There Is A Crack In Everything
My wife and I have recently been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu; an adaption of the excellent and haunting novel by Margaret Atwood. With each episode I am struck by how disturbed my soul becomes, not at what I’m watching, necessarily, but more so by the thought that I can see this dystopian near future as a real possibility here, if certain ideologies and misguided zealots were to actually find themselves in places of great power. In fact, it has already happened in our past here in the United States, and in other cultures and countries under other names. It is puritanical religious legalism lived out in the real world. It is the result of a “pious” and ultra-fundamentalist religious misogyny. What disturbs me more is that I now see this very trend in many Christian circles, including in Eastern Orthodoxy where I am a member. There seems to be a growing fascination with so-called “ultra-traditionalist” teachings and an alarming trend towards returning to a puritanical religion. This includes the notion that women occupy a lesser “place” and simply serve a “biological purpose” and “proper role” in the context of Christian marriage and “life in Christ.” I cannot think of any more acrimonious religious bullshit. This is not Christianity…it is at best misguided piety and misunderstood scripture, and at worst an ideology of hatred for the divine feminine that leads to imbalance and lopsided living. This is not spirituality…it is religious excrement; skewed and dangerous theology, that when truly lived out, can easily become the reality that is The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have not read the novel or watched the show, I strongly recommend it. It is powerful in that it conveys a very uncomfortable truth, that most people of faith do not wish to discuss; that misogyny and male chauvinism are alive and well, and often doled out under the guise of “following scripture” and “living piously.”
In the same vein, having just recently celebrated Mother’s Day here in the U.S., I am poignantly reminded of how women are seen and honored in our country. I am reminded also that motherhood takes all kinds of forms. Often, however, “alternative” types of motherhood are openly ignored or forgotten on such holidays, even innocently by well-intentioned people. What is a day of celebration for most people can easily be a day of mourning for others. For those who’ve fostered or been care-takers for other’s children, or who have no children of their own, either by fate or by choice, this is not necessarily a holiday, in part because we still live in a society that often equates being a woman with also being a biological mother, as if the two MUST go hand in hand or something is lacking.
Having lived what could easily be termed a “non-traditional” life and having experienced this incongruity, my wife and I are keenly aware of this struggle and mourning, and such days are often a mix of joy and grief. We place no blame on anyone or anything – these are simply the cards we’ve been dealt, and we have no regrets in how we’ve played them – healing is an ongoing process and while the damage of loss exists it does not control our lives. Perhaps, though, it is this grief that makes us more compassionate to others whose lives are considered “non-traditional” and to how women are often treated both in society and within our own religious circles. We’ve heard the gamut of thought from women and men both, ranging from hardcore anger to hardcore piety, with the pendulum swinging from “men are chauvinistic assholes that marginalize women” to “a Christian woman’s purpose is to be fruitful and bear children and to be a submissive helpmate to her husband.” Both sides lack balance. What truly concerns me however is when I hear young women themselves actually seeking the latter lifestyle, usually in a misguided (and sometimes instructed) pietistic illusion that by doing so they will be more pleasing to God and to their husbands or future spouses, and will help to facilitate a “return to traditional living and family values that lead to a perfect and happy life in Christ.” Really?
I was intrigued watching last night’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale at the cracks that are beginning to appear in this “perfect” new world of Gilead (which in Hebrew and Biblical context translates to “eternal happiness”…) In last week’s episode, the main male antagonist states to the handmaid, “We only wanted to make the world better. But better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.” This is the epitome of dualistic thinking and the crux of bad religiosity that I find myself struggling with. The Rebel Jesus said things and lived his life in a way that I want to imitate, including treating women the same as men – all equal disciples – despite the religious trappings that have unfortunately permeated his church. (Samaritan woman at the well, woman caught in adultery, Mary Magdalene, the Myrrhbearers…HIS MOTHER…we’ll save those for another post) I guess we’ll just have to keep trying to speak truth to power. Again, as I’ve quoted from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” before, and as is the title of this post, “there is a crack in everything,” even in some of our deepest held beliefs, “but that’s how the light gets in.” We must be willing to look into the cracked abyss and face that we are not perfect and neither are the institutions we have built, even with good intention, because they are filled with imperfect people, just like us. All growth requires change, and whether we want it or not, change will come. We can face it or we can try to ignore it, making ignorance bliss, but also blinding ourselves to the Light when it floods the cracks. We are wounded, but as the mystic Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Let’s embrace the cracks and the wounds, and let the light flood us and spill over into the darkness. “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering…there is a crack in everything; that’s how the Light gets in!”