Holy Infected Week – Our condition and the possibilities of earth’s resurrection- Cláudio Carvalhaes
Holy Infected Week
Our condition and the possibilities of earth’s resurrection
Holy Week starts like every birth should start: with exclamations of joy and shouts of Hosana! The utopia of a new time has arrived! We are preparing the way with palm leaves for what is coming. As a song in Latin America says: “God calls us to a new moment… alone, isolated nobody can move.” And yes, here we are: alone, isolated, not being able to move. This Holy Week is infected by COVID19 and is drastically changing our ways of being in the world.
As humanity, it seems that we have entered in the weeks/years of our last days. The eco-systems are becoming deregulated and their many forms of balance being destroyed. The ways in which the virus is accelerating, shifting, hiding, creating strange effects and throwing us into a loop, clearly shows how little we can control it. The presence of COVID19 is like Palm Sunday but with two different outcomes: One that can signal resurrection and the other that will prepare us for a calamity without redemption. Should we ask: is this infestation a way into life, or like Bruno Latour we should ask “is this a dress rehearsal?” The difference is that if we don’t stop our collective death, what is coming is worse, frightening, unprecedented and totally unknown. Just like COVID19, the disarray of the eco-systems will be uncontrolled and we will have to cope with Fridays and Saturdays without end, without a Sunday.
This holy infested week can be a parable of our time right now. In the gospel story, holy week starts with people preparing the way for Jesus to come, then Jesus gathers with his friends, washes their feet and share a full meal. Then something starts to go really wrong. Jesus goes to Gethsemane and is scared literally to death, of death. The story goes into a spiral of death and decomposition of dreams, social threads. Jesus is betrayed, given to the State who mercilessly kills him. He goes to hell, but then things start to get back to a different form of life. He resurrects people, angels appear to the women who went to take care of his body, he appears to some disciples and then resurrects. The rest, as we know, is in us under the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our present holy week is fully infested with Corona virus, what Phillipe Sansonetti called “the sickness of the Anthropocene.” But why on earth did this happen to us? We thought that we were just celebrating life as always. Nothing was going that wrong until everything went wrong. We were thrown out of our tracks and we are now in amazing disarray. The social filaments of our life together started to dismantle, the decomposition of what held our society together is now clearly in on our sight and the limitations of our power is luminous. Political systems are collapsing, the economic structure was hit at its heart, the expansion of unlimited credits screeched to a halt, extractivism must be stopped, fossil fuel not drank by the gallons. The world pattern of life is sick, its forms of production rotten, its machinery of killing fish and other animals putrefied. It has always been this way but now we cannot avoid seeing it. We can even smell it. We can feel it. We are realizing that we have betrayed our own selves by destroying the earth. The political apparatus of death cannot hide anymore. We are meeting with a pain we didn’t know, a numbness we can’t control and a lot of sincere not knowing why all of this is happening. The main theological idea for this infested week is that the earth was put on the cross, the animals were placed on the cross, the vegetable and mineral world were all placed on the cross. Along with the bodies taken away by COVID19, especially the marginalized communities, the poorest ones. The one part of this infested holy week that is different, is that we are not assured of resurrection anymore. We might all descend into hell without the hope of seeing the light of the day. Unless we rise up early in the day like the women and prepare the way to see a new life, we will miss the possibility of resurrection and will not be able to listen to the angel announcing to us that a new way of life is possible. Otherwise it will be a perfunctory repetition of rituals without justice. Should we put our rituals on permanent suspension until there is justice. Marc Ellis asks, “should we put our rituals on permanent suspension until there is justice? Or will we hold on to a piety that does not relate to the pain of the world?” So here we go.
