Friday, December 31, 2010

Flight Into Egypt

I love this painting by Caravaggio of Mary asleep, with the baby Jesus in her arms, as Joseph holds a score for an angelic violinist. I love it because of the calm eye of the donkey, the weary look on Joseph's face, and the presence of God (as represented by the angel) as comforter and purveyer of beauty in the midst of a refugee family's all to real and present nightmare. I love it because Mary's face is serene and the baby clearly thriving on her milk and his family's love. And as I contemplate this artwork I find myself reflecting on what this time in Mary's life must have been like.

I do not know the specific's of postpartum ritual in the 1st century. But, I imagine that in her hometown Mary would have been surrounded by women, quick to offer advice and assistance. When labor pain set in, other women, her mother perhaps, would have gathered around her and guided her through each contraction. As she anticipated putting the baby to breast for the first time she would be surrounded by other nursing mamas--eager to help her learn.

I do know, that in her immediate postpartum period (based on the purity laws regarding women's discharge...lochia in the weeks following the birth) that Mary would have been given the opportunity for rest and a lying in with her new babe. Further, before Mary rejoined the wider community with her baby she would likely have taken a ritual bath for cleansing--a bath that (anthropologically speaking) would have represented her own birth into motherhood and a new status in the community.

But, instead, Mary and her family find themselves fleeing the threat of death...and they go seeking asylum in a land and a place far from the comforts of their home. Instead of a ritual bath Mary's transition into motherhood is marked by the crossing of a desert. Instead of the firm advice of experienced mamas and the chatter of her sisters, Mary sleeps to the sounds of the donkey asleep on his feet after a weary day's journey. Instead of a time of watching her child grow secure in the love of his extended family she faces a time of literal alienation as she and her family become strangers in a strange land.

It's truly amazing to me to reflect on what Mary was experiencing while standing on this side of my own child's birth. I am struck by her strength but also find myself imagining a period of profound fear, anxiety and loneliness. "Blessed are you amongst women..." truly.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas With Our Baby

What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul, what wondrous love is this, o my soul...

Truly a good day. May the blessings of Christmas spring forth for all of you.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Santa Baby...

No, not the song, the Santa and THE Baby. Yup, Jesus. Recently in Sunday School (Children's Chapel to us) I had to clarify that Santa was not born on December 25th. On the spot, I told the kids that Jesus was born on December 25th and Santa only exists because Jesus exists.

Which, is true. No Jesus, No Santa (reads like a bumper sticker!). And, as I stumble further into the Christian mama blog world (which is a peculiar one to say the least) I come across more and more folk who are vehemently anti-Santa. This has caused me to reflect greatly on what/how/why we will teach our son about Christmas. And, I have decided (we, really) to go ahead and embrace Santa as a family, as a family with a priest mama that faithfully attends church and holds Christ at the center of it all. Santa and THE baby are not incompatible in our household--let me explain why.

Regardless of how one feels about the guy in the big red suit, he has become central to most American's understanding of "what" Christmas is. Santa is an ubiquitous figure this time of year and somewhat impossible to avoid. And, despite the close ties to rampant commercialism and unquestioning capitalism, Santa has much to offer our children. And, what he offers is far greater than gifts (and really, Santa is only as excessive in his gifting as parents make him...).

The reality in our household is that Santa lends himself well to lessons in social justice. We will teach our son about Santa because we plan on it becoming his first lesson in philanthropy. The original St. Nicholas stories have the good saint assisting women living in poverty, and he does so with no expectation for reward. Where else do we hear stories of altruism in our world? Where else are we encouraged to give gifts anonymously--giving all the credit to someone else? (Yes, I know, Jesus--the best altruist. But, it's easier to teach a very small child about altruism through the giving of gifts than through death on a cross. Our son will learn about both, but developmentally the concrete reality of a gift will be more appropriate than the abstract reality of the paschal mystery for a few years).

Thus, as we prepare for our first Christmas as mamas...well, let's just say the stockings are already hung by the chimney (read, above the couch) with care ready to be filled to bursting. But, there is an extra stocking in our house--already filled to the gills. A stocking prepared with love and prayers, a stocking that will be given to a child in a shelter, from Santa. Because, Santa is magic like that!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whistling in the Dark, An Advent Reflection

“This is a direct act of hope, to look through the cloud, and look for a beam of the light from God; and this is called in scripture, “rejoicing in tribulation”, when “the God of hope fills us with joy in believing”: every degree of hope brings a degree of joy.” -Jeremy Taylor

Whistling in the dark--a subversive act in which we use the power of a simple and somewhat ridiculous act, whistling, in order to remove the power of darkness to fear and weaken us. Could it be said that rejoicing, year after year, in the birth of a child who will die on the cross is, in and of itself, an act of whistling in the dark?

