Saturday, May 26, 2012


photo by Kent Landerholm, located here

Two days ago, I remembered that ten years ago was the first day I had ever researched Joan of Arc.

I remember the day because it turned out to be the anniversary of the day that (they say) she recanted the voices. Four days later, on May 28, she recanted the recantation. On May 30, they killed her by fire for heresy.

She has always been my hero (I am not alone in this). But ten years ago (two days ago) was when first I realized what a week she had, starting on May 24 in 1431.

The synchronicity of researching her on that day in 2002 began with a dream I had had in the early a.m., in which a lovely energetic young woman showed up with a entourage of assorted beings (including a quiet, thin young man and a penguin) (hey, it was a dream). In the dream, she said something to me in French, but mostly spoke in English, telling me that she had come from San Jose, and that there was, in Spokane, a Pogo lounge (after Walt Kelly's "Pogo," made up of a similar entourage, when you think of it) (again, people, it was a dream - it doesn't all have to make sense). (Later, I looked up the French word - it translated as "grant" - as in money). Still in the dream, she and the entourage stood at the top of my friend's garden, above and beyond, in a location that does not exist in the garden-for-real. She said that they really liked Spokane because "they let us hang in Spokane" (emphasis on hang) (not from a noose, but loose, like in the '60s) (is what I thought). She said this a few times. Then we started singing "Go Go Pogo" and dancing to it (me down below, she from her ledge) (a song I learned at the age of 3). I woke up from the dream thinking that this young woman was fun - she made me laugh - and that she was the kind of person who drew people to her. I felt lucky that she had come to find me, to talk to me. I wondered where this Pogo lounge was, in Spokane... I thought it would have a red interior.

When I told this dream to an intuitive person, he asked me if I had ever researched Joan of Arc. I said that I had not. And so began my journey.

By 11 a.m. that morning (May 24, 2002), I had learned that on May 24, 1431, Joan of Arc had (supposedly) recanted the voices - with the promise from her captors that, if she so recanted, they would let her partake in the Eucharist and they would return her clothes to her so that she would no longer have to dress like a man. After she recanted, they did neither of those things. By May 28, she had recanted the recantation. It gave her captors the leverage they had been seeking. They declared her a heretic, and burned her to death on May 30.

I have always felt like that young woman on that ledge in that dream was some form of Joan. Jeanne. She was so lively and young and genuine, that I have always felt that youthful side to Joan of Arc - she had intensity too, don't get me wrong (she was, after all, a warrior). But she is multi-dimensional to me, and full of life, in part because of that dream.

In all these 10 years, I had always seen her tortured-soul day as May 24 - not the day she died, but the day that she recanted the voices. And in all these 10 years, I'd believed that she had recanted. I'd read researchers' opinions that she had not really recanted (it is not recorded, as far as I know, so it is an issue for debate), but my gut had told me that she had.

This would have been one big recantation. It was the voices (of Archangel Michael, and Saints Catherine and Margaret) that told her as a young teen that she must save France - find its leader, win France back. It is what led her to become the military leader that she became - if only through her faith in the mission (though it was more than that too).

If she had recanted those voices, she would have been saying that none of it were true. And my gut told me that she had done just that, when I first learned of it 10 years ago.

But then this past Thursday.... Suddenly I believed that she had not.

This is what I now think happened.

On that day - May 24 - they asked her to recant the voices. Rather than staying silent, she said something that did not recant. But just her speaking (and because of their desperation to "get" her, after months of trial where she had avoided conviction) allowed them to twist her words into what they wanted to hear - wanted to claim that she had said. That is when they announced her recantation. My sense that she had actually recanted came from my sense of her guilt of what happened that day - but her guilt, and what happened, did not actually mesh.

And that is what I think I figured out, two days ago.

There are examples in her trial where it is recorded that she stymied her prosecutors like that. When they asked her if she was in a "state of grace" is an example.... If she had said "yes," she would have been considered arrogant and a heretic for making that assumption. If she had said "no," she would have been without authority to claim that she heard voices.

Her answer: "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."