The Palm branches should be the sign and signal of the inbreak of the love of God into the world, the perennial flowering plants announcing that the realm of plants is there for us if we live in reciprocity: they give us what we need to live and we give them space, care, freedom. On Palm Sunday we must process, walk outside of churches and see that what is outside is not detached from the inside and if we want a new world to happen we can’t just stay inside. As we process, we enter with Jesus into a new Jerusalem, a place where Palestinians also flourish like the Palm trees. The problem is that we never know what to do when we are in Jerusalem. We stop short. We celebrate the idea of it, we even move towards it but then, we are still so attached to the old Jerusalem of our thoughts, of the ethnical cleansing of the Palestinians that we can’t imagine a new world and its demands. If we are to keep going, we will need to be break open so we can find the ideas and means to actually live in a new Jerusalem. This new world as a utopia, a new time comes to us disguised by those who come from below. Not a Messiah full of power but a poor prophet trying to tell us that we must turn our ways: “You heard what was said but I now say this to you…” Perhaps the story of Jesus needs to be recounted with the stories of indigenous people and their multiple stories of relations with the earth. Nonetheless, we fall short: we imagine a new world, but then we cannot muster the demands of change that we need to comply with the demands of a new time. For Jesus’ demands are way too high. Who would give everything away to actually be a Christian? Jesus demands puts us into a double bind: either Jesus’ sayings are mere platitudes or our ways of living ourChristianity are fake discipleship, sugar coated religion, empty rituals, psychologized messages and rationalized beliefs crafted to our demands and possibilities. To follow Jesus is to hold on to the Palm trees and break with what we can in order and go with what we must, giving up the old worlds we lived in and the former ways of being. Otherwise, any utopia will mostly be a projection of what we want and a mirror to our desires. Palm Sunday should be the announcement of the outbreak of what we truly need, even if painful. Palm Sunday is a call to think about our happiness. Not the entitlement of personal happiness, happiness captured in the forms of individual expansiveness demanded by the constitution. Palm Sunday is about how we will live our happiness when we get down to Jerusalem where everybody lives. Happiness as a way of accommodating our desires to a collective sense of responsibility where everyone has the right to a life with dignity, in a democracy that takes into account not only human beings but the worlds of vegetable, mineral and animal beings. Even if infested, can we come down to this new world?
As we go down it seems that we have this special ability for destruction and sabotage of our own hopes and dreams. Since we are so confused with who we are and what we truly really want, we end up disguising our desires with forms of social demands. These form of social demand are organized around neo-liberal politics and economics that are shaping our feelings and affections and we are already realizing that it is not working. We are all getting sick, depressed, half employed, unemployed, anxious by the gallons, dying without health care. Besides, in our total confusion, we have never known the limits between the human and the non-human or other-human worlds and that is the sources of our plagues: the entering of a world that doesn’t belong to us. COVID19 is yet another sign of our moving way beyond our limit for consumption, control and domain. We are descending into a heavy darkness. Not the luminous darkness that Howard Thurman talks about and that is glorious, but to a space where the light that shines doesn’t produce darkness but rather a thickness of loss, fear and confusion. So we arrive at Tenebrae Service. At that day, the ritual signals that something is going awry. A mixture of light, darkness and something else is falling upon us and we don’t know fully what it is. This Tenebrae service says that we are in a place of descent that we can’t quite figure out. We listen, some of us stay home, some of us will work. Some of us will be hit hard and will die. Some others will survive. But the wind of life is now filled with something we can’t quite know. The indigenous people say that the skies are different, the trees are responding in weird ways and the animals are receding. In the service of trevas, we are overwhelmed by a thousand laments that we don’t exactly know . In the service, we read Bruno Latour who points us to a certain why of this time: “Is this a dress rehearsal?” Are we getting ready for what is coming? A global warming catastrophic series of events already happening everywhere? Will we still be slaves of extractivist Corporations everywhere who eat up everything that is earth: mountains, rivers, soil, underground soil, even the moon? Can we hear it? It could be that the earth is telling us: you either go into silence and slowness or I am about to spit you out of my mouth as God said to the to the church in Laodicea in Revelations 3:16. Perhaps… so we read the Lamentations of Jeremiah and his offers of consolation without redemption. The lights go dim and the candles are blown out. At the end of the ritual, there is only one candle light which is taken away. Silence. A long silence. An extremely long pause. Perhaps, if we can hear the silence, we might be able to listen to the luminous darkness within us. We might be able to leave our houses when is still dark to wait for the first rays of the sun. The darkness within us brightened by the light that also lives within us. The light within us also darkened by the darkness of who we are. So we go to a place where the thickness of the unknown will show up and we will have no idea of the where or who or how of anything So we will learn that we can’t control anything. And from there, a beam of responsibility, light and darkness leading the way into the night/light.
