More on Gao Qipei


Gao Qipei (1660/72-1734), Qing dynasty (1644-1911) Undated, hanging scroll, ink on paper, 70.9 × 38.3 cm:

Gāo Qípeì (1660-1734)

Chinese Qing Dynasty official and artist Gāo Qípeì (Kao Ch’i-p’ei) – also known by his courtesy name Wei Zhi, and his literary name Qie Yuan].

Gāo was born into a prominent Manchu family in Tieling, Manchuria, now located in Liaoning Province in northeast China. Gāo served as a career civil servant under emperors Kanxi (1662-1722) and Yongzheng (1723-1735). He was able to rise to very high ranks as an imperial cabinet administrator.

His governmental service included the highly powerful positions of deputy minister of the Ministry of Justice, and deputy minister of the Ministry of Rites. The latter was the office in charge of foreign affairs diplomacy, the imperial examinations, the national registry of Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods, as well as all state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices. Gāo also served as senior provincial official (governor) for Anhui province, and as a lieutenant-general of one of the Qing military banner regiments. His considerable diplomatic and military responsibilities nevertheless left Gāo considerable time to devote to painting, and he was one of the few Manchus in the Qing period able not only to thoroughly absorb Chinese culture but to gain a measure of respect from other Chinese painters for his artistic accomplishments.

Precocious and gifted, Gāo was already an able painter by the age of eight and his conservative early landscapes were much admired at court. By the time he was in his twenties, however, individualism was in the air. Gāo found the new expansive, individualistic style of painting that had emerged around the Jiangnan region especially congenial. The young literatus painter was searching to establish his own style and identity as an artist. This he eventually found by painting directly with his fingers and hands, rather than with a brush. By Gāo’s account, the idea for this unique approach came to him literally overnight.

In a dream, the young artist was taken to a mountain cavern by a Daoist immortal. The white bearded ancient led Gāo to a chamber whose walls were covered with a series of striking scroll paintings, each of which displayed strangely original qualities. Gāo immediately wished to make his own copies of these paintings — a standard practice of the day. However, though he found blank scrolls available in the chamber, he could find no brush or ink with which to paint. So he wet his fingers in water and started imitating the paintings. When he awoke, he tried to record the visionary paintings he had seen in his dream, but found it was difficult to use the paintbrush that had previously been so easy for him to manipulate. Once he abandoned the brush and, as in the dream, began to use his fingers, he found it easier to make accurate copies of the paintings he had seen in the cave of his dream. Thus was born Gāo’s unique new painting genre of finger-painting which eventually established him as a noteworthy artist of idiosyncratic vision and eccentric style.

[deep, deep, things of the mind

empty, empty, vast affinities

a hundred of those evil-doers (demons)

all in silence (stillness) see]

The deep clarity of the awakened mind

is vast as the boundless sky.

See and apprehend all these malicious and evil men

in the silence of contemplation.

—Gao Qipei

Someone has said of the poem Gao brushed on this self-portrait, that it is, “about using a quiet mind to tell the difference between good men and evil ones.” Yes, I think so. But I see it as even more about appreciating the need to be alert to the existence, the near and ubiquitous presence, of evil men, of men as “demons,” perhaps also “demons” in the archetypal form of negatively compromised mind-states,—one’s own especially, but also as found in the outer world, perhaps because such negative potentials also exist within oneself. The idea is to see “demons” &/or malicious men from within the experiential context of one’s own all-encompassing, silently still, boundless awareness, thus effectively “dealing with” their existence & properly “governing”, minimizing, neutralizing their presence and effects from the “perspective” of boundless conscious space, the “naked” or “empty” unified field of Total Reality of universal Mind, or universal Buddha-nature, or infinite Tao. You get the picture.

I take the poem to be about recognizing such men/demons/life-damaging impulses, but not just recognizing or discerning them. It’s about seeing them, apprehending them, comprehending them, “contemplating them”, in the context of one’s own mind being otherwise as clear and open and boundless, as “empty,” naked, object-free, as the cloudless sky, — as resting consciously in co-extensive affinity and “at-one-ment” with the “sky” of infinite space.

