Dispatch from a Dragon’s Belly
“We might not see the dragon’s teeth
but have surely become its belly.”
– Bill Wylie-Kellermann
Will you join me in this imagining?
We find ourselves together in the belly of a beast. From certain angles – with teeth not in view – it may not look so beast-like. But, like it or not, all of us are caught in its grip.
Let’s imagine now that we are beginning to perceive where we are. We realize that if we want to one day escape the beast, we must know more about what – or who – it is. We realize that we must name it.
Let’s imagine we are naming it Death. Not the kind of death that nourishes life and grows intimately with it. But the kind of death that eats life. That demolishes it. The kind of death that is constantly running from itself, and needs more and more and more and more simply to survive.
How do we begin to remember (or hope for) life outside of this Death, when generations upon generations have been birthed in its bloody midst? What does resistance to the dragon look like when we are caught within it, when it is the air we breathe, when we too have allowed the beast to fill our own bellies and bodies? Is it possible to redeem this creature, which once knew life, which once nourished it? Is it possible to redeem ourselves?
The more I’ve worked through the framework of powers and principalities, the more that I’ve found it to be, most basically, an invitation to imagination. And I don’t mean the kind of idle daydreaming that might take us away from our own lives for a little while (although that certainly has a place, too) – but rather the kind of militant creativity that actually brings us more deeply, clearly, coherently into the material and spiritual worlds we’re inhabiting.
For many of us raised in white-dominant cultures that emphasize “rationality” and sensory-based thinking, the language and framework of powers and principalities might feel strange at first. What good would it do to imagine systems and institutions as creeping creatures and mighty monsters? Why talk of the struggles we are facing like a bad scary movie premise, when the news itself is already bad enough?
What the powers framework asks us to consider is that there might be more going on here than meets our own two eyes. That to turn the powers-that-be on their heads might require us to turn our own heads first – to think outside of the boxes they’ve created for us. To bring their teeth into view. To imagine strange spaces and ask different questions.
Once I began thinking with this framework and naming the powers that have a hold on me, I started seeing evidence of them in every corner of my life. . . Facebook ads that reach out and whisper my name; flashing green eyes surveilling the streets of Detroit; fat-bellied money trucks rolling by to the casino next door, ready to eat every paycheck they can get their hands on.
And I’ve started seeing more clearly the powers that work through me, too . . . the money-sucking corporations that I continue to feed even when I don’t want to (ahem, looking at you, Amazon); the ghosts of white supremacy and colonization that speak through me; the ways my hands keep twitching over to my iPhone as I try to write these words. We might not see the dragon’s teeth but have surely become its belly.
The powers framework views our world as a web of ubiquitous, interlocking, Death-dealing forces who have much more control over our lives than we’d like to admit. That’s the bad news.
But here is the other truth that becomes quickly apparent: the powers themselves, for all their supposed strength and might, have been doomed from the start. Although they would do (truly) almost anything to convince us otherwise, they will always need us more than we need them. We may be in their grips, but we are not of them.
For as long as the powers have existed, for as long as we have been caught in their bellies and teeth, there have been those working to name, expose, and call these Death-dealing creatures back to God, to Spirit, to right-size. To Life.
And for all the ways that these powers are entwined and colluding, so too must our struggles against them be woven together. In resisting the powers, there will always be many more of us than them. And in the face of these raging, hungry, larger-than-life forces, our job is simply to be human. To be messy. To be life-nourishing and death-honouring. To admit we are broken. To confess we, too, might be in need of healing and redemption.
As you move through this issue, I invite you to imagine the forces, the institutions, the destructive ways of thinking that have their grip on your life. If you could see them, what might they look like? How do they have a hold on you? How are they fed? And can you envision, now, their soft spots? Their weaknesses? How might they be resisted? How might they be called back to life (even if that means called to compost in the dirt)? Can you dream of their fall? Can you dream of what will grow in their stead?
Where once there lay dragons,
tall grasses shall grow;
Where once there lay wasteland,
a pathway shall go.
– Carol McClure
Friends, I am grateful to be in this world – this work – this fight – together. May we walk with clear eyes as we create the world to come.
Kateri Boucher lives in Detroit’s Catholic Worker house and is associate editor for Geez.