. He looks out to a street scene of green people, fumbling with belly pouches for their thin ozo ponchos. He pats his back midriff to make sure his is there, in case the alert is still on when he gets to his stop.
In ‘Marriage & Sex’ class the seminarians also studied primate sexuality, for an idea of what pre-human ancestors were like. He remembers the video on baboons–sometimes a dominant male keeps several females, and all the other adults in the troop are heterosexually inactive, but may engage in same-sex activity as part of bonding, emotional sustenance, and care of young. Or among the bonobo of Zaire (‘pigmy chimpanzees’), all individuals are bisexual, and orgasmic sex serves for daily greeting, bonding, and resolving of tensions. The bonobo never kill each other–they make love, not war. Out of such practices the seminarians learn, a recessive gene complex inclining individuals in some circumstances to homosexuality may have come into the human gene pool, as survival-adaptive.
In a second course on science and sexuality, Carlos recalls, they first studied Galileo, and how the Roman inquisition forced him, under threat of torture, to recant what he saw in his telescope, and his view that the earth moves around the sun. They learn how a few centuries later the Vatican, having done its own recanting about Galileo, was still trying to tell the human sciences what not to see, when scanning the inner and social worlds of humans. But now the church has learned to use its energies more profitably, in celebrating the wonders of God’s creation, as seen by science and in other ways.
The seminarians learn that, within the range of various same-sex loves, sometimes people who have suffered loss or anguish comfort each other, help each other survive and heal (men after battle, women after abuse by fathers or husbands, people recovering from trauma or mental breakdowns). Among the Lakota Sioux, an effeminate man might live at the village edge, and care for any returning brave that was wounded, ill, or severely fatigued. If the returnee wished, the ministrations could include love-making. The man at the village edge had a gift for his community–he was a specialist.
Counselors, psychiatrists, and spiritual companions, whether gay or straight, are likewise specialists, the students learn, but they try to practice, rather than “passionate counter-transference,” only the “dispassionate” variety–that love of 1st Corinthians 13 that is always patient and kind, never seeking its own consummation. Not without cost, and special maneuvers of their own psyches.
The tram windows have returned to normal as Carlos steps onto the platform at his stop, goes down the steps, and punches in his door code to the rectory. As he gets back to cleaning up, he’s happy that he’s not a full time counselor or priest-psychologist. He wouldn’t be cut out for that. Running a parish is messy, but he likes knocking around from one thing to another.
He taps on the dv and gets ready to shift the furniture a bit. A report is airing about an order of priests in Africa who feel called to celebrate animal life and work for preservation of species. So many thousands went extinct in the twenty-first century, especially in regions overgrazed by livestock. Sometimes these Earthsingers hold liturgies of sorrow for what was lost, with pictures of lands as they used to be, and prayers for their recovery. The monks work especially in grasslands and deserts where huge reclamation and planting projects are using desalinated sea water pumped inland. They’ve built small chapels in grass and tree covered bunker mounds. Outside their long windows, wildlife and flocks of birds can often be seen during mass. They keep fragrant herbal planters beneath the church windows, and wear lion and lamb designs on their liturgical stoles. They practice silent meditation, including the kind on the goodness and suffering of all sentient beings taught by Buddhist tradition. The pope recently visited and blessed some of their new facilities.
Nowadays the sacramental catholic churches–Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, and Coptic—as well as a few other Protestant churches that wanted to be together with them–are co-communing, even though each still has its own pope, metropolitan, archbishop, or governing council, and some variations in belief and practice. The Earthsingers get eco-visitors from many of these Christian groups, who take part in their liturgies.
The next show is about a Cistercian or Trappist monastery in the mountains of Tibet. It seems that sixty years ago, when the European Union brokered an agreement with China for an independent Tibet (though with China still allowed to have military bases there), the Tibetans were joyously grateful. So they allowed a religious foundation of Western monastics to be built, on a hill neighboring their own famous Drepung Loseling monastery, restored at that time as a holy center, after the Dalai Lama’s years in exile. This was in the time of the XVIth Dalai Lama.