In other words, it’s about resting securely in the state of consciousness in which one experiences one’s own untrammeled awareness itself as the same boundless “ground” as untrammeled space in its transcendent or pure unbounded “empty” or “naked” nature: the non-dual “boundless affinity” of space (spaciousness) and consciousness. And then, in that still and silent state of awareness, being also comprehensively conscious of the existence of evil men and demonic conditioned tendencies, evil states of mind, malicious intentions and behaviours, wherever those are found. The gist of the poem seems to me to be: Allow boundless awareness to be the context of, and the governing intelligence by which you, as a chief guardian and administrator of justice within society, effectively perceive and govern and neutralize evil behavior and its effects.

This is the same message as that taught in the Bhagavad-Gita in which Lord Krishna advises the warrior-hero Arjuna: “Establish your mind in Yoga, in the state of seamless affinity with the unified field which is the home and administrator of all the laws of nature, and then act from that settled position and comprehensive context of unshakeable silent stability.” Established in Unity, in universal boundless affinity with the unified Wholeness of Reality itself, take action to govern and neutralize negativity, to govern and administer the affairs of state, to restore society to the condition of dharma—harmony with the cosmic evolutionary impulse which upholds and administrates all of life.

In the Dao de Jing (Tao te Ching), Lao-tzu (Lord Lao), gives exactly the same teaching. In the Buddhist sutras, Lord Buddha gives this same teaching as well. As does Confucius in the Analects. Gao probably wasn’t exposed (directly) to the teachings of the Gita, but he seems to have been a practitioner of the classic Chinese literati “Way of the Three Sage Wisdoms”, of the combined-parallel contemplative study and application of the teachings of Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism as a three-fold unity.

Gao’s poem I take to be a “manifesto”: his own sage advice memorandum to himself; a declaration of his motto; and a statement of advice to his viewers/readers.

[deep, deep, things of the mind

empty, empty, vast affinities

a hundred of those evil-doers (demons)

all in silence (stillness) see]

The deep clarity of the awakened mind

is vast as the boundless sky.

See and apprehend all these malicious and evil men

in the silence of contemplation.

It’s a very apt poem to brush on a self-portrait if you are a life-long career diplomat and imperial government administrator. Gao’s positions included, at various times, being an army lieutenant-general, and a governor of a province. But most importantly, they also including being at times the equivalent of Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Domestic Protocol, and Deputy Attorney-General, with oversight also over government relations with the Empire’s churches or organized religions, over the national board for all civil service exams, over the proper running of all federal protocol events and procedures, and over all federal prison administration. China was a very big empire, and these were tremendously vital duties. It’s amazing that someone in such positions also could find time to paint, but painting and writing poetry were considered part of the life of the literati-officials.

As for this self-portrait, it is hardly one of Gao’s best painterly works. Part of its claim to fame is the fact that the scroll was owned by Bertolt Brecht. It is said to represent Gao as Guan Yu, the Daoist Robin Hood outlaw general, peacemaker, and ascended patron saint, or god, of literature. It also may be intended to represent the artist as the somewhat parallel legendary figure, Zhong kui, “the demon-queller.” Gao painted a number of portraits of both Guan Yu and Zhong kui. I think this self-portrait with the poem we’ve been parsing is just as likely to portray Gao as Zhong kui as it is to portray Gao as Guan Yu; in some ways, the poem would seem to suggest Zhong kui more than Guan Yu. Some of Gao’s paintings portray both legendary figures together….Gao seems to have viewed himself and his career as sharing similar values and roles, and contemplative and moral imperatives, with both these legendary figures.

武圣图 by gao qipei

指画钟馗 by gao qipei

南山进士 by gao qipei

钟馗图 by gao qipei

Reginald Horace

More notes on my earlier post, “The Robin Hood of Peace and Writing”…

“…But still we know that all Kings and Emperors and Presidents and Prime Ministers and Heads of Universities and Companies and Popes and bishops and priests and even editors are liars and hypocrites and robbers, and, as Christ said, not one of these “rich” men shall set a foot into Heaven — so why feel miserable? You may say, “They all stand (or fall) together, so why should not we?” That’s just the point, and just the difference between us and them. We stand each many by himself, in the style of Thoreau.”

