When I started this blog site I thought about doing a comparative anaylsis, or rather a critical application of the tarot set against daily scripture readings. Even under the auspices of this blog having a primary focus on tarot reading, it would have been the easiest thing EVER for me to have formatted this blog as an interpretation of the daily scripture readings of the daily Catholic mass schedule. Almost every day when reading the scripture, there is a tarot card image that pops into my mind whose symbology is apropos of the biblical lesson. I could have simply posted the daily reading, and interpreted it based on the casuistry of the Virtues inherent in the tarot cards. As I have mentioned numerous times previously, the tarot is simply a kind of paupers' bible, able to present virtue ethics through a visual narrative of imagery, surreptitious chance, memory, and creative interpretation. The Bible is full of the same lessons, concepts, parables, and virtues that are contained in the tarot. Both are guides to good living.
Let’s take for instance the scripture readings from last week’s [Catholic] mass schedule (the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time), sometimes referred to as the readings of the two widows—one from the stories of Elijah in the first Book of Kings, the other from the Gospel of Mark:
In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zaraphath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.” She left to get it, and he called out after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.” She answered, “As the Lord, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Isreal, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”
(Kings I 17:10-16)
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In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury (the tithing offertory box of the church). Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came along and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”
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I read two interpretations of these scripture readings this week, and each of them was different and focused on different aspects of what the stories meant… and both of them were absolutely spot on.
Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, interpreted these stories as examples of the spirit made flesh—narrative examples of the abundance of God that was revealed through human intervention: in one story, through the proclamation of Elijah as the mouthpiece of God; in another, through the example of a widow’s complete surrender to faith that God will take care of her [as Jesus is continuously trying to convince us (see Matthew 14:22-33; Matthew 6:25-34; Matthew 17:20)]. Miracles happen. The miraculous is not impossible with true faith. Absolute abundance can come from utter poverty. In a sense we can consider these stories as parables of Jesus himself—because Jesus was spirit made flesh, he was first and foremost the ultimate gift of God’s abundance packaged in the form of a man.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who presides at St. Philomena Parish in Detroit, Michigan gave a homily concerning these scripture readings which touched on the same message:
“The lessons today do urge us to reach out to the poor, to be generous in sharing, but most of all, to develop that spirit of total trust in God, a spirit that will bring calmness, peace and joy into our hearts.”
…but did so by way of focusing on the “poor in spirit,” those who suffer the structured and systemic injustices of exclusion… Gumbleton points out that the gospel story is pretty blatant in delineating the class differences in society—and speaks about the privileged classes in not very flattering ways. We should, after all, “beware of [them].” Gumbleton uses the opportunity to accentuate his (our) current social disparities, naming “the most vulnerable people in…society,” and even invoking the voice of Archbishop (and martyr) Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Gumbleton wasn’t doing so in an effort to get his parishioners to contribute more; he was doing so in order to make a public social commentary on the disparities in class that are created by our current system of capitalist-meritocracy,… on the divisive elements like materialism that separate us from one another, placing more value on the accumulation of things (greed, covetousness) than on the gifts of human interaction and empathy which we can share inter-personally,… divisive elements which, as Jesus points out, do not exclude the stratifying actions of [our contemporary] religious leaders and divisive elements of pride and privilege to which religious leaders are not immune.
In subtle ways, Gumbleton's message has a very contemporary and immediate meaning when taken in the context of the failure of the Church's highest leaders to have come to any agreement concerning a more welcoming and merciful congregation of faith during the recent synodal gathering of bishops. In contradiction to the exclusion and division that many Catholics are faced with through the interpretation of Church doctrine by the many in hierarchy, Gumbleton has discovered an opposing interpretation that provides empowerment and hope to those who are disparaged, disheartened, of feel spiritually defeated.
Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange, 1936
I loved this, and I felt more enriched for the multiplicity of interpretations. It wasn’t as if one of these interpretations more aptly reflected my world, while the other interpretation more readily was applied to someone else… BOTH interpretations have relevance in my personal world-view. BOTH interpretations have messages to be conveyed to human beings without restrictions (as long as those who have ears are willing to hear them).
Admittedly, it’s absolutely true that a person who makes a six-figure salary might be affected by these homilies differently than a person living below the poverty line who depends on a neighborhood food shelf to supplement her pantry. But it doesn’t mean that the information is any less relevant to either party. This is the magical mystery of the gospel stories and of the Bible—no less than it is of the tarot—that the lessons and meaning and intent that can be gleaned from the stories—or the tarot cards—can have an infinite number of revelations and applications. Despite having absorbed both these interpretations from last Sunday’s scripture readings, and being able to relate to them on both levels of interpretation, there is nothing keeping me from hearing these same scripture readings three-years from now, hearing them re-interpreted in yet another completely new way, and being able to decipher even more wisdom from them based on how they might apply to my particular living situation and income at that point three years from now.
This is the same reason that a single tarot card can have an infinitesimal number of interpretations and applications towards any particular subject at any given time. There’s no mystery behind it other than the creativity of the reader to be able to apply Wisdom significance towards the subject based on the card’s narrative, and the universality of the image subjects. The Gospel stories apply to all of us, regardless of socio-economic class, race, gender, or any other artificial stratifying, man-contrived division. The tarot—our pauper’s bible—is no less remarkable in its universal, stratification-busting application to the human condition.