Tag Archive: listening


rubem Alves spiritual reading group Carmelite centre for spirituality middle park theopoetics

Was Rubem Alves a poet, psychoanalyst, theologian, or philosopher? Yes.

Somewhere beyond tidy definition and cataloguing “The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet” is an invitation to visit a place that you’ve been before but forgotten you knew.

In the same way the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy Rubem asks us to take in his words and be changed by them.

Gleanings shared with the Spiritual Reading Group at the Carmelite Centre, Middle Park –  19 June 2018.

 

In his article “An Anthropophagous Ritual, “ Rubem Alves wrote:

Anthropophagy is the eating of human flesh – cannibalism, something savage. But so-called savages don’t think so. A tribe of Brazilian Indians who practices anthropophagy justified it thus:  “You who call yourselves civilised don’t love your dead.  You made deep holes and bury them to be eaten by worms. We, on the other hand, love our dead. We don’t want them to be dead.  But they are dead! There is only one way to keep them alive: if we eat them. If we eat them, their flesh and blood continue to live on in our own bodies. 

Anthropophagy isn’t done for nutritional reasons. It isn’t a barbecue. It’s a magical ceremony.  It is believed that, by eating the dead, their virtues are incorporated into those who eat them. Psychoanalysts agree. They believe that our personality is formed by successive anthropophagus meals at which we devour a piece of one person, a piece of another… the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy: “This bread is my body; eat of it. This wine is my blood: drink of it.”

…that is what I wish. To be eaten.

 

rubem Alves theopoetics the poet, the warrior, the prophetRubem Alves died on the of 19 July 2014, aged 80 – almost exactly 4 years ago – this material we’re about to read was originally delivered at the 1990 Edward Cadbury Lectures in the University of Birmingham, segments of 8 talks given over two weeks and our invitation today is to read Alves work and take him in. Rubem Alves had a pretty extraordinary view of life and way of expressing that descriptively to others.

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Although Stanley Hopper and David Miller are credited with coining the term theopoetics, and  Amos Wilder’s “Theopoetics: Theology and the Religious Imagination” is considered the seminal text of the field, Rubem Alves’ writing takes credit as a premium model of the style – combining theology and poetry.

Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of narrative theology, poetic analysis, process theologyand postmodern philosophy.

Amos Wilder says: “Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures. Before the message there must be the vision, before the sermon, the hymn, before the prose, the poem.” Rubem calls us into an encounter of the Mystery of the Divine saying:

it’s not science that can explain this,
but our lived embodied experiences
.”

 

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Rubem Alves was a forerunner of the liberation theology movement and key to the transformation of Christian social ethics in light of this thinking.  He was a writer, a psychoanalyst, a theologian, an educator, a storyteller, a poet…During his career, Alves collaborated with notable personalities such as Peter MaurinDorothy Day, and Paulo Freire. He was widely read and frequently included art and quotes from the work of others in confluence with his own including writers such as Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Tolstoi, e.e.cummings, Bonhoffer, and Sigmund Freud among others – 74 different references in these lectures alone… you gain from this a sense of a man who is listening to the world and taking it in. These lectures perhaps the map of some of Alves’ anthopophagus meals.  Alves was a prolific writer contributing over 100 books, some of these translated into six different languages, children’s books (“Happy Oysters Don’t Make Pearls”) and many articles on education, philosophy and religion.

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Rubem Alves was born in a small rural town, Boa Esperança, Minas Gerais, of Brazil in1933. His father was once rich but went broke during the depression and his family had to move to Rio de Janeiro where he was seen as a “hick” from the country.  This crisis was also what led his family to the church as, unable to afford to send the children to school, the family accepted assistance from Presbyterian missionaries to get their children an education.  After high school Alves studied theology, doing outreach to factory workers, then returning to his home state to serve as a pastor amongst simple and poor people (1957).  His religion was practiced and interpreted from the perspective of the poor.  Less about sin, and more about love and freedom, Alves saw religion as a means to improve the world of the living rather than guaranteeing something to people once they’re dead.  Much of what resonates in his writing is the way he takes ordinary human things and makes them sacred. The honesty with which he does this, asks listeners to consider the truth of themselves and invites them to know that as wholeness.  He writes about bodies, love, death, food, communion – universal themes…  and he writes beautifully… believing:

“…the goal of our struggle for justice and all political struggles is for the world to be more beautiful.  Poverty is horrid, it’s ugly. Poverty is death, death of children, suffering. These are terrible things! They must end!”