—R.H. Blyth (1898-1964), English-born scholar, author of Zen In English Literature.  Last letter, September 1964, to American poet James W. Hackett

Some notes about R.H. Blyth (1898–1964)

Blyth once filled out a publisher’s form for an author profile, and for the question, “what is your religion?” Blyth wrote, “vegetarian.”

A native-born Englishman, at 17 he was imprisoned in England at the height of World War One as a conscientious objector. After being released, he worked for the Home Office, learned numerous languages, and took an honours degree in literature from the University of London and later also a graduate teaching certificate.

He then spent the remainder of his life in Asia writing, and teaching English and comparative literature. At first he taught in colonial India but left in disgust with British rule which he regarded as violently racist and oppressive. He then taught in Japanese colonial Korea, where he studied Zen with a Japanese master, and finally settled permanently in Japan.

In Japan he became a celebrated university professor of comparative literature and an expert on Zen and Japanese culture. He married a Japanese with whom he had two daughters, and though he applied for citizenship, he was refused. Following Japan’s attack on Hawai’i, he was interned by the Japanese authorities in Tokyo as an enemy alien. While imprisoned, Allied bombing raids destroyed his house and his extensive library. Also while interned, he wrote his first book, Zen and English Literature. It was immediately published in Japan (in English) by an old friend, who owned a publishing house. It gradually became regarded as a classic and remains his best-selling work.

At the end of hostilities, Blyth acted as special diplomatic envoy between the Japanese Imperial Household and the Supreme Allied Command. He was instrumental in brokering the terms of Japan’s surrender and peace treaty, successfully urging that the Emperor not be forced to renounce his personal religion of Shinto, as the Allied command was insisting, even if the Emperor was willing to retire from his ceremonial role as hereditary chief priest of the nation’s ancient indigenous religion. Blyth succeeded in convincing both parties to agree to terms by which the Emperor would retain his personal religion as well as the ceremonial office of constitutional monarch for life, so long as he issued live public broadcasts and printed news bulletins declaring that he was only a human and not a divine being.

Following the peace negotiations, Blyth accepted the position of royal tutor to the crown prince (later Emperor) Akihito. Blyth was eventually decorated with national honors, being made a member of the Japanese Imperial Order of Merit, and awarded an honorary doctorate from Japan’s premier university. He was also selected to be decorated by the British Imperial Monarch, but refused bestowal of this honour by Queen Elizabeth, citing his unjust and inhumane imprisonment as a conscientious objector during World War I, and the extensive abuses of the British Empire which he had later observed and been expected to support during his time teaching in colonial India.

Blyth’s many book titles have remained continuously in print since their publication in the 1940s and 50s. He regarded Henry David Thoreau as the greatest American.


head z

Everything Is Everything



(second photo: Tom Merton)

Okay, regarding my most recent previous post, “Robin Hood of Peace & Writing”, here are the first of some follow-up notes:

Writing shrine, domestic altars:

Yes, I tend to have “little altars everywhere”—various votive shrines or puja-stans—here & there in my house-&-studio/office. How about you? Do you keep a domestic altar, or possibly more than one? One of my household mini-shrines adjoins the desk where I do some of my writing—my writing desk-&-shrine, if you will. Dedicated to the impulses of creative intelligence (spiritual energies and presences) associated with writing, it ensconces a number of images of various human &/or celestial “wisdom beings.” And yes, I have an image of General Guan Yu who sometimes is ensconced there as a patron saint (or guiding spirit immortal, or god if you will), of writing and writers.

Yes, I acknowledge the weird irony and potentially somewhat uncomfortable contradiction of being a life-long peacenik, war-resister, conscientious objector, student of non-violence (and Vietnam-era underground railroad [peace train] conductor) who also honours the spirit of an historic warrior general as one of his patron saints/guardian angels. According to legend, after death Guan Yu’s spirit paid a visit to a noted Buddhist master and asked to be instructed in the Dharma. After receiving and duly practicing the instructions of the master, the spirit of the erstwhile Daoist general eventually attained liberation.

