Friday, May 06, 2011

MAYDAY! Mayday. Mayday??


For thou, O Spring! canst renovate

All that high God did first create.

Be still his arm and architect,

Rebuild the ruin, mend defect;

Chemist to vamp old worlds with new,

Coat sea and sky with heavenlier blue,

New-tint the plumage of the birds,

And slough decay from grazing herds,

Sweep ruins from the scarped mountain,

Cleanse the torrent at the fountain,

Purge alpine air by towns defiled,

Bring to fair mother fairer child,

Not less renew the heart and brain,

Scatter the sloth, wash out the stain,

Make the aged eye sun-clear,

To parting soul bring grandeur near.

Under gentle types, my Spring

Masks the might of Nature's king,

An energy that searches thorough

From Chaos to the dawning morrow;

Into all our human plight,

The soul's pilgrimage and flight;

In city or in solitude,

Step by step, lifts bad to good,

Without halting, without rest,

Lifting Better up to Best;

Planting seeds of knowledge pure,

Through earth to ripen, through heaven endure.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


"Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick," Susan Sontag notes. "Although we prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."

“Mayday” is not an international distress call… but Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! is. It triggers a coordinated response: communications focus upon the vessel in distress, other vessels rush to assist, and humans move swiftly and intentionally.

The key is knowing when to call mayday: too soon, and you create a boy-who-cried-wolf situation; too late, and all may be lost.

“Mayday!” the distress call, comes from the French word venez m'aider. Everywhere humans are crying out, to God, to other humans, to stronger countries… Help us. Help. And all too often, help doesn’t come.

Learned helplessness.

But even when help is at hand, we sometimes wait too long, ignore the smoke in the cabin, the water in the bilge, and the way our plane keeps losing altitude.

Pride and individualism. (the Western UU “sin”)

I spent almost a week in Nyomat, and I had lots of time to think about the world: theirs, ours, and the one we both inhabit. Even before I arrived, Be’la told me there were a lot more problems in the village than before 2008: financial, interpersonal, medical, and spiritual, each of which affects the others. I was somewhat prepared for distress.

But it was Spring, every fruit tree in bloom, red tulips everywhere, the sun was warm every day, and gorgeous breezes swept into open doors of small adobe cottages where the heat was off for the first time in months. It was Easter in our Unitarian homeland, and the sermon was not about the resurrection of the body, or even of the spirit, but the renewal of individual empowerment and hope against hope. The story Be’la used was the myth of Sisyphus/Jesus in the tomb. Someone has to roll away the stone.

In my talk, I told the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and the hope of planting seeds. The seeds of personal faith and the seeds of friendship and partnership. We ate heartily, a freshly killed lamb and garden fresh potatoes and cabbage and soup and home cooked bread from wheat grown in the fields. The rooms were not filled with wailing but with laughter, delight in the children, and conviviality. On Monday the Lord of Misrule visits as green boughs are decorated and hung on the gates of all eligible females, and men and boys go from house to house, reciting poems and getting rewards of dyed eggs, chocolate, and palinka. It was May Day~~Beltane disguised as Easter Monday.

There is another May Day: International Workers’ Day. I have never seen any people who work as hard as the Hungarians. Even the very elderly, their backs bent and their ankles swollen, their hands deformed with pain and swelling, work in their gardens, their homes, and in the nearby city from dawn until dusk. When they sit down to talk, they often talk about their families, their ailments, and about the lack of money. They told me that they think Americans believe money is happiness. They see America on MTV and equate our culture with money flowing freely and a surplus of things. It occurred to me that while they are obsessed with money and the poor employment prospects, they do little, collectively, to better things. There is a kind of habit energy that drives them on, and on fueling despair and all too often, suicide, as in the case of Peter, the lay president of our church, who carried a length of rope in his pocket for years, or the father of Joszef, the new president, who took his life after being imprisoned and tortured by the Communists during the collectivization process.

Each of these three May day myths come together because each presents a human need, hope or aspiration:

Celebration, justice and self-realization, and comfort in times of need.

Each of the three roads in Nyomat come together, too. The one the old lady lived on with edit; the one Peter hanged himself on; the one on which Joszef lives, strong-willed and determined to do the Sisyphean task of raising his family out of the perpetual cycle of grief and survival.

At the center of the three roads is the church.

We need one another. This is the function of the church. To remind and encourage one another to be a place of celebration, even misrule, to force us to sing, dance, laugh, play even when we feel least inclined. To be a place where we stand united against injustice, poverty, hunger, want and abuses of all kinds. To be a place of succor and comfort, when we are in despair.

But most importantly, the church is here to remind each human that she is not the center of the universe. Ideally (church as control tower) we will answer when Mayday is called, helping one another and, in the process, ourselves.

Writes Jacques Ellul:

"The church can only be a counter-community. If it is anything other than that, it has already compromised itself."

At the same time as the church is a gathering place and a communal place, it must stand against the status quo, it must always question and challenge the forces that oppress and exploit, and it must uphold the spirit of urgency and the human condition in its palm.

"Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick,"

Health is a process, not a thing or state. It is ongoing, dynamic, and ever changing. Health is a direction, not a destination, a once-and-for-all property.

We move toward health of body, mind and spirit, of institution and economy, of nature and of people, in increments and learning to receive the Grace that is offered even as we endeavor to advance justice, freedom, and joy.

Even now, someone is calling you: Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!