The next day we gather, carrying the thickness of this time within us. All we know now is that we need to help those who are suffering, those who are caught in the vortex of demands and exploitations of landlords and CEOs. The poorer ones who cannot hide in their homes, the ones who are suffering domestic violence by partners enraged by their own violence and the violence of this time, health workers putting their lives on line for somebody else, fast food workers who are demanded by upper classes to serve them even though they are exposed every day, farmer workers exposed to COVID19 without any protection harvesting the fields for our nutrition, elderly people who are afraid of being alone and dying alone. All we know today is that we must turn on the siren of our inner ambulances and go serve somebody. Today is the day we learn from Jesus that the main symbol of Christianity might not be the cross but the towel, the towel of service, of care for somebody. When Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, he is taking the position of the slave who used to wash the feet of the guests at the door before they entered into the house for dinner. Today we must serve those who were not invited to dinner. We serve those who do not belong to the list of invitees. Today we move on to hold on somebody’s heart filled with anxiety and consumed by fear. Some churches will strip the altar and with that we learn that our lives are already striped, that which was there before was just an illusion of a protection, of an order, of a certain security. No, we are stripped bare naked and our soul is pumping outside of our body, feeling all of the elements and afraid of what is coming. The dinner with Jesus disciples was already a place where somebody was going to betray him. Like our humanity betraying endlessly the love of plants, animals, oceans, fish, rocks, fields and soil. We are constantly betraying the love of the earth by 30 coins for full economic progress and sustainability. We say we love the earth as Judas loved Jesus. The same way that Judas didn’t actually want to betray Jesus we also do not want to betray the earth. And yet, this is what we do. Judas went to kill himself and we say a prayer for him, as we must say a prayer for all of us destroying our home, our planet . We must change before we also commit a collective suicidal act with our ways of living. We must turn away from our betrayal and say no more! We don’t want to give away Jesus, nor the poor, or the earth. We must not! But we should expect that the State police will come after us and say: “Go buy! Keep working! Keep the economy going or else! You will regret it! We will take away your jobs, we will crush your families, you will be desperate and you will die! We control you! Go now and do what we are telling you! Go kiss the earth goodbye! We will take care of the earth later!” So we leave the service torn between our faithfulness to God who created the earth and demanded us to care for it and the demand of the politicians and the economic corporations who says they will come after us. Before we leave we hear Eliane Brum admonishing us: “Capitalism has already stolen our present, it cannot steal our future.” As we ponder, still infested, we will continue to serve those infested and in need.
We failed. Miserably! We couldn’t do it. Our fear of losing the immediate prevented us from caring for the future. Our future was over consumed by the fear of scarcity. We had to betray Jesus for the police was breathing heavy on our neck. The police state had their boots on our face. It was either Jesus or us. We just couldn’t. It was not our fault. The power system knew too well he was too dangerous and had to use us, those that knew him, to do it. Jesus also knew too well our ways of being and said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Indeed, we are so confused and so far from what grounds ourselves, that we couldn’t do any different. The violent State also knew our weaknesses and also what Jesus could do to us and they had to stop him altogether. People started to believe, they were getting ready to change and to change too much, too many things. We could actually break into a new life! So the spectacle of his death was a necessary and merciless show of pain and violence. Time and again, time and again, time and again. Jesus death points to our death. It was a clear message of the State alerting people: “See this? If you do this, if you don’t follow the demands of our economy and the rules of order and progress, this is what is going to happen to you. You have to believe we will care for you. Don’t be foolish!” And the feeling of shame, embarrassment, defeat, ruin, disaster. The cross of Jesus is the death of all of the wretched put on the cross. All of the discarded as trash, all of those who had to work for others to live, all of the ones bringing fear just by existing, to the upper class ones, the ones chosen to live well. The cross of Jesus is the jails and walls that are everywhere, the stealing of common resources everywhere, sick people dying without access to profiting health systems, students without access to education and students gaining massive debts due to the profiting of educational systems, the expansive treatment only given to some by the profitable pharmaceutical companies. Everybody who was abandoned was there with Jesus and everything that came upon Jesus for his death, is the death of the world. Jesus cries out, “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Abandoned by God, he died. Nothing was left untouched. Jesus’ death was the victory of death, the infestation of the worse forms of the human soul. We were left alone.