Of course, I don’t feel that anyone’s violent and deadly acts of war are absolved simply because they were undertaken, as in the case of figures like Guan Yu and the legendary Robin Hood, in the cause of justice and peace and carried out with selfless compassion, noble courage, and also a merry sense of humor.

However, I do believe that any and all not-yet sprouted seeds of karmic compensatory suffering can be roasted in the fire of spiritual practice (Daoist, Buddhist, or otherwise), provided such practice is effective and extensive enough, whether completed in this life or in the postmortem purgatorial or paradisiacal realms. So, weird as it may be, I find in the legend and patronage of General Guan Yu a certain amount of inspiration toward my own continued dedication to writing and other practices undertaken — at least in part, in my own case — for the sake of cultivating inner peace and world peace.

General Guan Yu painted by Gao Qipei

Guan Yu is just one of many “guardian angel” protector spirits I honour as “patrons saints” of writing and literature. And there are also many others, traditional and non-traditional, in my personal pantheon who are patron “gods” or “saints” — of art and artists, or of teachers and education, of nature and eco-activists, of pilgrims and sacred wanderers, of married householder yogis, etc. Even with various tables and shelves in my home dedicated to altar space, there is not room to enshrine images of all these protective beings all at once. So I periodically rotate their various images, while generally striving to be always receptive and appreciative toward the presence and guidance of all of such beings.

Of course I have no certain knowledge if General Guan Yu was a genuinely decent and heroic person during his Earthly life (he is said to have died circa 220 AD/CE). Indeed, it seems unlikely that there is any reliable contemporaneous extant record of his historical existence outside of folkloric legend; he may be purely a fictional character. And, even assuming he is historical, I would certainly have no idea if, as the legends have it, following his death as a Daoist outlaw general he took up intensive Buddhist meditative practice as a disembodied spirit and attained liberation, thus becoming an enlightened angel, Daoist immortal, Buddhist bodhisattva, or whatever other status his postmortem karmic/dharmic condition might entail.

Do I believe such possibilities and categories of being are real? Oh, naturally. Of course. But it’s also important to keep in mind that as the Vedas (and several other traditional spiritual teachings) declare,

“All the devas (gods, goddesses, angels, ascended saints, etc) are within you.”

According to the ancient Vedic teachings, the entirety of the objective macrocosm (all the heavenly spirit realms together with the gross physical universe) is not only parallel and co-extensive with the microcosm (the subjective reality of human consciousness and physical individual bodily existence), but each is contained in the other as the other. Not only are all the gods within you, according to the Vedas, so is the entire universe or cosmos; everything is within you, as you are also within everything. Thus,

“Everything is everywhere,”

as the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander said; moreover,

“Every thing is everything, and everything is every thing,”

as my teacher, the modern Vedic sage Maharishi said. Everything is contained in every thing; everything, including every “wisdom being” (whether historical or heavenly, or “merely folkloric / archetypal”) is in your own body and your mind; all reality is contained within the objective reality of your own bodily existence and within the subjective reality of your own mind (your conditioned self and its true underlying, unconditioned nature as the ego-transcending infinite self-less Self — boundless unmanifest pure Being (Being-ness), or pure consciousness.


Robin Hood of Peace & Writing

In traditional Chinese folk religion, the historic Robin Hood-like hero, General Guan Yu (died 220 AD), came to be revered as the patron saint (or guardian angel or god) of literature. This, it is said, is because the serenely brilliant general could read an entire page of Confucius without going cross-eyed!

Guan Yu is the guardian spirit of peace as well as of literature, as he was famous for using his considerable strategic intelligence and writing skills to compose highly effective letters persuading warring factions to accept and sign brokered peace treaties and work together for the benefit and protection of the people. He also once promised his arch enemy that should the man be killed in battle, he would care for and marry the man’s beloved and defenseless widow—a woman notorious as a most unattractive and argumentative person.

