In Revelation 5, as the angels mourn their isolation from Unconditional Love (which is the Most High), a scroll is revealed “with writing on both sides.” That detail may seem incidental, but remember what Adam is told in Eden: do not eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden, which is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. On one side of the scroll is good, on the other is evil. In fact, in Revelation 11 John is given a smaller scroll to eat and told “it will taste sweet in your mouth but will make your stomach bitter.” Clearly, the metaphorical “tree” on earth is the “scroll” in heaven.
The metaphor of the scroll is clarified further in the contrast between the seven seals and the seven lamps of virtue. The seals unleash seven vices upon the earth, the seven lamps represent virtues in the domain of the Most High. The implication is that acts are not determined by their type, but by their intention.
As Jesus said, “It is not what goes into a man’s stomach that makes him unclean, but what comes out of his heart.” His whole ministry, in fact, was about breaking his people of the conviction that the Law would protect their virtue. Witness his outrage in the Temple, turned into a trading post in the name of sacrificial redemption.
How do we distinguish between virtues and vices? Virtues announce the Most High to the world – they join us in love, building social cohesion. Vices break social cohesion, they cause us to believe that we must make our way alone in the world.
To illustrate, as a manager I might refuse to promote someone because their skill development is incomplete, or I might hold them back solely because I do not like the way they look. Holding them back for the first reason is virtuous; for the second a vice.
This is subtle, and for this reason confusion is natural when we interpret the images that accompany the breaking of the seals. The first, domination, is impressive. It is only that he rides upon a horse that we know we should disdain him. When the robes of the 144,000 are washed clean by the blood in Revelation 11, it is said that the tide reached only “as high as the horse’s bridles.” The riders received no benefit.
Among the ambiguous symbols is the fifth, where from beneath the throne the “saints cry out for vengeance.” Is it not right to heed such cries?
The tendency is natural. Practically, the loss of a good person harms us. We miss them far more than the thief. So we remember the injustice of their destruction, and wish for retribution. But where does that lead? If my father is killed in war, I might be moved to take up arms against his nation. If victorious in that conflict, however, I have killed the fathers of other children, who then seek retribution against me.
Where does the cycle end?
If the non-combatant faces difficult choice, the combatant fares far worse. In confrontation with death, the barriers of the personality collapse. Both side on a battlefield are joined in confrontation with death. When a shell annihilates your comrade, he has insufficient time to recognize that he has died. Instead, his soul seeks refuge with a stronger brother – whether friend or foe. If our heart opens to him in that moment, we carry him home with us.
Or worse. I met a woman who was “the brave one” among a posse of twenty killed in a single incident. She had returned to convince the others that it was safe to try another life.
And it breaks the heart to consider what we would carry as the survivor of a concentration camp.
This is the experience alluded to by the image of the fifth seal. Nations and peoples carry within them the wounded souls of those torn away violently. That burden can be passed on from parent to child, or from spouse to spouse, or from teacher to student. As violence was the method that occasioned the original transfer, it is natural to exercise it in unloading our burden onto others.
For the strong, another, more daunting strategy may evolve. The trapped trauma can be used to intimidate others, who then give in to our demands. Trauma becomes an asset, rather than a burden.
This may benefit us as a people or nation, but what about the souls that suffered the original trauma? Does it help them?
Thus I interpret the fifth seal: the throne is the throne of tyranny that is justified by the cries for vengeance. Even when those cries might seem righteous, to hold the saints captive is an injustice. They can only find healing in heaven, in the arms of the Unconditional Love that “wipes away every tear.” To deny them that healing is a barbarous act, eventually corrupting those that claim privilege inherited from their martyrs.
How is this manifested in our age?
In Christian theology, with formulations that hold allegiance is due Christ for his martyrdom on the cross. This is error: Christ has returned to heaven and received healing. We owe him, rather, honor for the light that he shone from the cross into the realm of death. That realm entraps not only the deceased, but all of us that are motivated by fear of death. We must worship the Light if we hope to escape into the realm of life.
Secondly, it manifests in political movements that claim privilege to transgress in consideration of wrongs committed in the past. This is not to denounce compensation, which is justice that releases our claim on the martyr. Rather it is to denounce organized oppression of others that expands the scope of martyrdom.
My involvement with these issues was a natural outgrowth of my investigation, in the aftermath of 9/11, of the tension between the traditions of Abraham. Visits to nondenominational Christian congregations revealed a focus on Pauline theology with the cross as the penance required by a judgmental God. In denominational congregations, the cross displays explicitly the suffering Nazarene. It was at a Catholic Church that I first offered my heart to that grief.
In my visits to synagogues, whether Reform or Orthodox, I encountered two responses. The first was spiritual chauvinism, supported by millennia of doctrinal analysis of the Torah, which is ambiguous and incomplete. Secondly were dreams of the Holocaust, dreams that I responded to with visions of healing.
Those efforts, however, only nibbled at the edges of the problem, and exposed me to counterattacks by those that seek to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, as I read our situation, that is no longer tenable.
The strategy that I have set into motion is built upon raw authority. The symbols of the traditions of Abraham invoke covenants with the Most High. The representation described in the Holy Books is of a spirit sitting in the sun. That is consistent with the ascension of the “Son of Man” in Daniel’s Dream of the Four Beasts. As I read “Let there be Light” as “photosynthesis,” that presence has been immanent in Nature for billions of years. When invoked, it is irresistible. I am thus suborning the symbols of Christianity and Judaism to the transmission of that image.
Then I have been using the divine light to pierce the thrones of vengeance, bathing the entrapped martyrs in healing love.
Subordination of symbols is always a intuitive process. It is not until in their presence that the path of least resistance becomes obvious. So I went from place-to-place today, guided by the intensity of the connections I experienced during my explorations after 9/11. I will not name them specifically, but some will certainly recognize them from the pictures below.
First, the cross at the local megachurch. I was welcomed by a knotty oak – an old friend – as I crossed the lawn. I simply placed my left hand on the cross, and faced my right into the morning sun, visualizing that light radiating in the eyes of all looking at this or any other cross.
Then to the Reform Temple, where I set a warden in the gate to let them know I had been there. Then a hand on the wall behind the niche of the Torah, so that any hearing the words would feel the presence of the Most High whispering “Let your victims go. It is time for them to be healed.”
Next to the Catholic Church on the hillside, named for a German priest sent to die in the concentration camps. Rather than entering, I stood in the court where the sun peeked over the roof, channeling its energy through me into the cross, again setting that symbol as an announcement of the presence of the Most High to anyone, anywhere.
Then to the Orthodox Synagogue, this time using the door marker as the conduit for the light, visualizing it emanating on every doorway marked for the Jewish Faith. That did rankle the Sisterhood, to which I responded. “Go ahead. Force yourself into me. You will be transformed.” For I had realized where I was going to offer the gifts I had gathered: to the Virgin at her namesake cathedral.
At the Sephardic Temple, clearly marked with the menorah. Again standing in the sun, channeling the light into each flame.
At the political center of Zionism in Los Angeles, where years earlier I had bathed in holy fire the symbolic flames above the altar. Here there was no entry, so I sat by a knotted tree, willing it to channel the sacred energy of the sun as a clarion call to the Tree of Life.
Finally to the Cathedral – closed to visitors. Giving me pause to reflect on the resistance of the Catholic priesthood, with the realization that this gift had to be offered directly to the one intended.
Hmm. Now who might that be?
But in the interim, the task is to reinforce these visualizations that disintermediate priests and rabbis and ministers from direct communion with the Most High, and to pray each day that martyrs of every faith will be freed from political opportunists.
The air around me is already lighter.