The same way, the earth is on the cross right now! We are mercilessly killing the earth in all is possible forms of life! We brutalize animals for consumption, we empty the oceans for our consumerist taste, we thrown gallons of pesticides into the soil killing the earth slowly so we can eat whatever we want at any time of the year, we plant monocultures of soy and corn to feed animals, we turn forests into pasture for animals and all of it for our consumption, we poison the air until we cannot breathe anymore, we pollute the rivers with trash from factories, we pour tons of plastic into the ocean, we actually kill the oceans, we decimate wild life, we extinguish 300 species every single day, we poison grass for our manicured pleasure, we need, we want, we desire, we demand! And then, all is dead and in the path of dying. Nothing will be left for us humans. But the earth will come back with a revenge. Politicians and economic corporations couldn’t care less. They are building bankers for themselves and even thinking about how to create conditions of life in Mars when what we have here is extinguished. There is no hope whatsoever. Everything is dead. Everything is going to die as a ripple effect. We are truly infested, more than we ever imagined! It is finished Jesus said. So are we!
The Great Vigil of Easter
We go home to what we don’t know. Our lives seem to be done. Everything we had was taken away. The world we though we so pristinely had, is gone. Fully gone. We can’t hear the birds of the earth breathing. The animals have gone away from us. We are left bereft, alone, isolated, like a plague that demands us to stay within. And within is the most difficult place to stay. Jesus our North, South, East and West is dead and there is no compass to measure our loss, our grief, our displacement. We don’t anticipate anything anymore besides the lingering of death in its bitterness and emptiness within us. We lean on our numbness. Perhaps our task now is to find a place where we can be Comfortably Numb. We compose a symphony of crashed dreams, empty pockets, a drawer filled with torn cloths, a bare kitchen sink and some leftovers in the fridge that don’t go cold anymore. Imagine that not long ago we were coming down to a new world holding palm leaves for new beginnings. Our future, we felt, was such a given. We even believed that we could change the ways of the world starting with ourselves. But should have known better. The revolution only comes from where we don’t imagine. Where did it began? All we know is that it ended and there is nothing on the horizon. We now spend the nights and days not knowing what to do or where to go. Everything we say to each other is cancelled as if we must shut down anything that doesn’t look like us. We fear. What is it coming our way? An even worse catastrophe? Our fear now universalized, even though the politicians are saying “you lost nothing, we are here for you. We will globalize our safety and no pandemic can defeat us. Don’t worry we have more power to destroy the world than a tiny arrogant virus. Fear not my flock, fear not. Your president is here for you. I just need a little bit more of power for a time of crisis and we will go back to normal. I promise you! What do you have to lose? The world is already in such a mess that we didn’t create. We can’t be responsible for that. But now we are here for you. Trust us! There will be a glorious future for us, one that nobody has ever seen, I promise you.” While this proclamation is enticing, and it feels like we either go there or we assume our abandonment, we are again very confused. Perhaps, it is at that juncture where possibility lies our possibility, our resurrection. Not to trust any government but to demand a new way for our lives to find pathways to a new life. We can’t solve problems but we can create patterns for alterations of productivity, transforming behaviors and altercations that hold together the paradoxes of our time. But how can we muster the energy to get up, seize our enemies and go after them without fear? How do we conquer our fear of the enemy if the fear of death is a sting still infesting our hearts? We sit down and light a fire for the evening for is cold, very cold. Rubem Alves said once that religion is about lightening a fire to keep us warm. With the hope that it won’t burn us, I’d say. Instead, it will just keep us warm, so we find the strength to change what needs to be changed. At night the demons come out, fears run loose, and we are afraid of the creatures of night. We are alone and when somebody who can warm our hearts get closer, in fear we say: “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” And in the midst of the warmth, something can always happen. That is the beautiful thing about our collectivity, the human spirit, that there is always somebody who can lead the way towards life, even amidst those who push us towards death upon death upon death. Thank God there were the women: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They were consumed by the emptiness of their loss, but they had to do what they had to do: care for the body of the diseased. “On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.” They had prepared the spices for Jesus’ body, and off they went. What they didn’t know is that they would find an empty tomb and an angel saying something like “what are you looking for? Your precious Jesus is alive.” They go back and tell everyone else about the news of a new world, but they couldn’t believe. This news was too much happiness to bare. It is the way of our times right now. We are in the midst of death, who would believe that a new form of life is possible out of a world drenched in many forms of death and dying? But perhaps, this virus might be an earth-sent, where God’s angel telling us we are destroying ourselves, that we are going beyond our limits, that we are breaking the balance that took millions of years to happen. The angel is telling us that COVID-19 can be a new way into our future if we pay attention and change our ways. The angel is trying to tell us that COVID19 is teaching us that we can live as a community in different ways, that we power to stop the huge engine of death, productivity and progress that keeps us going. Perhaps COVID19 is also telling us that if we pay attention and care, there might be a new way of being that is possible. If we have already destroyed our present through our capitalistic ways of living and religious detachment from these implications, perhaps COVID19 will teach us to save our future. By changing now! If we look at the earth on the cross in our collective death, may we can find an opportunity of resurrection given to us. We are still infected. Can we hear the angel of life and death?
