Jaxie and Annie Rose: A Pentecost Meditation
The Gospel of John
14: 25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
15: 26 ‘When the Advocate [or Helper] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
16:1 ‘I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. 4But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jaxie was a Jack Russell terrier who lived with one of my clergy colleagues and her husband. Many of us followed Jaxie's antics and adventures on Facebook, and now we mourn with Angie and Neil at her death.
I'm asked, every so often, if dogs go to heaven. I'm aware that some traditional teaching of the church has been that animals do not have a soul, and that therefore they don't go to heaven. Yet you only have to live with a Jaxie to know that little dogs have personality, and purpose. They love us, they plot outcomes, they delight in tricking us. As do cats. Even the ewe my Dad once slung up in the shed when she was sick, forever stood out from the mob, once we had met her.
I look at our own little dog. Annie Rose is beginning to age, and Jaxie's death sharpens the grief which has been growing in me. Of course dogs go to heaven! What kind of God is it that would make death the way into richer life for me, rather than let it be "a gloomy portal" of the end, and yet let death be the annihilation of all that is Jaxie or Annie Rose? (Christian Gellert Jesus Lives! TIS 372)
The death of dogs relates to Pentecost and the presence of the Spirit of God in this way: The question for me is not whether animals 'go to heaven.' The question is: As human beings who know so well the life, personality, and love of animals, why would we ever think otherwise? What is it that means we make ourselves so much at the centre of the universe, that we discount the person and being of the creatures around us, as though we were all that counted? Why do we see their difference rather than their commonality with us?
I think that when I consign a dog to nothingness, it is not much removed from my consigning my enemy to hell. Such assignation is an act of building myself up, ensuring my self by pretending another soul is simply other. It is an act of expedience; the death of dogs, cruelty to animals, live exports, eating meat without noticing, are all part and parcel of the old scapegoat routine. It is a part of keeping me at the centre and the pinnacle of creation, a part of the gaining of identity and safety by making sure it is others who die, instead of me. This putting me at the centre of all things is otherwise known as idolatry.
As a species, humanity is beginning to see how we solve the violence within a group by choosing a scapegoat. Some Christians will tell us that the death of Jesus is the definitive exposé of the scapegoat mechanism. We all now recognise that when a cabinet minister is sacked, it has as much to do with keeping the Prime Minister safe from the discontent (the violence) of the voters, as it has to do with the cabinet minister's failings. We are learning to see the innocence of victims; we apologise to stolen generations and to abused children. Even if we then go on to seek other victims who 'really do deserve our wrath'; cue Muslims and the unemployed. And, too often, those who call themselves Christian, are among the voices of the mob.
Perhaps the slowness of our learning comes because we do not recognise that within ourselves, we quell the violence and the discontent, and the discord between our different inner voices, and their accusations that we are wrong, hateful, worthless, and nothing, by choosing victims. We project our inner violence upon people external to us. We may not physically kill them, but in our minds we consign them to a lesser state of being. We make them less than us. We look down on them. And feel somewhat restored to the centre of our universe. We make a certain justification for ourselves.
Somewhere, I suspect it is in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote of a man who so impressed him, who seemed so integrated and whole, that Jung thought he should have to become his disciple. And then he met the man's wife, and understood. Other men kick their dogs. We cannot have a peace filled society among people until we have peace within.
Gil Bailie writes that "The spiritual and anthropological revolution set in motion by the crucifixion is a glacial process the driving force of which is the 'Spirit of Truth,' -- the Paraclete (John 16:7-8). It was to be the task of this Spirit of Truth to gradually 'accomplish' historically what was 'accomplished' in the hearts of Jesus' disciples at the crucifixion and in the days that followed it." (Violence Unveiled, pp. 226-27 quoted by Paul Nuechterlein)
I love this image of the glacier. The movement is slow, almost imperceptible, but inexorable. Indeed, if you listen closely, you can sometimes hear the noise of the ice moving. And Pentecost is like one of those great cracks at the end of a glacier when a whole new vista is exposed; a break with the past, and the revealing of new surfaces to life.
Jaxie and Annie Rose, even the crow who sits on the house gutter three feet above me and looks into my eyes, as I look into hers— all this is the creak of the glacier moving us towards a vison of the universally inclusive love of God in creation. Jaxie and Annie Rose, and Claudette the crow, are little sacraments who remind us that we are not at the centre, but that God is; who remind us that life is more than us; who teach us that we are with them on the blessèd periphery of creation. We are not at the centre, but neither are we marginalised— our great fear— because "there is no one who is not just such a peripheral… none of us has to achieve anything, to get anything right, to be a success, and therefore it becomes possible to rejoice in others with whom I am in no sort of competition, and thus I do not need to protect myself…. (James Alison on being liked pp73) I am able to be at home in the world.
