Washing of the Feet

“Large areas of Mt. Banahaw will remain closed to trekkers for another three years, as the mountain has yet to fully recover from environmental degradation, but officials are keeping certain areas open to pilgrimages and other religious activities this Holy Week.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has reported that Mt. Banahaw, the tallest mountain in the Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) region and considered a holy, mystical site, has shown signs of improvement after a respite of seven years from ecological disturbances such as pollution and incessant hiking.”

While reading this piece of news from a national broadsheet yesterday, what immediately is retrieved from my memory is Sabbath, the Jewish “idea” of Sabbath. This type of news, though seldom underscored in popular media and if it is, still often ignored, carries an ink of Sabbath consciousness. Even the way the news was written has personified Mt. Banahaw as a living, breathing being: the holy mountain deserves a 7-year respite from human intrusion. It needs its own privacy and distance from human molestation, religious ones included. This is highly commendable as a symbolic gift to the mountain. What forestalls the celebration after 7 years however is the need for a 3-year extension. Or perhaps more. The obvious point is Mt. Banahaw needs a long stretch of time to recover, to get restored to its creational rhythm. And we’re talking about a visible, religious landmark here, a place under the close eye of the public and the auspices of regulatory authority.  What then will the fate be of the hidden, overused and abused?

I have been silent from blogging for a while, the longest since I started the stint, to come closer face-to-face with both inner and outer disquiet. It is a disquiet-into-desuetude only the “fiery dark of silence” can assuage! Words too distant from the Ineffable, ideas too shallow to dip with the Mystery! And if words need to tumble out for writing, they will only be musings of meandering. Distance is a necessity – either for mountains or human beings.

But it is from this vantage point of distance that another form of disquiet has slowly emerged – against the way things are in my religion and its religious practices. You don’t have to agree with me but this is my synthetic view:  Christianity and its religious practices and exercise of ecclesial authority, has been too successful to fail in living out, in embodying the life-giving power of liturgy where the vision of the holiness of God in creation is enacted. Christianity has perilously lost the Jewish roots of our liturgy, the lostness metastasizing into the wreakage of creation. Our liturgy has been too obsequious to the dialectical idea of redemption, influenced by the Enlightenment, to the denigration of creational theology and liturgy. Even atonement, argued theologian James Alison and Biblical scholar Margaret Barker, has turned into a theory for rational assent of placating an angry God and believing in the One who can appease Him, one that is disastrously out-of-sync with how it is acted out liturgically in the First Temple built during the time of Solomon – a liturgy of divine initiative rather than by human initiative of restoring and renewing the brokenness of creation. Down the centuries, we’ve been conditioned that all we need is redemption when the much deeper ancient Jewish vision acted out liturgically is to restore the Garden of creation, by and only through the relentless love that pursues humanity from the Garden of the first creation to the garden of resurrection/recreation.

To acknowledge this divine initiative is to acquire a Sabbath consciousness. It is allowing God to be God. It is human rest (not relaxation) from incessant intrusion and molestation of creation in the name of success and security, power and publicity. The grandiosity of the human program and policies when what is essentially needed is sabbath for everything, or more urgently, the suspension and surrender of everything that is centered around the human being. It is the other unspeakable and the least understood beauty of the crucifixion – the sabbath of total surrender of the divine to the absurdity of the human program. The sabbath at Calvary and at the garden were the ultimate washing of the feet of creation. Not at all estranged from the Old Testament liturgical vision of the Creator winding up the creative activity by resting. Sabbath “completed” the divine creative activity. It is apropos a theology and a prayer to our time of the dominance of the human ego and intelligence. Beyond Mt. Banahaw, may I wash every creature’s feet by allowing the sabbath it deserves.

Francis Yap

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