I’m waiting for it to be suggested that Spirit’s fire comes through the ether – that virtual babble is glossolalia. The glib conclusion painless wrought in garden’s bower and studied glower by earnest adolescent thought; the microcosm’s vote is bought by subtle show of cultic power.
There is a universal language now. It’s anger’s curse; it’s virus-spread.
Now here’s the rub. The Lord has gone. The more the resurrection’s spun, the more the tale of death defeated plants question that for Mark was moot. Where is he now, this bag of bones? The one whose side was Thomas-touched, yet flinched from Mary’s tender cling, who sat and ate beside the lake, yet passed through walls, who walked beside two grieving friends, yet wasn’t known until he broke the bread and then again was absent.
……………………………..Here’s the point.
The touch convicts; the feeling burns. And so the humdrum moment turns – what isn’t is, what is is not. And through this riddle we must plot a way to find in straitened times that absent presence truly rhymes.
Virtual reality is strange. Even the most active misanthrope – and I’ll leave it to you to judge where I fit on that spectrum – will acknowledge that enforced isolation compounded by numbing routine is difficult. It’s hardly surprising that social media in its various guises has provided outlets for companionship and creativity. But its other, less attractive, side remains. We are no less likely to be lured by its capacity to cloud reality as its capacity to imperfectly mimic it, and the lines are easily blurred by the judgement that comes too easily in the yellow fog of separated engagement. “That is not what I meant at all,” says “one, settling a pillow by her head” to Prufrock during his oddly disembodied and thus virtual quest for meaning. I don’t think I’m alone in finding those words regularly coming to mind as I stare at the flickering screen. As often as not, the misunderstandings are wilful.
Take the pin head of eucharistic theology. (And let’s not be deceived by the power of Facebook to distort and inflate, for the virtual world is, of course, a reflection of the myriad angels of our own neuroses.) I’ve been disturbed – even horrified, given my residual stake in the project of the church – by what I’ve elsewhere described as a “sacerdotal rush online/to preserve the shaman’s role and power”. Some clergy have gutted the eucharist; divorced corporeality from presence and encouraged the faithful to gather in their various homes around their screens and share whatever comes to hand – I’ve seen crackers and milk suggested – as a priest in her garden or living room presents what appears to be self-written liturgy and pronounces the/a narrative of institution over the elements. We’re told touch doesn’t matter by those who’ve forgotten the blind and deaf. But doubting Thomas, whom we are so quick to dismiss in the presumption of a faith attached to the ethereal, believes when he touches. The word is made flesh. Thomas connects – his faith isn’t mediated through the ether as the risen Christ mysteriously appears. He touches. Without touch, there is no incarnation, and faith is phantasm. And so I have found myself bleakly determined that the truest way to be faithful at this time of enforced eschewed touch is to cherish it in its absence. The paradox of presence and absence is mystery; their wilful separation is the shaman’s magic. It leads us to leafy suburban gardens and untidy studies and dining rooms ghosted by the chatter of past dinner parties – all perfectly capable, we suppose, of being a locus of divine encounter, but all constrained by their virtual separation and bourgeois exclusion of dissent. For when the eucharist is made virtual, the one who presses the buttons controls who may enter. And that’s the clichéd elephant in the room.
And that’s what concerns me most. My inadequate explication of paradox above should not mask my fear. Many of those mouldering, crumbling edifices at the heart of our communities – which, it must be acknowledged, are too often themselves places of exclusion (that’s another day’s work) – are likely never to reopen; many embrace cultural suicide in openly welcoming this; and many will be determined to remain in online mode. But it’s evasion and exclusion: evasion of the mystical guts and stink of the faith; and exclusion of the blind and the deaf and the illiterate and the unwashed. We need the democracy of real public space if our theology is to be grounded. Gather online if you must; but don’t for one moment believe it is real.
The garden’s lovely now. You can almost feel the breeze and the birdsong is sharper. We didn’t hear it quite as much before – perhaps there are more of them or perhaps there’s less distraction. You’re not here and you are. The bread and wine are here and there. Crackers will do. And Coca Cola too. We can sit in our jim-jams and no one will know unless we tell them. Those crumbling shells aren’t needed now: we’ve opened a Pandora’s box – and how! The sacerdotal rush online preserves the shaman’s role and power.
On Victory Day, when misty swirls are tender, And when the sunrise blazes, crimson red, The spring that’s tarried pleads for a defender Through widow at his nameless final bed. She’s in no hurry to get off her knees, She blows upon a stem, the grass she touches, And from her shoulder butterfly she brushes, Its fluff the early dandelion now frees.
И в День Победы, нежный и туманный, Когда заря, как зарево, красна, Вдовою у могилы безымянной Хлопочет запоздалая весна. Она с колен подняться не спешит, Дохнет на почку, и траву погладит, И бабочку с плеча на землю ссадит, И первый одуванчик распушит.