What happens when I am not at home in the world, and when I put myself above the dogs?
Christianity … began as a development of Judaism that dramatically brings an end to ritual blood sacrifice, inverting the spilling of someone else’s blood into loving service and self-sacrifice. St. Paul in Galatians and Romans argues against the need for conversion of religions. Gentiles do not need to convert to Judaism in order to be followers of Christ Jesus. The church has replaced a divisive external marker such as circumcision (a sacrificial ritual that substitutes a lesser violence) with an invisible event marker such as baptism, which itself ties a person to the event of the cross and resurrection, and whose effect is to unify the baptized into God’s one human family (Eph 2:14-15) in the face of normal divisions. Baptized into Christ one is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free (Gal. 3:25-29).
Yet in the aftermath of Constantine, imperialist borders began to fall into place once again. The church began to define and defend its creeds as an empire defines and defends its borders. Sacred violence is once again an accepted and justified Christian practice through the violence of the empire. Just in time for the church itself to sponsor crusades against other religions, St. Anselm crafted a doctrine of atonement that brings the old sacrificial logic once again firmly into place, where the cross represents a cosmic sacrificial event of divine love satisfying divine wrath. Since Constantine Christian identity has once again meant being hostile to other religions. The Christian faith that most of us have grown up with makes salvation centrally a matter of religious conversion; and we turn the promise of a life newly and immediately lived in solidarity with God’s ongoing New Creation into a promise of an afterlife whose central feature is the everlasting divide between righteous and unrighteous. It brings us right back into the original sin of a supposed unity that is actually based on division. (Paul Nuechterlein)
And not only are dogs without soul, but we begin again to call people dogs. (Matthew 15:22-31)
How is my soul healed?
"The Spirit is therefore a way of talking about God as our companion. John does not want to hail Jesus as the way to God, only to have to declare that that was history and is no longer accessible." (Loader) Instead, we are talking about "a real presence… rather than a textual presence in a receding past." (Alison, on being liked pp101) "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 15:26) He will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13)
The Spirit will enable the disciples to grasp what matters in the past, the present and the future, leading them into all truth. It looks like an ambit claim which could be used to justify every new inspiration and quirk (and later was), but John defines it somewhat: the Spirit takes what is the Son’s and makes it known. (Loader)
What he means is that the central act of Jesus; the cross, and his giving of himself to show the innocence of our victims; his refusal of violence (John 18:11, Matt 26:52); his resurrection return which is love rather than revenge, all these things critique and direct our memory and our understanding of truth.
I have an advocate.
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (15:26) he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. (16:-11)
There are two aspects to this. Firstly
the role of the Spirit is to make a case for Jesus in the court of the world and to help us to do so. That is our task in mission. It entails exposing sin as the killing of love, [the killing of] God in Christ, or [however else the killing of love] occurs. It entails exposing the way of Jesus as the right way, the truth and the life - wherever it occurs. It entails setting this up as an option against rival power systems that kill love. Spirituality is advocating for the life of God in the world. Ask John and he will define that life not by lots of commandments, not by many beliefs, not even primarily by scripture, but by the story of Jesus, and then not by many stories, but by one over-all story: God so loved the world. (Loader)
But also, the parakletos, the legal advocate
was a way of describing the Spirit’s help when Christians were hauled before courts. In Mark 13:11 Jesus is reported as promising: ‘And when they put you under arrest, do not worry what you should say. For you are not the ones who are speaking, but the Holy Spirit.’ " … The Spirit will be like a prompt, or, to stay with the imagery of the court: the Spirit will be your defence counsel. (Loader)
This is not merely the case if we are pulled into a literal court, whether it be 'properly constituted' or the kangaroo court of the mob. It is also the case in our daily living counter to the Myth of Redemptive Violence, the religion of our day. It is the Advocate within us who encourages us to live according to the way of the Christ, and not the world.
The Advocate also speaks in my internal life where I live counter to the accusations that I am nothing, the self-hatred which trumpets that I am the cause of all my problems and the problems of the people around me. The advocate works to bring peace within.
And the Advocate encourages and inspires me to think of small dogs, sacramental beings who can speak clearly to us because they are never our rivals in the way all other people are at least some of the time. Free of the need always to be defending myself, I can contemplate the love of Jesus. That is; I can look nondefensively at the world, and glimpse in the being of a small dog, something far deeper than the poverty of my own mere bodily survival. And wonder if life and being and person are far more glorious than I ever imagined. And the inexorable mechanical universe, once glacial and alien, proves to be warm, vital, and the providence of God.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
And for a thrilling exegesis of Babel and Penecost, read Debie Thomas: Against Christianese