Coffee Hour ~ 23 May, 1-2pm Irish time

Constantine’s vision and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in a 9th-century Byzantine manuscript.

I’m thinking a lot about indigeneity, the literal and the political dimensions, whether indigeneity is something one inherits (for example, by being from a place), or whether it is something one can make/earn (by investing emotional, spiritual, material effort in a place) — I tend to think it’s closer to the latter, but I can see how being from a particular place, and being supported by one’s community to deepen this connection, goes a long way. I think about the meanings of and differences between terms like native, local, regional and indigenous. I wonder about the life and currency of this word, how it’s defined and instrumentalised, and by whom. And how does one heal the wounds that exist between Indigenous and diasporic identities?

I am also thinking about how Christianity has encountered Indigenous life and imagination throughout history, with a combination of violence, urgency, arrogance — and, however misguided, a profound desire to connect and shepherd. The wounds, once recognized, are obvious. If Christianity were ONLY a military force (because, from the moment Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity WAS very literally a military force) it would be one thing. But the assault didn’t only reorder land and people through military force; it reordered imaginative space through ideological force, and the legacy of this reordering continues to have an impact on human life.

One example: the calendar that most of the world uses is the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. This, in turn, is a minor modification of the Julian calendar established by Julius Caesar in what we would now call 45 B.C.E. And the revision (leap years!) was necessary because of an inaccuracy that was causing the date of the spring equinox to “drift,” but more importantly, was making it difficult for Christians to calculate the date of Easter (<— this is fascinating!). So, in short, Christian or not, everyone who participates in the global time/economy of the contemporary world lives within an imperial idea of time that is fixed on the death-and-resurrection-of-Jesus-Christ-event. Every year follows another, like a bead on a string. And if I believe this, so much of how I think about the nature of reality accompanies the belief, including when my life begins and how far back my experience of my own self — and what this even is — goes.

In a hypnotherapy session recently, I accessed a memory for which I had no context. And because nothing in my spiritual/psychological formation made room for this memory, I had a hard time experiencing it as a memory. And at the same time, I sensed the encouragement of some small, faint glow of trust, like the tail of a lightning bug. The memory was this: I didn’t want to be born. I didn’t want to stay where I was, either! What I felt I was remembering was the first experience of a profound ambivalence that I have felt most of my life, and which has gotten stronger with age.

And although I haven’t listened in ages to On Being, I happened to download and listen to Krista Tippett’s interview with Joy Harjo, the most recent episode, which begins with exactly this:

Tippett: So I actually started reading Crazy Brave a few months ago, during the pandemic. And I kind of read it like poetry. I read it a little bit at a time and savored it a bit at a time, which was a wonderful way to read it. And in preparing to be with you, I looked at some other interviews you’ve done, and I really want to draw into your sensibility, your gifts of seeing and knowing, which includes vision and dreams and memories that are not contained in this lifetime. And I felt like people don’t really go there with you, although you go there in your writing. For example, you’ve written that you relived your own birth in a vision on a mountainside in Colorado, I think around the age of 40. And I wondered, you know, normally a question will be, to somebody, “Where did you grow up?” [laughs] — which we’ll talk about that, too — but I’d love to hear about what you saw about your own birth. Start there.

Tippett: But you’re not crazy. I think that’s why people don’t talk about it, because it’s hard to talk about this way of seeing and knowing, right? So I just want to see if we can do that, with the dignity that it possesses in your writing, for sure. I mean, here’s some things you wrote about that. You said, “Though I was reluctant to be born, I was attracted by the music. I had plans… I did not want to leave mystery, yet I was ever curious and ready to take my place in the story.” I’m just so fascinated that you had those apprehensions.

Harjo: Yes, what happened — so I’m a great-grandmother now. I was a grandmother in my 30s and a teenage mother. And what that’s given me is a kind of a broader sense of the story field. And I have certainly — yes, I’ve been at the birth of my children, [laughs] but I’ve always tried to get there when a grandchild is being born. And what I’ve noticed — and I’ve noticed this with newborn infants — is they still remember. They’re still carrying memories and stories. They still know things. Even when they’re young — I remember my daughter skipping up to me when she was three. She used to say, “When I used to be a boy” —

Tippett: Yeah.

Harjo: “When I used to be a boy,” and would just cry, if I wanted to take her to the girls’ section for clothes. And I have a granddaughter who’s come up to me and said, “Well, we used to know each other. When we knew each other …” da-da-da-da-da. And it’s obvious that she and I have an old connection.

So when I was an infant, I used to travel. My spirit would leave my body. Well, we can say we do that when we dream. Some dreams are “I ate too much pizza” or “I ate pizza when I shouldn’t” dreams. Others have a different cast to them, and others we know, instinctually, to pay attention. Now, what happens is, we don’t live in a society, generally, that supports dreams as knowledge. And we’re not living in a place like that. But think about it — about half of our lives, we’re out gathering information that we may not bring forth consciously, and for some of us, it’s like it’s a library that we go to when we need to know something. It works in that way.

I found this astonishing! Of all the things I might have listened to. Of all the people KT might have been interviewing. Of all the subjects they might have been discussing. I have not yet been able to listen to the rest of the interview (I was cycling and I nearly rode off the road in the first 5 minutes). I am not particularly interested in going back to some fantasy of a pre-Christian world. I am interested in what the heck Christians think was happening during the Pentecost — and how is the notion of the Holy Spirit descending on the Apostles any less fantastic than remembering one’s birth? But I would like to think and talk honestly about what is lost — now, still — when a narrow, imperial-power-oriented version of Christianity gets to shape human consciousness, creating what theologian and ethicist emilie townes calls the fantastic hegemonic imagination.

Well, there’s a lot to talk about. No need to read everything, as usual. Just come and let’s be in timespace together.

Coffee Hour is a lightly facilitated, gently theological online space where you are welcome, no religious commitment assumed or expected. It happens every week at 1-2pm Irish time. The password changes (today it is: JoyHarjo); the video conference link is:

P.S. Some of you may have seen on Instagram that I am asking for support to attend a residential retreat about grief, embodiment and transformative/healing justice in the UK in June. Here is more information. I appreciate any little bit of help! And thank you already.

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