Monday, November 23, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part III of III)

The following is the third and final part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

The Black Madonna is a timely and powerful symbol because she offers us, as a revered image, not only a straightforward rebuke to racism and the denigration of people of color, but a rebuke to the pale and practically disembodied images of the feminine presented in too many Virgin Mary depictions. She is black and beautiful. The black Madonna offers us a powerful invitation into the darkness in order to be creative. She will not let her fear stop her from looking at what is in there. She knows that there is a path, ultimately creative, that leads through the darkness of grief and loss, of self-examination, and sometimes of sweat and blood. 

This black Madonna is compassionate, but not shallow or weak, and will not hesitate to overturn the empires of the world, or the dominating structures within ourselves that keep us from living and serving life fully and joyfully. This black Madonna has no patience for the glaring full solar patriotism of Fox News, which only wants to see our nation as “awesome,” and justified in our nation’s use of force on the streets or in secret prisons. 

This black Madonna can walk through the deep self-examination of our nation’s shadows in its history and present. She knows how to bring creativity to bear as we walk into the shadows of our racism, of our violence, and of our injustice. She knows how to explore our own shadows, and trusts that healing is found in there for our addictions, our depressions, our old wounds, and our "reactivities."

The Black Madonna has depth and strength. She represents mature feminine archetypal energy, one that has integrated the masculine archetype’s strength of focus and present purpose while maintaining the profound feminine power of compassionate nurturing and presence, of sensual creativity, and deep response to life.

I bring these images because I believe they are, over time, capable of guiding and inspiring our faith into wisdom and passion. Their reclaiming represents an act of creative appropriation of our tradition, a drawing forth of that prophetic imagination which is needed to meet our moment faithfully, to resist the powers of death and embrace the power of resurrection. 

As we place the mural in our sanctuary, the invitation is to note the issues of the day that are touching your heart, be they social issues or personal challenges, and to begin to let the image and voice of the Green Man and the Black Madonna enter the conversation. 

What does this sacred marriage say to us? How can it sustain and inspire us to keep keeping on? How can we let their energy flow through us into the world?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part II of III)

The following is the second part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

Rev. Todd Smiedendorf
As depth psychologist Carl Jung would have expected, the images of the Green Man and the Black Madonna are not only part of our Christian heritage (albeit often overlooked and even repressed), but predate Christianity and are found in other traditions by different names. Both appeared in a strong way in Christianity in the early medieval.

The Green Man is found in numerous cathedrals in Europe, and at Chartres Cathedral 72 times. He is portrayed as a male face peering out of the leaves, or a face made of leaves, sometimes spewing vines and leaves from his mouth, sometimes friendly and sometimes fearsome. Unlike the Enlightenment dreams of Descartes and Bacon of dominating nature, the Green Man is about relating to nature, discerning the wisdom of nature, being of nature, and being generative like the earth. 

It is interesting to note that in the seven-chakra system of Hinduism, the fourth chakra, the heart, is green. In that sense perhaps, the Green Man draws our masculine-dominated culture out of the head knowledge of scientific data down into the heart. And given his rooted, earthy nature, he draws us down into our lower chakras, into knowing and honoring our primal, embodied, creative, generative nature. In our day, the Green Man is in part a green warrior, defending the earth from the immature juvenile masculine dominance of our culture that is too often centered in the individual, in the immediate want, and in short-term profit that is oblivious to sustainability or justice. 

"The Green Man in Fall" by Narthyxa
The Green Man is also part sage, the human consciousness rooted in the life-giving ways of earth, knowing the secrets of what happens in the dark, unseen realms of roots, and in the inner unseen realms of Spirit. The Green Man embodies a mature masculine energy, dedicated to service and generating life, awakened to the inner and unseen realms where life regenerates itself. In this sense, he is the mature masculine that has integrated the archetypal feminine power that knows the inner realms and the wisdom of compassion.

His mature masculine quality makes the Green Man the ideal partner for the Black Madonna. While not as numerous in Protestant Christianity, there are countless images of Mother Mary in Christianity worldwide. Some of these have Mary and sometimes the baby Jesus with dark skin, in fact about 400-500 of them, mostly in Europe dating to the medieval period and some in the Americas. Some are statues and some are icon paintings. The reasons for the dark skin are probably varied, perhaps by design, perhaps by weathering.