I often contemplate the lessons contained in Guan Yu’s example when I sit to write. It helps remind me to heed the implied sage advice to aspire always to write on behalf of the peace and welfare of all people, and to make my text so intelligible and rewarding that even a general on the battlefield could get to the end of at least one page without going cross-eyed, or worse.  To encourage myself to be receptive to Guan Yu’s guardian patronage and divinely heroic assistance, I keep a small votive figure of the saintly general on my writing desk. Before starting to compose my first page of the day, I offer incense with a request for guidance & support from his benignly ego-less spirit of compassionate generosity and dedicated clarity of purpose.

Thomas Merton, American radical hermit poet-monk

Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan revolutionary poet-priest

“The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies.”

—Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American Catholic monk, priest, & peace activist;  Letter, November 17, 1962, to Ernesto Cardenal (born 1925), Nicaraguan priest & liberation theologian

“I felt miserable all day…for the fact that such a person exists. But still we know that all Kings and Emperors and Presidents and Prime Ministers and Heads of Universities and Companies and Popes and bishops and priests and even editors are liars and hypocrites and robbers, and, as Christ said, not one of these “rich” men shall set a foot into Heaven — so why feel miserable? You may say, “They all stand (or fall) together, so why should not we?” That’s just the point, and just the difference between us and them. We stand each many by himself, in the style of Thoreau.”                                                                                                                                                    —R.H. Blyth (1898-1964), English-born scholar, author of Zen In English Literature; Last letter, September 1964, to American poet James W. Hackett


Eyes of Compassion observing Sentient Beings, 

Assemble an ocean of Blessings beyond measure. 

Lotus Sutra

The eyes of compassion see the many beings,   

The ocean of happiness and endless life is boundless.

—Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), Japanese Zen master & poet-painter

signed self-portrait as Kuan-yin, quoting the Lotus Sutra


Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 1.06.12 PM

[deep, deep, things of the mind

empty, empty, vast affinities

a hundred of those evil-doers (demons)

all in silence (stillness) see]

The deep clarity of the awakened mind

is vast as the boundless sky.

See and apprehend all these malicious and evil men

in the silence of contemplation.

—Gao Qipei (1672-1734), Chinese diplomat

& eccentric Ch’an (Zen) literatus painter

signed self-portrait as Guan Yu (d.220),

divinized hero of peace & literature

^^^   ^^^   ^^^

^^^   ^^^   ^^^



freedom from war, slavery, and terrorism

Carlow Cathedral St Patrick Preaching to the Kings 2009 09 03

St Patrick Speaking Truth to Power – condemning Christian war and slavery

My country is the world, my religion is to do good.                                                                  —The Rights of Man

This bread is the body of the cosmos.                                                                                               —Thich Nhat Hanh

Happy (belated) St Patrick’s Day!

Saint Patrick was an actual historical figure. He was born into a Christian family in Romanized Celtic Britain, during the last days of Britain’s centuries-long status as a very important province on the extreme frontier edge of the Roman Empire. (Patrick’s exact dates are uncertain, traditional historical records together with modern scholarly research indicate that he was born probably in 373 or 387 and died in either 461 or 493.)

Along with an estimated million or so other people living today, I am a co-lateral descendant of Patrick—in my case a nephew, 53 generations removed. That is, at least, if traditional genealogical records are accurate, according to which, intermarriage eventually took place between early descendants of at least two of Patrick’s several sisters, St Darerca and St Tigridia. One result is that St Patrick is thus an ancestral uncle to many persons living today–53 generations removed.

Although Saint Patrick is only one of many other Christian saints (including these two of his sisters!) who are among my own family’s ancestral forebears, he has always been one of our favorite “patrons.” This is not so much because we are related to him, however distantly, nor for all the typical lucky-charms kitschy folk cultural whiskey, snakes, and shamrocks and leprechaun sparkles sprinkled all around St Patrick’s cultus, but because of his unprecedented early historical stance against Christian rulers and military personnel who engaged in aggressive wars and torture, and against Christians in general condoning and practicing slavery, and for his practice of equality for women.

As papal-appointed missionary presiding bishop serving both Ireland as well as his own childhood homeland (the former Roman province of Britain), Patrick publicly denounced and excommunicated a local Christian king, Coroticus Rex aka Ceretic Guletic, ruler of a small coastal British and Irish state known as Aloo or Alt Clut.