In 1959, he married Lídia Nopper and they had three children together — Sergio, Marcos, and Raquel.   Through the 1960s, Alves alternated between service as a Presbyterian parish pastor and study as a graduate researcher in theology. Alves went to New York to do his Masters but flew back to Brazil following the US-supported military coup of 1964. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil chose six intellectuals as scapegoats and offered these names to the new military dictatorship to avert persecution themselves.  Immediately upon his return to Brazil, rather than being reunited with his wife and children, Alves had to go into hiding. With assistance from Brazilian Freemasons and the Presbyterian Church in the United Stateshe returned to the US covertly 8 weeks later and secured an invitation from Princeton Theological Seminary  to commence doctoral studies there – where he hated it – he was not allowed to write using similes or poetry and thought this writing his ugliest. Alves received the lowest possible grade that was still a pass for his PhD. ( A Theology of Human Hope. Washington: Corpus Books. Revised version of his doctorate thesis, originally titled Towards a Theology of Liberation.) Of this academic theological approach Alves commented:

“Theology is not a net that is woven in order to capture God in its meshes,
for God is not a fish but Wind that no one can hold.  

Theology is a net which we weave for ourselves so that
we may stretch out our body in it”

 

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When he eventually returned to Brazil in 1974, Rubem became a University Professor.  Having been expelled by the denomination he belonged to, Rubem (along with other communities and pastors) had a painful period of isolation and dispersion until 1978, when together they founded the National Federation of Presbyterian Churches which, from 1983 on was named the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU). Rubem made significant contribution to the founding documents of this new church and it was said of this work by The Rev. Sonia Gomes Mota: “He was not interested in giving us moral lessons or transmitting the absolute and indisputable truth. As a good theologian, philosopher and educator, he was more interested in making us think, reflect and question the immutable truths of theology and urged us to envision new possibilities and new ways of living our faith. Rubem led us to deserts and invited us to be gardeners and planters of hope.”

Born in a context of political and social oppression,preaching and teaching of God’s word as well as social programmes such as nurseries, sewing workshops, health centres, psychological services, and literacy courses are just a few examples of the integrated activities developed by these new church communities. They were the first Presbyterian church in Brazil to ordain women.

Alves once remarked,

“Prophets are not visionaries who announce a future that is coming. Prophets are poets who design a future that may happen. Poets suggest a way.”

Rubem Alves would go on to add psychotherapy to his portfolio and establish his own clinic. In later life, although he maintained a pastoral and prophetic touch with the people he encountered, Rubem’s association with institutional religion became more detached as he came to believe that space, that curiosity, that out of the “nothing” offered by poetry, more good could come than of liberation theology.

Alves unlearning

Fools for love

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This Lent with Easter Sunday falling on April Fools day Godspace are running a series on For love of the world God did foolish things… it’s bringing out/together all sorts of foolish ideas that are worth checking out. Below are a couple of links to contributions I’ve made to that blog on that theme.

Foolish Love: What words do we ever have to express our love well?

This piece is a story of the time I stuck up bad poetry all of the woods like Orlando from As You Like It…. you can read more here

Come, Be a Holy Fool

This piece is an invitation to follow the example to do foolish things for love too… you can read more here

May you encounter something Holy and foolish this Lent.

Taurikura, Talitha
have peace

 

Each step I am blind

lost and found park bench

Each step I am blind
In faith, I follow
listening for the Song
listening for the Singer.
Maybe that’s the Mary thing to do.
Kneel, right here where I am,
lean against You and
ask all the questions
why God? how God?
when God?

Talitha Fraser

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The Oratory glows golden for a moment. Lit by wintery midday sun. Behind the lids of my prayerfully closed eyes it seems the light filling the room is the same light filling me and I turn my face to Your warmth.

We light candles. Mine is a confession.

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Rubem Alves tells a story of a spider, safe and happy over empty space – building her house – no hesitation and with precision. Fragile yet perfect, symmetrical, beautiful, fit to its purpose.     “…I did not see her first move, the move which was the beginning of the web, the leap into the void…” (p.3)

What the spider needs to fulfil her intention is within her body. “Her body knows, her body remembers. But we have forgotten it.” (p.4)

Rubem Alves tells a story of a boy who found the body of a dead man
washed up on the edge of a seaside village.