It is a brilliant answer, inspired, and evidence that this 19-year-old girl was receiving guidance beyond herself to manage her own defense without human counsel against a prosecution team that already had decided her ultimate fate of guilt, regardless of how they achieved it. These were the kinds of answers that drove her captors crazy.

And on that day - May 24 - not a trial day, and so no court reporter (or the equivalent) - when they asked her to recant, I now think that she gave a similarly inspired answer that was not a recantation. But there apparently was no recording of what she actually said, so they used the fact of her speech - the fact that she spoke at all - to condemn her anyway. And her soul regretted the lapse.

Each year, for 10 years, I've tried to hold space during this week for the agony in the ethos that I feel, from what I feel is her regret. Each year, the pain has lessened - until this year, when it felt like it was hardly there. And with the lessening has come, for me, increased understanding. But it wasn't until this year that I actually believed in my gut - hey, wait - she never recanted at all. Perhaps it was the lessening over time that lifted the guilt so that the nuances of what actually might have happened could be felt. I don't think that I think this now because I'm desperate to believe it. I'm the one who was willing to believe, ten years ago and for ten years, that she had just made the mistake of negotiating a deal with unscrupulous men so that she finally could have the Eucharist she so desired. It would have been a reasonable choice. It would have been human. But now, I think it's just true - she didn't recant, but she regretted speaking aloud at all without someone present to record her words.

I did do what I felt she would want, two days ago on May 24. I went to a Catholic church mid-morning, lit a candle, and said a prayer. I'm not Catholic, so I'm very awkward at this ritual. I have been awkward for 10 years now, as I have tried for ten years to honor this impulse during this time (during this week in particular). I did it anyway this past Thursday, regardless of skill, as I felt she would want me (others) (everyone) to do this.

The impulse has receded in recent years - actually, and ever since the Pope stated explicitly that non-Catholics shall not partake of the Eucharist, I have felt it optional. (We non-Catholics are unclean, or so it appears that the Pope believes). Strange, isn't it? A woman attempting to honor Joan of Arc during the anniversary of a time when she was not allowed the Eucharist suddenly is unable to do so because she herself is not allowed the Eucharist.

And now here's another odd thing: the parish in Spokane where I have gone - started going, back in 2002, for these quiet rituals - happens to be in a building where abuse occurred, decades ago. When I started going to this parish, I did not know of the abuse. When I went back this past Thursday, I almost didn't go - it is a tainted building, after all. And then I thought - was it no coincidence that it was this church that I had started using in 2002 as a place to go, to honor the young Maid of Orleans? (years before I even became involved in fighting for victims of priest sex abuse, and almost before I even knew anything about it)... Or had I been drawn to the building intuitively - in an effort to respond to a desire for healing... healing all around... It isn't the building's fault, that a priest abused a child there - that a priest forced it to witness, and hold secret, the horrible thing that the priest had done.

What I'm enjoying about this week, so far, 10 years later - is how much lighter it feels this week than it did 10 years ago.

photo by kimncris, located here

And did you know - that all the saints whose patronage include "opposition of Church authorities" are women - with all but Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila connected to the U.S. (except one, who was from Australia)? Yes, the Catholic rabble rousers are Jeanne d'Arc, Teresa d'Avila, and women from the New Worlds. :)

And then there was the trial 23 years later - also recorded - where Joan of Arc was absolved, and her prosecutors themselves (from 23 years ago) found to be in the wrong. Justice was delayed, but was not denied. Or so it would seem.

And of that trial - the "Rehabilitation" - 23 years later, Mark Twain recounts (as fictional narrator of a contemporary, on the last page of "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc"):

"It was beautiful to hear the Duke d'Alencon praise Joan's splendid capacities as a general, and to hear the Bastard [Jean Dunois of Orleans] indorse these praises with his eloquent tongue and then go on and tell how sweet and good Joan was, and how full of pluck and fire and impetuosity, and mischief, and mirthfulness, and tenderness, and compassion, and everything that was pure and fine and noble and lovely. He made her live again before me, and wrung my heart."

Mine, too.

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