Patrick not only publicly excommunicated and condemned this Christian king but also all the members of his Christian military as well. Their sin? Engaging in wars of terrorist aggression and in the various crimes and sins that accompany war: mass murder—including “collateral murder” of innocent civilians; abduction and torture—i.e. “extreme rendition”; beatings, rapes, and enslavement; robbery and destruction of property, culture, and the environment.

Like Saint Patrick, Coroticus Rex was a Christian from Romano-Celtic Britain. Following centuries of imperial rule, the Roman garrisons and administration had withdrawn from Britain around the time of Patrick’s childhood, beginning their gradual retreat in 383 and ending in 410. This left the fully Christian, fully Romanized population of the former imperial province to their own devices surrounded by often hostile pagan enemies–the pagan Scots of Northern Ireland and north west Britain, the former Christian but reverted pagan Picts of northern Britain (Scotland), the Hibernians of Ireland (some of whom were Christians, others pagans), the pagan Germanic Saxons, Jutes, and Angles, and the mostly still-pagan Franks of Gaul or France. Without the Roman apparatus of state in place, the large former province of Britain, the northernmost outpost of Roman civilization for centuries, quickly broke up into petty local kingdoms under the control of numerous Christian war-lords and their militias. These small kingdoms were similar to those prevailing in Ireland, north Britain (Scotland), and many other areas outside the Empire’s borders, among both Christian and pagan populations. Coroticus established himself as a regional king over an area combining and controlling part of the former Roman west coast of Britain and part of the north coast of Ireland.

Like other Christian and non-Christian rulers of his time (and ours!), Coroticus Rex maintained the wealth and power of his court and his state primarily by terrorism and war, threatening and invading other kingdoms, subjugating their populations through controlling and exploiting trade, imposing taxes and extorting bribes and “protection” money, and launching surprise military attacks resulting in wholesale murder, imprisonment, torture, and rape of old and young, of men, women, and children, beatings and armed robbery, destruction and damage to infrastructure, culture, and environment and,—most profitably of all,—through capturing and abducting citizens, mostly women and children, to be sold abroad as slaves.

In one such military terrorist raid by Coroticus, the British Christian king and his army of fellow British Christians attacked Patrick’s unprotected missionary community in Ireland, slaughtering most of the people they found there, and hustling away the survivors in chains to be beaten, raped, and sold into slavery in Britain and the continent. The king and his soldiers took whatever else of value they could cart away, and burned the peaceful religious settlement to the ground before departing.

In response, Patrick sent an envoy to the court of Coroticus, bearing a letter urging the king to return the victims he had taken away as slaves. Patrick’s request was met with derision. He then wrote a second letter, Epistola Ad Coroticum (“Letter to Coroticus and his Soldiers”), in which he condemned and excommunicated the Christian king and his entire Christian military. Patrick had this letter dispatched to Rome and distributed to other royal courts throughout Britain and Ireland, giving public notice that Coroticus and the members of his state terrorist Christian military were no longer under the protection of God, the pope, and the church, and were suspended from membership in the international Christian community.

Until well into modern times, Patrick’s Letter remained the earliest extant and indeed the only known historical document by any Christian religious or political leader of the first millennium condemning the practice of either or both slavery and wars of aggression along with their related atrocities as being both sins and crimes forbidden to Christians, and excommunicating those Christians—including political rulers and military personnel—who committed such acts of inhumane violence and ungodly evil. Christians who perpetrate war and slavery, Patrick wrote, were sons of Satan, not children of God.

Saint Patrick also, throughout his decades as a missionary bishop consistently treated women as equal (or nearly-equal) to men, and contrary to Roman custom placed communities of nuns under their own chosen women leaders (abbesses), and frequently placed these abbesses also in charge of “double” monastic communities that included monks as well as nuns and sometimes lay-families as well. The office of “abbess” in such cases was basically equivalent to that of bishop, and indeed was often more powerful, responsible, effective and respected.