Do you ever find yourself “whistling in the dark”?

Maui, An Advent Meditation

We cannot survive without light. And, as the days grow shorter we find ourselves in darkness far too often. Thus, we find ways in which to endure the long days ahead—with light. Brightly peering through the darkness we see light cast from candles, and fireplaces, light from the porch to greet us at the end of the day, warm and filling food to fill our bellies, lights strung from our houses and shops. As I contemplated the role of light in our lives I found myself recalling a story from my own childhood:

The sun was too quick in its daily work, swiftly crossing the sky and leaving little time for those down below to accomplish their daily tasks. In particular, this brought much consternation to an elderly woman on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean. One day, as she hung out the freshly washed Tapa cloth to dry she complained to her grandson about the sun’s swift course and how her cloth would not be able to dry in the short period of time that the sun was shining. Now, most of the time such complaints would be merely an airing of grievances—a grandmother sharing with a grandson the difficulties she faces in life, without any expectation that he would actually do something about it. However, not every grandmother has a demi-god for a grandson. So, Maui, hearing his grandmother’s complaints grew very angry at the sun and came up with a plan. Taking his longest ropes, made from the fibers of the coconut, he hid in the house of the sun (Haleakala) waiting for the sun to emerge and bring with it the morning light. From behind a giant rock he aimed carefully as the sun peeked from his house. Casting the rope he snared the sun. With stern admonitions he told the sun that if the sun did not slow down not only would his grandmother not have time to dry her cloth but the people would perish because there would not be time or light enough to grow food in their gardens! The sun, hobbled by the bindings, was thus forced to limp across the sky each day--giving the people (and Maui’s grandmother) time for all of their tasks.

This folk tale brings home the reality that light and our survival are intimately connected. With this reminder, I contemplate the “light of Christ”. If it is the light from the sun that allows our planet to exist…what is it about the light of Christ that allows each of us to grow and thrive?

(the art work of Holy Innocents church, Lahaina, Maui)

Advent meditations: Halley's comet

I wrote 12 meditations for Advent for our parish Advent calendar...I will post some of them here as well.

In 1986, when I was eight years old, I began to understand the finitude of human life when it is juxtaposed with the universe--heady stuff for a second grader. It was late at night, much later than I was usually allowed to stay up, and my entire family had gathered at the summit of Mount Haleakala to observe the passing of Halley’s comet. It was cold at the 10,000 foot elevation and we were crammed with a great many other people in the observatory perched above the cinder filled caldera. I huddled next to my grandmother and craned my neck in order to see. A bright star traced across the sky and I was silent with the magnitude of the night, the cold and this star that moved and caused the usual rules to be suspended. It was then that my grandmother turned to me and told me that she would be dead when this star crossed our skies again. I was not saddened by this news, but rather impressed: impressed at the length of days that lay ahead; impressed that she trusted me with this information about her own mortality; and impressed with the idea that I might live long enough to witness Halley’s crossing again. More than 20 years later my grandmother is still alive and I am struck once more by her long life…a long life marked by the reminder that even the longest of lives is short. I am also struck that the first recorded sighting of Halley’s comet is recorded in the Talmud and is dated to 66 AD —around the time of the composition of the Gospels (approximately 30-90AD). Our story in the here and now is connected…connected to the story of all history. In this Advent as we prepare for the arrival of the baby Christ I am reminded of the perpetual promise of salvation and the restoration of creation in the simple fact of new life.

How do you connect to the story of history in the here and the now?

(the Hubble telescope image gallery)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent 2A, The Wild Angels

Tomorrow is the first rehearsal for our annual Christmas pageant. Held during the 4pm Christmas Eve service, our pageant has traditionally been the classic Christmas card vignette. The adorable lambs, the sweet angels--and I promise that we will have both this year--mother Mary so meek and mild; the somewhat embarrassed to be up there Joseph, shepherds keeping their watches....and the silent stars at night.

