I absolutely despise the question: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” It is preposterous, invasive.
Growing up in a rural town, this question was often asked by suited up, over-perfumed Jehovah’s Witnesses handing out small pamphlets decorated with a death scene of epic proportions. The damned were being burned alive, their hands were outstretched to the heavens, and their faces were contorted in agony. At the top of the tract was a bright yellow warning sign: Repent or Die!
I remember being nine years old walking to Oxford Public Library with my mom. We saw long-haired, Plain Jane Pentecostals meandering uptown in denim skits and worn out sneakers. Even in the Rockwellian uptown of Oxford, with its two banks and one stoplight, those missionaries looked as out of place there as they would as missionaries in the wilds of the third world. Each woman had a stack of Bible tracts under her arm, but these tracts weren’t as damning as the others. The rough folds of paper were decorated with a pale blue sky and bright sun rays peeking out of the clouds. Those tracts cordially announced An invitation to heaven. Even my mom, a devout Christian who never said hell in public, would always avoid the tract ladies.
This was Oxford Pennsylvania. A town once known for its candy making prowess now reeked of cow shit, death, and the armpit sweat of many a crusader for the Lord. It gave birth to ideologies that were intended to save, but only atrophied the spirit and the body, especially of those that believed in God’s help above medical science, like my mom. Mom’s form of a personal relationship with Jesus was to bear the cross of cancer that took her life in 1993. She had a faithful yet fruitless thirteen-year quest for seeds of prosperity born out of victim mentality. “Jesus saves,” she would say. That was another bible tract that circulated. It had a bearded guy on the cover with open arms and holes in his hands.
Even as a small girl with an infinite belief in magic, I never understood what a personal relationship with Jesus ever meant. He didn’t read to me at night. He didn’t tuck me in or soothe my heart. He didn’t save my mom. I didn’t even see the real Jesus on television. I could never wrap my brain around the idea that Jesus rose from the dead with the exact same body that he died in. Perhaps that was the scent I detected in the air – the scent of his flesh being eaten, paired with his blood that had a fragrant bouquet of martyrdom.
When I tried to be a Christian, I tried really hard to understand and even conform. I outgrew my façade so quickly like a snake shedding skin. I had more personal connections with saviors of the post-modern world: misunderstood artists, iconoclasts, scientists and deep thinkers.
I used to fantasize that I was Ann Druyan and that Carl Sagan was my lover. The closest thing to God to me was David Bowie or Salvador Dali; they had a running tie. In the end David Bowie or “Bowie” as I lovingly refer to him, won my heart. I still love Dali, though.
Since I was little I have had a personal relationship with Bowie. He would visit me in my dreams and we would travel in the stars. I met him on TV as the Thin White Duke, his resurrection identity after the death of Ziggy Stardust. He invited me to dance. I couldn’t touch him, I didn’t see him in person, but I knew he was there. I could feel him. We danced in the spirit together and played in our creative weirdness. I remember him informing my artistic process when I was a teenage dancing queen, a triple threat performer in Philadelphia, PA during the 90s. When I became a mother, I raised my sons on his oddly juxtaposed chords and sonnets of self-reflection. Most recently, I danced my personal demons away to his epitaph Lazarus after having several sequential dreams in which he mentored me on my true life purpose. Oh the conversations we have had! I would love to share them, but they are just way to intimate.
The post-mortem Oxford of my childhood and resting place of my mother gave me insight into death and decay – its beauty, fearsome mystery, and necessity. In my spiritual purpose, high priestesshood and the healing of others, my intimate relationship with rot helps me to guide others to light. This gift also led me to connect and understand Frida Kahlo way before she became the patron saint of the wounded goddess.
There are so many reasons why I know and love Frida: She danced with her own death and called it her lover. She bedded women and men as she liked. She was the sexual revolution and the Mexican revolution in one body. She proclaimed her own birthdate, July 7, on my wedding anniversary. She was uncompromisingly outspoken, fearlessly political, and a self-taught polymath. Frida is more alive now in her posthumous fearlessness than when she was trapped in her Judas of a body. She is the master of transformation of the highest order: pain alchemy.
Frida was most definitely the holy mother to me, giving birth to reason within dissonance. She has taught me to trust tenuous connections with objectivity and curiosity. She has been more of a mother figure than my own mother who was preoccupied with finding Jesus in a cancer cell. Ever since I saw Frida’s dark piercing eyes stare at me from the page of my mom’s college art history book, I instantly bonded with her energy of brazen defiance. That energy saved my life. I bounced back from countless failures and unconscionable atrocities.
When questions about life’s meaning arose in my consciousness, I consulted my sacred parents. I would talk to Frida and Bowie about separate issues. Bowie, how do I connect with others when I feel so displaced? Frida, What can I do to be fearless in the face of death? Who is this God I am supposed to pray to? Did either of you know him? The answers they provided were clear. I am my own Goddess and savior. It is our fallibilities that make us godly. When we die, we transcend the mundane. Even “God” is fallible. God…[I am chuckling as I write this] what a concept.
It was on this path of contemplation that I met Thich Nhat Hanh. Not literally, but through my husband who once sat on a picnic bench next to him and shared a celebratory lunch on the occasion of one of his octogenarian birthdays.
We refer to him as Thay – it means teacher.
I began reading Thay’s vast library of mindfulness, mysticism and the mastery of life. I experienced total resonance within all of his insights. I could feel his heart in my heart. He is the third aspect of my personal holy trinity.
Thay influenced me to be honest with myself and commit to a life non-violence – something I am not accustom to. He assured me that even when I power scrub a casserole pan with baked-on cheese I am connecting with the cosmos and making miracles. He told me to go find him in the presence of a leaf or in a gust of wind. Thay assured that when I look at life deeply I would experience truth, majesty and compassion. When I die, I will not cease to exist but carry on my purpose of interbeing. Thay told me that heaven was not a place you go…
I have had very active and lucid dreams about Thay and Bowie, but not Frida…until last week.
After years of asking her to come visit, Frida finally visited me the other night. When I walked into the wedding banquet in a different dimension of space and time, I saw her sitting at our table. Tears sprang to my eyes. “Frida! You’re really here!” I cried. Frida took my hands, squeezed them and said “You don’t have anything to worry about.” Her hands were cold and soft. I hugged her deeply, felt the rough texture of her shawl, and smelled her hair. She smelled like dead flowers.