Many earlier Christians, having understood their religion to be pacifist in nature, had gone to their death as “enemies of the state” for refusing to fight in wars or to be drafted for service in the military (this still occasionally occurs even today).         By Patrick’s time, however, the retreating Roman empire and the expanding missionary church had already begun to blend to some extent, with the church more and more staunchly supporting the state (and its endless wars) and even taking on many of its political roles as sacred functions.

In 380 Emperor Theodosius I not only declared the version of Christianity as codified by the Nicene Council of 325 to be the sole official state church of the Roman Empire, his Edict of Thessalonica made it the Empire’s sole legal religion, outlawing on point of death any and all other religious teachings, practices and affiliations, including the many other variant forms of Christianity then existing in the Empire and beyond.

And while the collection of texts which came to be known as the New Testament had yet to be uniformly agreed upon, collated, codified, and finalized by the church, it was clear that from this point forward state-approved and state-imposed Christianity was now unambiguously a religion that was pro-Empire and thus also pro-war and pro-slavery. From this point forward the state military and the entire apparatus of the world’s then biggest empire was now officially Christian, and the church was now also officially pro-imperial and pro-military. And the popes and bishops were becoming significant slave-owners, military advisors, and political power-players. The Roman state, Roman civilization, and Roman religion were once again essentially one, but now Christian rather than pagan.

Growing up during the early days of this transition phase, Patrick seems to have held a modified version of an earlier understanding of Christianity, one that was already otherwise virtually non-existent by his adult years. For he excoriated Coroticus Rex and his military for betraying their status and duty as the beneficiaries and guardians of Roman civilization and the rule of law of an empire that no longer functioned in their region, while at the same time he also condemned them for betraying their Christian faith by engaging in the unholy practices of war, slavery, and related forms of terrorism.

Roman civilization and law had never forbidden war or slavery, in fact it had always thrived on utilizing and glorifying precisely those two engines to the extreme. And if pre-imperial state-sponsored Christianity had possibly or even apparently(?) once been decidedly pacifist and abolitionist, there was by Patrick’s time little evidence of that earlier value-system left in the texts that were already on the way to eventually being standardized and finalized as constituting the New Testament. In the scripture version still in the process of being officially formulated and adopted by the church during Patrick’s lifetime, the foundational texts would end up admonishing Christians to pay their war-tax to the emperor, and their loyalty and obedience to the (Roman) state, while soldiers were admonished to obey their officers, slaves were ordered to obey their masters, sons and daughters to obey their fathers, and women to obey their husbands. All very much in keeping with ancient traditional highly conservative patriarchal Roman civilization and the highly aggressive authoritarian thoroughly militarized Roman imperial war-state, police-state, slave-state.

And the Roman empire was hardly unique in supporting and requiring obedience to precisely these kinds of religiously ordained values and practices. This was basically the relationship that had seemingly almost always prevailed between political states and the religions they allowed to survive within their spheres of control. And it is still largely true today over much of the world.

Patrick’s understanding of the proper relationship between the Christian religion and Christian political states seems to have been at least somewhat different.

There is only one other case I’m aware of, before the end of the first millennium, in which a Christian leader, including the long line of popes, came even partially close to Patrick’s stance in speaking humane truth to Christian political power in attempting to abolish the Christian practices of slavery and (/or) wars of aggression by publicly condemning by name Christian rulers who engaged in such acts of terrorism, &/or also forthwith excommunicating such rulers and their entire military personnel for committing such dreadful evils. And this second case I have in mind came not from a church leader, per se, but from the political ruler of a powerful Christian kingdom.

In this instance, which is the only one I have found of its nature during that long era, a 7th century Christian monarch officially and apparently effectively abolished slavery throughout her realm. This ruler was Queen Saint Bathild (626-680), ruler of the Frankish kingdom of France. As queen-consort ruling with her husband and later as reigning widowed monarch and regent ruling for her underage sons, Saint Bathild abolished slavery in France and worked tirelessly to broker peace among various warring factions within her realm and among the kingdom’s enemies abroad. Ironically, Saint Bathild is also another one among the many historical Christian saints in my family tree—she is one of my direct ancestral grandmothers, forty-five generations removed.

More on Bathild and Patrick later.

