OF CATTLE STAMPEDES AND STATIO
In the Howard Hawks film Red River, there is an early moment when the cattle
stampede. The night is jumpy. Everyone is walking carefully to avoid spooking the herd. In
the distance, a coyote barks repeatedly. We know the cattle are going to bolt and
so do the cowboys around the campfire. The question is: How will it happen? What will set
them off? One of the hands causes the inevitable when he stumbles into the pots and pans
on the chuck wagon as he is filching sugar to satisfy his sweet tooth. Although no one
wanted the stampede, everyone is relieved once it begins. The tension is broken. The story
is on its way.
Putting together a magazine is a bit like that. Editors and authors mill around the
chuck wagon waiting for it all to come together. They know it is going to happen. Somehow,
it always does. Often, there is a last essay out there that will drop into place or a
surprise contribution will change the composition radically. The stampede occurs;
inevitably all of the cattle run off in an unexpected direction. But they all go together.
This issue of Cross Currents might feel on first encounter like a stampede in
which the cattle are running off in several directions at once. Elise Boulding's essay,
however, suggests a theme: locating statio in apparent chaos. The concept of statio
(a moment of reflection), which has Benedictine roots, turns up more than once in these
articles. Peace, Boulding says, is not a matter of avoiding conflict; it is about
recognizing and learning to live with difference, which inevitably includes conflict. She
surveys the landscape, in search of peace culture, pointing out those places in which it
can be found and might be found in a politically conflicted world.
Liturgy is the natural moment of stillness between stampedes, but it is by no means
lacking in ambiguity. It is not an absence of difference; like art, it can be
destabilizing, a challenge to who we are and, even, what we believe. Catherine Madsen
shows us the unsettling Jewish ritual of Tahara, the preparation of the dead for
burial, which incongruously includes verses from the Song of Songs, as an example of the
art of liturgy that sustains but does not trivialize religious feeling. Right worship is
the ground in which theological reflection grows. It is shocking as well as restorative.
Ignacio Götz points out that Plato viewed inspiration is an irruption of the divine
into the ordinary, a kind of necessary possession if one is to ascend to the higher
reaches of knowledge. But it is not alone sufficient for the creation of art (or liturgy).
In order to make art, one has to interpret one's possession, understand one's own madness.
Because the divine embodies the erotic, and vice versa, art is a form of desire that can
bind as well as free us.
That is about as neat a segue into the work of Alice Walker as an editor could want.
Two essays in this issue take up Walker's womanist theology. Pamela Smith sifts the themes
of eros, activism, and pantheism in her writings to reveal an ecospirituality. Linda
Thomas takes womanist theology in a new direction, proposing that it become the basis of a
new anthropological paradigm in which the experience and knowledge of the marginalized can
stand on their own at the center of theological reflection. Her manifesto embodies
womanist perceptions and challenges the rest of us to rethink our reliance on
traditionally defined texts to understand and interpret the lives of women of color. The
construction of knowledge is the issue that Thomas confronts head on -- as indeed Alice
Walker herself does in her art.
Peter Young's reflections on the controversial proposals of Episcopal Bishop John
Shelby Spong, and Rabbi James Rudin's review of the Vatican's statement on the Shoah,
also urge new ways of understanding what we believe, or what we think we believe (or even
know). Similarly, Arthur Hertzberg questions assumptions about what it means to be Jewish
in the emerging multi-cultural future. The statio of certainty has a brief
Notice how the longer, multi-book reviews in this issue pick up the search for still
moments. Whether we are wrenched out of the ordinary by extraordinary events -- such as
murder -- or whether we walk away from the ordinary in search of something like the
divine, there is inevitably a moment, or even several of them, when whatever is happening
is around us. Where we are is silence. We can almost see everything. These are
little illuminations, adumbrations of enlightenment, that are necessary protections.
Finally, the Krishna poems that Denise Levertov translated, with Edward C.
Dimock, Jr., describe the encounter with death and love that is enlightening. We have
selected four of them, along with a woodcut by Anju Chaudhuri, as obituary and homage to
one who's life and work were as statio in chaotic times.
The observant will notice that Joe Cunneen has been kicked upstairs. Although he was
co-editor of this issue, he is now listed on the masthead as Founding Editor, a position
that recognizes his permanent importance for Cross Currents. None of us can thank