Sunday morning comes and Jesus appears to the disciples. Thomas, like most of us doubt but he is invited to touch the woundedness of Jesus. He is transformed. Now everyone is paying attention. The unthought gave a way to new thinking, the dead gave way to life. With Mercedes Sosa, we sing: “so many times we were killed, so many times we resurrected and we went on singing under the sun like a buttefly.” The resurrection of Jesus is not a given which means that we with the earth won’t necessarily resurrect. We need to desire to resurrect. Against many Christian theologies we need to work for our resurrection and work hard. Today we are called to be transformers of our own ways of being, calling forth the arrival of a new time when a new form of economy can be organized. Not with big corporations but around communities. We will fight for collective land, we will make health insurance universal and will have an universal salary. We will not allow anyone to become extremely rich and we will all share our gifts. Moreover, like the women, we must prepare for the new momentum, if we see one coming our way. And then realize that the spices we prepared are not needed anymore. We need other spices, other forms of thinking and feeling and organizing. With and against religion. If we hear the angel, we will touch the woundedness of the earth and will begin to heal our hurts and restore and restitute the earth. Bruno Latour says that we can be interrupters of globalization,creating gestures that can eliminate modes of being that are deadly to our present and our future. How can we give the earth space and time to resurrect herself? How can the advent of COVID19 help us create new rituals that envisage new forms of life in reciprocity with the earth? Rituals that can give us awareness of our condition in a more expansive way, in deeply relationality with the earth? Rituals that can help us mend our destruction, restore what we have devastated, and help us restitute our desire towards death? If we continue with our religion and local economies the way we are going, we will continue to produce a form of hope that will only be there to help us breath the dirty air we already have. A kind of hope akin to what Kafka said: “There is plenty of hope. But not for us.” Or we can work towards understanding what the earth is, and how we can honor her, work in reciprocity. Thus we will come to know that the earth in all its complexities and diversity is always a sacrament. If Jesus is not resurrecting in and through the earth, the seeds, the oceans and the trees, is Jesus resurrecting anywhere? If we want start our work as resurrection people, we need to think and decide what we will do. As we finish this infested holy week, let us pause and think about the inventory Bruno Latour gave us. He asks us to think about it first individually and then collectively. After engaging these questions add your own.
- What currently suspended activities would you like to not return to normal?
- Describe why this activity seems harmful/superfluous/dangerous/senseless, and in what way would its disappearance/suspension/substitution would make other activities that you prefer, easier or more pertinent. (Make a separate paragraph for each of the answers listed in question number 1).
- Given the suspension of activities that you are suggesting, what measures would you suggest to facilitate the transition to new activities that would have to be made by workers, employees, business owners, etc.,?
- Which activities that are currently suspended would you like to see start over, grow or even be totally recreated from zero?
- Describe why this activity seems positive to you and how it would make other activities that you prefer easier or more pertinent, and why it helps combat those which you consider unfavorable (Make a separate paragraph for each of the answers listed in question 4).
- What measures would you suggest to help workers/employees/business owners acquire the skills/means/tools to restart/develop or create this activity?
Cover Art by Marc Ellis
 Phillipe Sansonetti, cited by Jérôme Baschet in COVID-19:O século XXI Começa Agora, https://n-1edicoes.org/017
 Bruno Latour, Is This a Dress Rehearsal?, https://critinq.wordpress.com/2020/03/26/is-this-a-dress-rehearsal/
 Eliane Brum, O Futuro Pós-Coronavírus Já Está Em Disputa, https://brasil.elpais.com/opiniao/2020-04-08/o-futuro-pos-coronavirus-ja-esta-em-disputa.html
 Bruno Latour, Imaginar Gestos Que Barrem O Retorno Da Produção Pré-Crise, https://n-1edicoes.org/008-1
George Grosz – jesus wearing a gasmask, from Hintergrund – https://bloghitsallyinside.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/its-george-groszs-birthday/george-grosz-jesus-wearing-a-gasmask-from-hintergrund-2/