Check back later this week for the third and final installment of this guest blog. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sacred Marriage: The Green Man and the Black Madonna (Part I of III)

The following is the first part of a three-part guest blog from Rev. Todd Smiedendorf, Sr. Pastor at Wash Park UCC in Denver. If you would like to contribute a guest blog to Radically Connected, please email Cory at

Rev. Todd Smiedendorf
What social issue is touching you right now? What issues are weighing on your heart, enough for you to change something, make a call, write a letter, write a check, read a book, have a difficult conversation? Inequality, racism, environmental degradation, etc?

I would suggest that every one of these issues, these struggles, these sources of pain is caused by imbalance, some kind of situation where something is dominating something else, where some energy or task or person or life is being neglected or devalued. True? I would venture to say that this applies to any personal issue that is touching your life as well. The social and individual places that are too much or too little represent places where life is not thriving, where there is suffering, where death is getting a foothold.

That’s why the image of wholeness is so important. That’s why I preached last week of God as wholeness, and as in the business of whole-making as Matthew 5:48 suggests. It is worth noting that Spirit in both Hebrew and Greek is essentially the word for breath, and that the inhale and exhale cycle of our breathing is the simplest connection we have to the principle of wholeness.

Spirit invites us into this divine journey of whole-making that makes for justice and joy, that produces the wisdom and compassion that serves life. We can see that in the passage from the Gospel of Thomas, a series of over 100 Jesus's sayings which were discovered in the 20th century and widely circulated in the early church. Saying 22 could be seen as one of the most direct calls to wholeness in our spiritual lives: A classic mythic symbolic way to represent wholeness is that of marriage, the royal marriage of king and queen, or the sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine that the Greeks would have called the hieros gamos

As I mentioned at church on Sunday, November 8, we have placed a new work of art on the cross that stands in the eastern part of our sanctuary. This new mural is dedicated to wholeness, to the sacred marriage of the archetypal masculine and feminine.

So I’d like to get us acquainted with the two images that will anchor this mural and represent the sacred masculine and the divine feminine: the Green Man and the Black Madonna. The theologian Matthew Fox is responsible for the suggestion of the importance of these two images, and for their symbolic marriage in his book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men. We at Wash Park are simply daring to represent it on canvas, and to place it on the cross in Celtic Christian style circle, at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal axes.

Check back next week for Part II! 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Provo Interfaith Choir and Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis of Provo Community Congregational Church wears many, many hats. 

Dave Lewis of Provo Community Church
His major roles are Organist and Music Director, Public Affairs and Building/Construction Liaison, Handyman, Maintenance/Improvements, and Landscaping. Recently, I touched base with him to talk about Provo's Interfaith Choir, a very special and unique entity

The Provo Interfaith Choir was formed in early 2014 between members of three local denominations: PCCUCC, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, and a local young single adult congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

From that, four concerts were performed in 2014 at PCCUCC, where the volunteer choir rehearses. Dave was asked to be the conductor, and remains so now as well. This year, the choir took a hiatus and performed some reorganizing for the better part of 2015. Now, with renewed support, two concerts are coming up; United We Sing! and Carols by Candlelight. Currently, choir-rehearsal attendance is nearly at 30!

United We Sing! began last year as the driving force behind the Interfaith Choir. Other faiths, including Seventh-Day Adventist and Catholic, have also joined for this event and will do so again on Nov. 16. 
As the director of the choir, it has been a special experience for Dave to watch and listen to the interactions and conversations between people of different faiths. The goal has been to step out of our own comfort zone, get to know others, and share their common faith through music. 

Carols by Candlelight is a tradition that is now in its 37th year, started by a local couple (now in their nineties) out of their home. The concert is a beloved tradition of the community, and Dave gets asked about it nearly year-round.

Additionally, Provo Community Church is in the process of raising money to begin a much-needed renovation of their church. You can find out more about the renovation and donate to their cause on their website