Sabbath Day – China
I woke up today singing the theme from Star Wars. My family has tickets to the premier this evening, and we are over-the-moon excited. Over the past ten days we have re-watched the original series (omitting the awful episode 1). We chose to follow the Empire/Anakin story arc through episodes IV and V, flashing back to episodes II and III, and then returning to finish with episode VI. By far the best way to watch the series.
Today will include finishing up some odd and ends projects, meeting with a friend, a bit of reading, and (hopefully) August giving his goat a bath.
As I continue my year of reading multi-national literature, I turned to China this week. On my shelf I found The Tears of Lady Meng: A Parable of People’s Political Theology by C.S. Song, first published in 1981. Song took a traditional Chinese folk story a mined it as a form of popular theology in resistance to the idolatrous cult of national security, that is, Empire. In the tale, Lady Meng loses her husband to the violent and brutal empire of the wicked and unjust Ch’in Shih Huang-ti. Meng’s husband Wan is entombed in the stones of the Great Wall, a sacrifice to the God of national security. In seeking his bones, Meng’s tears ultimately tear down the wall, and later damn the Emperor. Though she loses her life to the vengeful ruler, Lady Meng lives on, incarnate in silver fish which can be found wherever people need hope.
Having just witnessed the Republican presidential debate on national security which Gail Collins described as “bellicose paranoia” in which candidates battled over “who could make things sound more dire, or offer solutions more drastic,” Song’s description of the cult of national security seemed pulled from the headlines: “The cult secures not the security of the nation but the security of the ruling party. The cult enhances not the security of the people but the security of the autocratic ruler.” To this, the people may offer tears and truth, which are the opposite here of fear.
Though this book has been on my shelf for years, I am grateful that Kwok Pui-Lan brought it back to my attention during the recent Bible and Empire conference at Columbia Theological Seminary. I rounded out my reading with an anthology of Chinese poetry, including Ho Ch’i-Fang, Luo Fu, Lei Shuyan, Bei Dao, Duoduo, Yu Jian, Gu Cheng, Zhai Yongming, Zhang Er, Xi Chuan, and Yen Chen.
Thinking of Lady Meng, I was struck by how many of these Chinese poems mentioned tears. The first poem I read by Wen I-to began,
Perhaps you have wept and wept, and can weep no more. / Perhaps. Perhaps you ought to sleep a bit…
Likewise, Ben Dao speaks of
spring water’s laid bare / the sleep underlying landscapes / we take turns hiding beneath / windows of endless light weeping.
In a year when presidential candidates are talking about building bigger and better border walls; in a season in which we mark the migration of a holy family, a trip that would be impossible in Palestine today; in a week in which fear of the ‘other’ has trumped other voices, we need these tears and truth that call out the powerful and bring down the walls.
Ultimately, Song says, these tears are the tears of God, who becomes incarnate as a force more powerful than Empire. “And our power ethic believes in the ultimate victory of God who lives with people and gives them the power of truth, love and justice.”
Have a happy Sabbath everyone, and May this Force be with you.