Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Naomi Wolf encounters Jesus...

... as a thirteen-year-old boy.

Let me clarify.

Naomi Wolf, whom you see to the right in the photo by Adam Houseman, was -- appearances to the contrary -- herself the thirteen-year-old boy.

Or so she claimed in a Sunday Herald interview (January 22, 2006) with Torcuil Crichton, from which, I'm excerpting her own words:
I am not going to be in the closet about this any more. I'm on a spiritual path, I answer to a higher authority .... [That authority is] God. I believe absolutely that every single one of us is here with a spiritual mission. We come in knowing it and then we forget. If we're lucky, we re-remember. That's part of what this book is about, helping people re-listen to their soul because their soul knows exactly what they're supposed to be doing, even if it is not always clear it knows the direction in which to pull .... [The experience was] completely not the appropriate spiritual experience of someone of my background .... I was completely dumbfounded but I actually had this vision of ... of Jesus, and I'm sure it was Jesus .... But it wasn't this crazy theological thing; it was just this figure who was the most perfected human being -- full of light and full of love. And completely accessible. Any of us could be like that. There was light coming out of him holographically, simply because he was unclouded. But any of us could become that as human beings .... On a mystical level, it was complete joy and happiness and there were tears running down my face. On a conscious level, when I came out of it I was absolutely horrified because I'm Jewish. This was not the thing I'm supposed to have confront me .... I opened the door and there he was .... I wasn't myself in this visual experience .... I was a 13-year-old boy sitting next to him [Jesus] and feeling feelings I'd never felt in my lifetime, of a 13-year-old boy being with an older male who he really loves and admires and loves to be in the presence of. It was probably the most profound experience of my life. I haven't talked about it publicly .... It's very embarrassing. We're intellectuals, we're on the left, we're not supposed to talk like that .... I don't want to be co-opted as the poster child for any religion or any agenda ... There are a lot of people out there just waiting for some little Jewish feminist to cross over. I so much want to distance this from Christianity. It has nothing to do with any religion whatsoever .... [I am reading what the rabbi Jesus had to say, as a Jew,] not as this whole Christian construct but as a teacher and a social activist, as a rabbi and as a healer .... I absolutely believe in divine providence now, absolutely believe God totally cares about every single one of us intimately, that we're not alone, that we're surrounded by love. That everything is OK.
I'm not sure what to make of this. Aside from Wolf herself, I can't think that many people will be happy about her vision. Doubtless she realizes this, too, for as Crichton observes, "Wolf's very soul is about to become a theological battleground, and she knows it."

Christians are likely to be fascinated, but repelled by the strangeness of her visionary identity as a 13-year-old boy, and critical of her insufficient Christology, whereas Jews will probably find even the low Christology excessive. Feminists will worry about the 'patriarchy' implicit in Wolf's identity as a boy admiring an idealized, older man. Leftists will worry that she's drawing too close to the dark side. Rightists will note that she's still on the left. And the secular elite that Wolf herself belongs to will think that she's gone mad.

I'd need to know more about her vision, but offhand, I'd say that it seems partly shaped by kabbalistic assumptions, which might account for the quasi-gnostic point about our having forgotten what our souls previously knew and our subsequent need to re-remember (though this could also reflect Plato's views on anamnesis). Wolf's identity as a thirteen-year-old boy might connect to the Jewish coming-of-age ritual, the bar mitzvah.

Wolf herself will have to tell us more about all of this. I expect a book will emerge within a year or so. Meanwhile, she might like to do some reading of her own on similarly unexpected encounters with Jesus -- say, that of a drunken Anne Lamott, suicidal and bleeding from an abortion, to whom Jesus appeared as a cat:

I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my [deceased] father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there -- of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, "I would rather die."

I felt him just sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn't help because that's not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: You let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to [the] church [that I had been attending for the beautiful music], I was so hungover that I couldn't stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which I just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling -- and it washed over me.

I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God's own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, "F**k it: I quit." I took a long deep breath and said out loud, "All right. You can come in."

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.
Stunningly well-written, and touching in its honest sincerity, this religious confession ... but being who I am, I have to wonder if Lamott had ever read Robert Musil's short story "The Lady From Portugal" ("Die Portugiesin"), where God appears as a kitten.