There is only one thing to do with the dead: they must be buried.

In that village it was the custom for the women to prepare the dead for burial,
so the women began to clean the body in preparation for the funeral.
As they did, the women began to talk and
ponder about the dead stranger.

He was tall… and would have had to duck his head to enter their houses.
His voice… was it like a whisper or like thunder.
His hands… they were big. Did they play with children
or sail the seas or know how to caress and embrace a woman’s body.

The women laughed
“and were surprised as they realised that the funeral had become resurrection:
a moment in their flesh, dreams, long believed to be dead,
returning… their bodies alive again”. (p.24)

The husbands, waiting outside, and watching what was happening,
became jealous of the drowned man
as they realised he had power which they did not have.

And they thought about the dreams they had never had…

Alves ends this part of the story by telling that they finally buried the dead man.
But the village was never the same again.

“The dead man did not say one single word.
He was full of silence.
And his silence was the space of remembrance.
His dead body was full of their lost memories…” (p.31)

“Hoc est corpus meum. This is the bit of my flesh which became alive again by the power of the silence of this dead man…

What are we without the help of that which does not exist? – Valerie”  (p.35)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’

Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

(NRSV)

Reading 1: (Read through twice) What word or passage touches/speaks to you?

Reading 2: How does this word/passage touch your life/experience?

Reading 3: How are we called into being/doing by this word/passage?

 

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Panel: Nayuka Gorrie, Areej Nur, Meelee Soorkia, Namila Benson

 

I wrote a book. It brought together other women like me.
I was not ‘other’ anymore.

Meelee Sorkia

Those pink pussy beanies at the Women’s March,
as a black, trans, feminist – what is my “in”?
White women can assume they’re your ally
but I might identify with other labels more.

Nayuka Gorrie

There is such silencing and erasure of women of colour.
Constantly thinking about ‘how do I put myself forward’ in a space?

Namila Benson

There a tenets of of feminism that are important.  Living that and being active in it is really important. We need paid opportunities, spaces that are ‘ours’ to help others out – support, build up, encourage other women of colour. Building and supporting other women in my community is my priority. I’m not interested in helping white women.

Areej Nur

Do the work.  What role do you have?
What opportunities do you have that other women don’t?
Please be self aware.

Meelee Sorkia

Just listening instead of defensive, derailing, silencing. Take up the generous labour of being in the space. Take advantage of the chance to learn something. Know your place. That’s it: Listening and give space. It’s fatiguing [to keep explaining].

Namila Benson

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There is a disconnection within me between who I am and who I feel called to be but it doesn’t feel like a change I can effect in any way on my own although I recognise all the ways I seek to control such things and be the change I want to see. Does it count if you go through the motions of being something in the hopes that you become it?

Come down from the tree Zacchaeus. It does no good to ask the experts anymore.  Get your feet dusty and your hands dirty, keep asking the same questions… The disciples were always asking questions. Being a disciple isn’t “knowing”. It’s being committed to going and picking up what you can along the Way from whomsoever you meet – your family, your friends, your neighbours, your teachers, your priests, your politicians, your encounters with random strangers… all hold a line of the story.  What story do you want to hear? You must seek those people out.

Jesus meets all these different people, perhaps only once. What story can you tell? What can you communicate in one conversation with a person that might change the course of their life? Jesus was something of an epiphany-dealer: what is right? what is clean? what is sin? You can’t yield the principle of the argument. It’s not enough to heal your body if I do not address the system that harms you.  It’s not enough to mend your madness if I do not address the systems that drive you insane. It’s not enough to touch you if I don’t address the systems that label you untouchable.  It’s not enough to include you if I do not also address the systems that have no place for you.

He touches them and they are healed, he hears their whole truth and they are healed again. It’s not only Jesus who hears, not only the healed, but disciples and crowds gathered round… what power is there in a story to effect change? Whose stories are we telling? Whose stories are we listening to?

I am telling my own story. That is the story that I know.

Who am I to try and tell anyone elses story?

Let me tell the story of the time You healed my body, let me tell the story of the time You healed my mind, let me tell the story of the time You took me in and I found belonging.

I listen for a Voice

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I listen for a Voice
and hear the words
of my heart’s yearning
echoes back
from others
who have been lost
and found
along the Way

Talitha Fraser

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With words I try
to describe the shape
of silence
a sonar cry
of what is
into what isn’t
and learn
the shape of
myself.

Talitha Fraser