The pageant, sweet as a Christmas card with the added ahhhh factor of lambs crawling off and baaing mama; angels with halo’s askew and beautiful music. But, this year, this year we’ve decided to really take a look at what was so frightening to the shepherds in the field. Yes, this year the pageant will offer both the innocent sweetness of our littles gowned and halo’d and the edgy tension of our rock star styled heavenly beings...the kinds of angels that inspire fear and awe. Not so little, not so sweet--these are angels out of scripture. These are angels that would make you want to hide under the covers and as one of our rock star angels put it, they would make the shepherds “whimper”.

Be not afraid, they had to say that, because they WERE scary, they were wild creatures, not tame ones and that is the tension I want to draw our attention to today...when we “tame” and subdue scripture it becomes a bit too easy to turn our faith into the stuff of Hallmark cards and neglect the awful and awesome realities in which these stories took place and in which we live.

Our scripture on this second Sunday in Advent offers very striking and different visions of the reign of God--and only one of those visions has made it onto a Christmas card. And, that glittered landscape with the lion and lamb nuzzled up in a heap and the text “Peace on Earth” leaves out most of the story...this is not an easily won peace, this is not cheap grace. It is a peace and grace that have come at great cost and followed fearful times.

The book of the prophet Isaiah arose out of the 8th century and a very specific crisis--Judah’s war with Syria and Israel. Weak governance and a lack of trust in God in public life was deemed by the prophet to be the source of the struggles for the people of Israel. Throughout the book those in power, those who would exploit the poor and oppress the needy are castigated and called to remember that the justice of God will ultimately prevail. Then, once human abuses are rectified, the earth will return to the state that God intends--a place of peaceful coexistance. This is the hope that carries the people, the hope that ills be set aright and that God WILL intervene. Now, this intervention is both a hope AND a threat in Isaiah--for those who are suffering at the hands of oppressors it is a hope, for those who oppress, well, for them it is a threat.

Now, that would be quite the Christmas card--”he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”. That’s a far cry from the romantic notion we have of the halo’d boy child lying in slumber. And, it is far more akin to the message that John the Baptist carried for his listeners. And, once again, that is NOT a Christmas card I’ve ever seen--John, hair matted, with camel skins gird about him warning those who have come for his baptism that “one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. Merry Christmas, indeed! Sleep in Heavenly Peace?

Our faith is FAR more complicated than a Christmas card--and Advent is a time when we live in the midst of those complications. The tension between our hopes and dreams for peace and the often painful realities in which we live. The tension between our joy at the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus and our fear of having to change and work in order to bring that promise into the world. It becomes clear in Advent that transformation, that birth itself, will be a harrowing thing. Yes, the baby is sweet and the scene bucolic--but there are soldiers in the hillsides hunting and Herod willing to kill the innocent in order to preserve his throne.

We don’t often think of the political backdrop of the nativity story. Of the Roman rulers and imperial powers that were abusing, enslaving and indeed, slaughtering those who dared to rise up against them. We don’t often think about the terror that caused Jesus’ family to flee with him into Egypt. But, that’s the world in which these texts emerged...that was the reality.

And, yet, and yet...the other reality was that these authors, these people VERY much believed in the power of God to transform the world--the God Paul describes as being “of steadfastness and encouragement” the God “of hope who may fill you with all joy and peace in believing”.

And, there’s the rub, the point in which I find myself challenged to see God in the mist of hard realities--of the war, violence and oppression that seem rife. Because, war and oppression are real, intrigue and political abuses are real...yet I also hold that something else is real. And, that something is witnessed to in the Christmas cards that I seem to have so strongly maligned.

It does not escape me that when we send Christmas greetings to Ryan we are sending them into a war zone. Merry Christmas and God bless...small print against a harsh landscape. But, with those words comes a reminder of God’s persistent promise that there is something more...that God’s hope and love will ring clear and that indeed, a little child will lead us all into a new way of being. That there is a greater power than war, that there is a greater peace and promise than any newscast can contain.

And THIS is the true reality of the Gospel, THIS is the true hope of the prophet, THIS is the power of the Holy Spirit--to bring us hope in true believing.

We are called as Christians, in this Advent season, to live like John the Baptist. And, by this I do not mean that we should take up camel skins and feast on locusts and wild honey. I mean that we are called to live like our hopes and dreams are real, obtainable and most of all TRUE. We are called to embrace the image of the lion lying down with the lamb, we are called to follow a helpless infant who held no power by the rules of the world but all power by the rules of the creator, we are called to listen up and be transformed by the purifying Spirit and we are called to do so even when it seems hopeless and naive.