Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Naked Youth in the Garden

Easter today. That has precious little impact on me, frankly. But today my old friend and upstairs neighbor, Tony, prepared a ham and various fixings. Six of us. Very entertaining. Excellent conversation ... and a little bible study. I'll get back to the subject of that shortly.

Some years ago, on Christmas Day, a bunch of us picked up a friend. Our friend, a famously sarcastic Jew, said as he entered the car, "Congratulations on the birth of your gawd" ... a long drawl on the "aw" of gawd. We cracked up. Perhaps the appropriate greeting at Easter would be "Congratulations on the death of your gawd" but that would be uncivil. The christian would point out that Easter is about the resurrection ... but there is no resurrection without the death agony as Mel Gibson and the medieval catholics who are his models would have to note.

Easter is the mystical season of christianity. That said, it has long struck me that christian mysticism is curiously thin by comparison to its muslim rival. It seems the more strange given the passion of the dying Christ. Perhaps the mysticism that is heterodox in islam is orthodox in christianity, and thereby deprives the devoted of the curiosities of the arcane. By that I mean that the central mystery of Christianity is also its central doctrine. In Islam, notwithstanding the numinous poetry of the prophet, there is no mystery ... all that you need to know has been revealed, and you shouldn't be worrying about anything else; hence, the mysteries had to be invented, as it were, out of whole cloth. Maybe ... worth thinking about. But in Christianity, mysticism seems to leave us with nothing much more than occasional heresies such as the Da Vinci Code and the Last Temptation of Christ. (Of course, all the classical heresies are about the nature of Jesus ... human, divine, human and divine, or human or divine.)

If I were going to invent a christian mysticism, this is where I would start ...

Who is the naked boy in the garden?

That would be the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus has just been kissed by Judas, forsaken by his other disciples, and now faces the prospect of being seized by a bunch of studly Roman soldiers bearing swords. Then, in Gospel of Mark 14, this little, rarely remarked upon, interlude:

50 And they forsook him, and fled.

51 And then followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him:

52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

A year ago, before I started this blog, I thought that it might be useful ... perhaps even enjoyable ... to re-read the gospels. I got almost through Luke before other deeper reading called me away. Holy books are tough reads, unless you are a believer, because they must be constructed to be both opaque and blindingly obvious ... they must be indecipherable and crystalline clear. They have to please the fool and the sophist, the simple seeker after truth and the latter day doubting Thomas. They have to justify war and peace, love and hate, life and death, brotherhood and enmity. The inimitable aspect which pleases the spiritual is also the obfuscation which repels the rationalist.

But when I stumbled on those lines, my glassy eye came to a crashing halt. They scream across the centuries "gay".

The editor in me sees this as a catastrophic failure in redaction long, long ago. In other words, when the gospels were being composed and compiled, certainly textual decisions were made ... we do not know how or when or by whom. But this little lacuna points to something that has not survived, and its inclusion represents, perhaps, an error. What it points to might be baptism, a lost actor thread (i.e., is this the rich young man or Lazarus), or, provocatively, homosexuality.

It occurs to me that this just has to be his holiness' catamite, nervously wondering about a late night tryst, unaware of the momentous events, wandering into the garden hoping for a touch, a kiss, a little love. Then the brusque smelly soldiers grabbed at him ... they saw his vulnerable nakedness too ... and he ran away, forsaking the one he loved as had everyone else.

He ran away naked, his linen cloth stripped away.

Is the linen cloth a shroud, is it a whore's habit, is it a literary device representing the gossamer essence that separates the living from the dead?

I prefer to think of the flesh and blood Jesus as a rebel. Rebels do not support fat preachers like the Falwells, or Johnny-cum-lately convenience-seekers like dubya. They do not support the status quo. They oppose it everywhere they find it. It is passing curious that the church has seen fit to describe Mary Magdalene as a whore, but that they do not see the naked boy as queer. The church only pretends to rebel, but Jesus surely would have embraced the whore and the queer, both of them the meek and the trodden down.

I think the naked youth is queer, and no amount of Oral or Jimmy or Dr. Gene or the Cheshire Cat grin of Ratzinger-Benedict will ever convince me otherwise. It is all just too sweet, too convenient, too obviously a part of Jesus the revolutionary rather than Jesus the founder of the establishment.

I like to say that theology is bunk but religious history is fascinating. So in that vein, I pass to others vastly more expert in the peregrinations of divinity to discuss the possibilities underlying this error in editing. Everyone should read Will Roscoe's Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love, exquisitely illustrated by my good friend Winfield Coleman. I confess that I have not actually finished this tome ... again on the theology as bunk ... and I suppose now I will have to set aside some time and mow through it. The book is actually quite engaging and well written ... but I just prefer a rollicking tale of history lived over divine speculations.

At any rate, Roscoe speculates that the naked youth is Lazarus is the rich young man and is the discipline whom Jesus loves. One and the same.


Maybe is what theology is all about.

I also want to reference a couple of other books for the heretical. Try Theodore W. Jennings, Jr's., The Man Jesus Loved. And every liberal should own a copy of Daniel A Helminiak's What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. And no person who believes in science and history can really be without the paradigm-shaking arguments of John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. And for pure blasphemy, Jesus in Love ... nothing like a little blasphemy on Easter.

So here's to the Christ on the day of his not-death after his death ... and here is to his unsung lover, the naked boy in the garden.

Photos by Arod of the Praying Boy statue at Sans Souci, the palace of the gay emperor, Frederick the Great. I spent a fabulous day there with my sainted ex, RB, and wondered about the unique and rarefied joys of being a gay and intelligent emperor just before the French Revolution put paid to all that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK... Speaking of seriously flawed thinking. You got it.