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Reversing The Last Supper
by Susan McCaslin, Langley BC
I have in my head an image of people gathered around a table to dine and converse about the state of the world. Plato’s Symposium (or The Banquet) is a classical Greek dialogue depicting philosophers gathered to discuss the nature of love. The big paradigm in the west for a small group of idealists joined around a table is The Last Supper.
But wait. The subtext of that sacramental meal is sombre; a brooding darkness hovers. We all know the Romans are lurking just down the street to arrest the beloved leader of this grassroots group; the flock will be scattered, the leader tortured and crucified. Betrayal is being consumed along with the wine and matza, so who can be convivial, knowing the end of the story?
This paradigm of the sombre Last Meal hangs over us today as the archetype of the apparent failure of activism, the apparent destruction of Jesus’ (and other spiritual leaders’) dream of a kingdom of justice and peace. Today we wouldn’t call his vision “a kingdom,” but perhaps a new order, a compassionate and just society.
Yet in the Christian mythos there is a more joyful subtext: Easter, the resurrection. In one sense, the symbol of Jesus leaping from the tomb, as in William Blake’s powerful painting Glad Day, was the early Christian movement’s re-visioning of history. For the first Christian communities, the resurrection symbolized the birth of a new movement. It is also an image providing hope that nothing can suppress the emergence of the Christ-consciousness (now to be interpreted more universally) in the world.
However, as Leonard Cohen sings, “the Christ has not yet risen from the chambers of the heart.” So this human potentiality has not been realized at the collective level. Yet it is true that the Christ arises and is arising in individuals, in the mystics, in the saints, in small sub-streams and movements of social justice. The risen Christ has been present even in the history of institutional Christianity through its mystics and reformers, but more often, betrayed again and again by corrupt institutions.
After all, it has been 2000 years since Jesus offered his vision of the kingdom and we don’t have anything like Jesus’ dream (the kingdom of heaven on earth) to show for it. In fact, the world looks a lot more like an apocalyptic nightmare on a global scale than the peaceable kingdom.
Some think Jesus was speaking primarily of a kingdom within, or a future state in the life beyond death, but my hunch is that he was onto both, as he believed the seed of the kingdom in each heart could bloom into social transformation. I see him as a contemplative who was also a reformer, an activist. These two aspects of Jesus’ desire are tightly interwoven in the gospels and can’t be separated.
So where are we now? The kingdom has not only not come, but the human world and the natural one (primarily because of our species’ impact) is being despoiled by our collective greed harnessed to a military industrial complex that acts on its demand for immediate gratification. More money, more oil, more development. This is truly a global crisis and we are seated individually and collectively at what seems the Last Supper. And as we know, much of the world isn’t feasting, but facing starvation, the impacts of war and social turmoil.
If we look at Jesus’ second coming spiritually, symbolically, it represents the coming of the peaceful, committed activist to save the world. We can’t wait for Jesus to descend from the sky after 2000 years to do it for us. It’s about our empowerment, individually and collectively, to turn things around for the planet.
We have to be the “Second Coming.” We have to make it happen by listening, being receptive, stepping out and acting.
Whether or not it’s too late we can’t say, but we can know that we have to try. Giving up hope and letting our machinery crucify the earth that sustains us is not an option.
So I have a proposal. This time around, let’s not look at our time together as another “last supper” but the first of many ongoing smaller meals.
It’s interesting that important conversations
and planning sessions often take place over food, the act of eating. Dining
together ties us to the earth and to our common humanity. Sharing food is
homely and sacred at once, no matter what tradition we are from. Consider Hanukkah,
Holy Communion, Mass, the Japanese tea ceremony, the Hindu sharing of food. Only
this time, we’re wise to those who want to
silence our leaders, crush out hopes, scatter us.
Jesus’ big dream now needs to become our universal, collective dream, transcending religious ideologies and doctrine. Jesus isn’t the only one who has dreamed it, but Martin Luther King, Gandhi, etc. It’s a universal archetype of restoration and celebration.
Right now dystopias are very popular. Big novels and blockbuster films tend to focus on the collapse of the world. I love dystopian literature, but the tradition of utopian literature is silent and thought to be naive. Where are our current Plato’s, Dante’s, Thomas More’s, William Morris’s?
This time, I dream we can rewrite the mythos of the past and begin to re-vision and enact the utopian dreams at which people tend to scoff. It’s easy to poke holes in utopian thinking, but as science has demonstrated, vital new inventions are often first imagined and then later come into existence. As Ezra Pound noted, “The poets [or any big dreamers] are ‘the antenna of the race.’”
Utopia literally means “no where,” or “not a place in time and space,” but within the heart, as it has hasn’t existed except in small pockets on this planet by nature-honouring cultures. Our utopian dreams begin within in the heart, but they don’t end there.
My dream is that we can make them manifest first in our lives, in small groups, in the public sphere, until they become a peaceful forcefield capable of transforming empires from within.
Susan McCaslin is a Canadian poet and Faculty Emeritus of Douglas
College in Westminster, BC where she taught English and Creative Writing for
twenty-three years. She is the author of ten volumes of poetry, including her
most recent, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011). The
latter was a finalist in 2012 for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award) and
the first-place winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award (Robert Kroetsch
Poetry Book Award). Susan has recently published a volume of essays, Arousing
the Spirit: Provocative Writings (Wood Lake Books, 2011). She has edited two
anthologies and is on the editorial board of Event: the Douglas College Review.
She lives in Fort Langley, BC with her husband and an active Australian
Susan's website: www.susanmccaslin.ca
This piece by Susan McCaslin first appeared on Wood Lake Publishing’s blog: http://essential-spirituality.com/ §
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"The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their "vital interests" are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the 'sanctity' of human life, or the 'conscience' of the civilized world." - James Baldwin, Source: page 489 of COLLECTED ESSAYS (1998), from chapter one of "The Devil Finds Work" (orig. pub. 1976)
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