At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are very likely right about the reason for specifying thirteen years old.

I wonder if Naomi Wolf ever came across a description of the "Martyrdom of Perpetua." The "Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitas" -- an early third century text -- has had a long list of commentators and retellers, including Tertullian and Augustine. There are a number of modern psychological analyses of the imagery in its first-person accounts of her dreams, in the fourth of which she finds herself a male combatant in the arena.

It seems to show up fairly often in discussions of women's literature, perhaps thanks to inclusion of a translation in Peter Dronke's "Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Critical Study of Texts from Perpetua to Marguerite Porete" (1984), which could well be where Wolf encountered it -- if she did.

However, I know it mainly from a short discussion in E.R. Dodds' "Pagan and Christian in An Age of Anxiety" (1965) and from chapter six, "Perpetua and Her Diary of Dreams," in Patricia Cox Miller's "Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture" (1994).

I've been re-reading the latter (and I just checked some details in it), which is probably why Perpetua came to mind immediately.

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ian, thanks for reminding me of Perpetua. Her dream visions should have come to mind but didn't.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The mention in The Week Feb.24th issue is not like what is printed here. In fact, I was interested because she used terms I used "visitation" and "light" I had used in a manuscript never published ("Faith to move a mountain." It was based upon a visitation while in prayer, not in a trance.and I'd read everything available to try to find anyone who had had a similar experience. Naomi's was the nearest but what I'd read was nothing about a 13 y/o boy. WHAT was that all about?

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jean Rogers, thanks for the comment.

On Wolf as a 13-year-old boy, all I can suggest is that you click on the link for the interview and see what you can make of it.

We'll probably have to wait for Wolf to tell us more.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:32 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

very interesting, I beleive it is true, and am not embarassed of the fact that she saw herself as a 13 years old boy.
It is a vision.

The story talks to us, because God is talking to us even through others people story.

I very much feel connect to the idea that we came here with a mission, and we forgot it.

I very much want to know my mission ! thank you for this story !

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Rachel . . . or 'David Grandson'? Anyway, I suppose that I can't always be right about people's responses.

Maybe I only seldom am...

Anyway, I'm glad that you found the story "very interesting." It certainly is that.

Travel mercies on your journey to find your mission.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My nick name is david grandson, and I'm male , and I'm not familiar with rachel.
Anyway I am a jewish, but belive in the words and teaching of Yeshua Hamashiah.
I am sometimes intereseted in the gnotics, though I sense that it may be false teaching, and it is not allways easy to detect when its false, and when its true.



At 7:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

David Grandson, thanks for clarifying that point. I wonder why the name "Rachel" appeared.

There are a lot of Gnostic texts, but most of them are quite a bit later than the first century, so they're rather more speculative than the New Testament (though one can find some links).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely believe that Jesus can appear however He wants, including as a cat. It is interesting to think of Jesus appearing as Himself and changing how the one He appeared to was.

Since He promised that how we treat "the least of these" is how we are treating Him, we should treat everyone with the same respect we owe our Maker. I too have seen Jesus in one of His disguises (as a developmentally disabled person). When He appears in disguise, I think He does so to get through to us more effectively than appearing in His normal form would allow. The incredible range of His visitations (from dreams to visions to in-person encounters)also reminds us that He is God and can appear however He wants.

The Lord has opened my eyes to the fact that in addition to being aware of the galaxies and vast cosmos, He is also aware of and in total control of every last detail of our existence down here. If something "bad" happens to us, it is not because He lacks the power to prevent it, but because it is somehow part of His greater plan. He really does have it all figured out. We underestimate Him when we dismiss His works or visitations as being unbelievable. Who are we to tell the Maker of heaven and earth what He can and can't do? I have no problem believing Naomi Wolf's account. It is not that her subconscious emotional baggage caused her to have her vision, but that Jesus, being aware of all her baggage, chose that particular way to visit her in order to open her eyes to things that she would not have seen if she just had a "classic" Jesus vision.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment. From an orthodox perspective, one would have to say that the other 'appearances' are visions unlike the incarnate 'appearance'.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you people are all very religious, and very much psychos. not that those two are separate.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for your thoughtful remarks based on a careful reading of my post. I keep the anonymous category especially for commenters such as you who are too shy to sign their names.

Jeffery Hodges

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