Happy belated St Patrick’s Day, happy belated St Bathild’s Day (January 26th and 30th). Happy patron ancestors day. Happy freedom from state-sponsored and church-sponsored Christian slavery and Christian war and terrorism Day (“peace and freedom now–if you want it”)!

Queen Saint Bathild’s hair, cut when she retired to a convent and became a nun.

Dating and waiting…

light hand
“If anyone can tell me how to behave in the face of losing one’s spouse to death, I will be beholden. My behavior is as always, but my activities are now completely changed. I don’t want to do the same things—they are too painful or hollow or both.”
—blog comment posted by recently-widowed woman, early 30s

As many readers here know, my own wonderful young sweetheart-partner died three years ago. We were blissfully married for many years. Ideally paired. Crazy in love. She was pretty much just perfect (and more), so our life together was just astonishing. And thus a very hard act to follow.
But I’m not only solidly hopeful of future love, I’m fully convinced of its inevitable eventuality. Meanwhile, naturally, it’s sometimes excruciating. Sometimes just amazingly, exhaustingly boring.
Ha!—strangely oxymoronic but true: conditions can be so boring they become amazingly so!

Among so much else, this all means I have a certain resonance with the widow who recently posted the blog comment quoted above. Her post had also related that several people she knew had felt free to comment unfavorably on her own “behavior” following the death of her husband! I assume this refers to her personal involvement in post-bereavement dating. Some people are just inexcusably rude!

Snarky judgment of my post-widowered “behavior” hasn’t been a problem in my own life. Sure, I’ve fielded some strange & sometimes surprisingly callow comments, but not of that precise category. The overwhelming majority of comments on my own widowerhood have been sincerely sympathetic, appreciably empathetic. And I am grateful. And then, many times, folks just don’t know what to say, or how to express their kindly sad feelings. I’ve never known what to say in such cases either, even now! Just, “I’m so sorry for your troubles.” And, “Thank you so much.”

As to my own post-bereavement dating, my Beloved had earlier made me firmly promise that I would not linger in grief or postpone or avoid beginning to meet and mingle with people, had made me promise to stay fully open to life, and to begin to date and to love again without hesitancy or inhibition.

Most of the time I don’t write much about the really intimate private aspects of my own life, including my own love-life past or present. (And I’m not really going to now, either.) Sure, I sometimes relate little anecdotes here and there, but I never or perhaps almost never go into what life is really like for me romantically. I wouldn’t know how to begin to discuss such things.
Somewhat along these lines, however, just in the last two or three days I’ve been asked again a few times by various friends and acquaintances, “So, are you dating now? Seeing anyone these days?”

Answer: Yes, I do occasionally date nowadays,—when there’s a sufficient mutual interest of that sort. But No, I’m not “seeing anyone” in particular—i.e. not seeing any one special woman in any steady or exclusive way at this time.
Just the other night, that response prompted a new woman friend to say “So, then, you’re playing the field ?—I should have guessed, you seem like such a player!” She delivered this with a somewhat teasingly mischievous/ ironic smile & chuckle. In part, it was meant as a kind of compliment. Sort of. And all in good fun, of course. But, as I assured her, that’s actually just so much the opposite of where I’m at & where I’ve always come from with regard to dating and relationships.

In truth, compared to “merely” dating, I’ve always vastly preferred the deep, one-on-one romance of holistic life-partnership (as in marriage, whether publicly declared & registered or not). That kind of all-in Solid Love remains my undiminished ideal. So, while dating, I’m also waiting. For romantic Deep Significance. Open to what comes, meanwhile. Dating a little bit now, yes, but so far not yet going steady…or more. When things change significantly on that front, I’ll be sure to let you know. Eventually. Probably first just savour it silently for a while, of course.

As to the new widow finding that all her activities “are now completely changed” and that she doesn’t want to do the same things as they all “are now too painful or hollow or both”—I know exactly what she means, naturally. But with time, I’ve found, the experience of the too painful-&/or-hollowness of long-familiar activities shifts and one’s saturation in the Wholeness of Life again predominates one’s awareness & perception, redeeming the potentiality (and now once again the actuality) of finding pleasure and joy anew in many long-familiar activities. And new activities now continue to add themselves to the mix.

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