Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Holy Family

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Colossians 3:12-15 NASB
. . .
'Do you have children?' I asked. It was the staff Christmas party, and I'd been talking about the preparations around our house. Just small talk, you know, the conversations with folks you like (if you're me, anyway), but hardly know. Hence the question. I was wholly unprepared for the response: 'We had four children, but our eldest child died...' Four years ago, I think he said, and continued about the other three in a way that directed the conversation toward the living.
I thought to myself afterward that it is true, that saying that everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. There is always more to be known, more experience and complexity than we think. I think this especially with folks my age and older, but I remember my teenage and young adult years vividly enough to recall the anxious and vast interior landscape I inhabited then. It's only in retrospect that those years are carefree. In the moment--at least I think for many--there are cares enough.
Becoming a mother shifted that landscape like a movement along the mother of all fault lines. (No pun intended.) All the geographical features of my inner life had to trade places, and make space for the Big, New Reality: a child. And aftershock follows aftershock, as my heart and mind adjust to the new terrain. Before children, I might have been accused from time to time of wearing my heart on my sleeve. More than once, I have been called a 'bleeding heart' liberal. But now? To keep my heart as close as my sleeve would be a great accomplishment: it has left my body and gone outside to kick a football; it naps in the next room; it plays downstairs with tanks and dolls.
I cannot imagine living without it; can't imagine what life would be like were a part of my heart to die. But that's motherhood, after the example of the Mother of God; that's family. Sometimes I think I see what it is that is so special about families, why God chose a family to be the space in which to come among us. If I have glimpsed it, I've not managed to find the words for it. Something about the way our hearts get parceled out and mingled together; something about the company one so needs in battle; something about the way we learn to bend and straighten, as we must, to make space, to give strength.
I know I am a long way, we are a long way, from that familial holiness that Mary and Joseph and Jesus display. Praying for more grace in 2013...

Monday, December 17, 2012

8th day before Christmas

"Judah is a lion's whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
Genesis 49:9 NASB
. . . . .
'It's always like that,' says the magician, Coriakin, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. 'You can't keep him; it's not as if he were a tame lion.' The lion in question is Aslan, of course, who has just vanished. Someone working on some Bible studies to accompany Rowan Williams' recent book on Narnia asked this week what passage I might use to illustrate the idea that Aslan is not a tame lion. My first thought (which is apparently the consensus) was to use the description of Jesus cleansing the temple.
But this Sunday in church, as I looked around at the images of Christ and watched my own children fidget, as children do, I thought, why not the story about Jesus being found in the temple? What about Jesus the strong-willed child? Not unruly, perhaps; one wouldn't want to ascribe unruliness to the Messiah, after all. There is, however, a strength of character that might present itself as a stubborn streak, or a tendency to wander.
I find myself increasingly resistant to images of Jesus that depict him as nice, anodyne. 'He went around doing good,' and that's pretty much the extent of it. No. I am just not convinced that Jesus came that we might be nice to each other. He came that we might have life abundantly, and he never shrank back from the purpose for which he came. Perhaps he wasn't an unruly child, but he was at least a tad unpredictable--there was no expectation that he would wander off. If he'd been prone to such things, Mary and Joseph surely would have kept a closer watch on him. (I know something about this, having a daughter who is prone to just this sort of wandering: she keeps you on your toes.)
He is not a tame lion. He tries our patience and sometimes frightens us; he refuses to stay in the habitats we build for him. And just when we think we've nabbed him (as the disciples did in the breaking of bread after their conversation on the road to Emmaus), he vanishes. 'Gone!' said the magician. 'And you and I quite crestfallen.' Indeed.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Second Saturday in Advent

O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
shine forth from your cherubim throne.
O Lord, rouse up your might;
O Lord, come to our help.
Psalm 80 [79]

. . . . . .

'Hear us.' What more is there to pray, when the world is upside down? Darkness has visited--death has invaded. Hear us, author of life; rouse up your might, you who have triumphed over the grave. You are the One who makes all things new, help us.

I confess that my geography is not that good; I don't know whether I am halfway between Connecticut and Syria. But I do know that whether I look to the east, or I look to the west, I see parents grieving the loss of their children. I see violence--terror on every side--and I cannot believe that any of us is safe. The world appears to me as a place of suffering and pain. Why there, O Lord? And why the children?

I am a theologian by inclination and by training; I know that's not one we can answer. I pray for those grieving, and those standing beside them: 'O shepherd of Israel, hear us, shine forth from your cherubim throne.' Speak peace, speak comfort, and bring light where it seems darkness has overtaken us. 'O Lord, rouse up your might; O Lord, come to our help.'

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St Lucy

I, the Lord, your God,
 I am holding you by the right hand;
I tell you--do not be afraid;
 I will help you.

Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm,
 Israel, puny mite.
I will help you--it is the Lord who speaks--
 the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.
                                                 Isaiah 41

.        .        .

'Do not be afraid...puny mite.' These words fall on anxious ears today. Some days I find it easy to identify with the 'poor worm' or 'puny mite'--today is one of those days. I should no longer find it odd that on the days when I feel most crushed, most empty, that I am least likely to stop by the well and drink. Against my desire to keep striving, I pause. And I am struck in these verses by the repetition of two things: the reassurance that it is the Lord who is speaking, and the admonition 'do not be afraid.'

I am a small and weak creature, though some days I may deceive myself into thinking otherwise. But it is precisely in realizing this truth about myself--poor worm--that I am reminded that my size and strength are not at issue. The Lord speaks, and speaks the truth: 'I am holding you by the right hand' and there is nothing to fear. Whatever it is that speaks fear is not the Lord speaking, for the Lord speaks peace and courage, the Lord speaks help and comfort.

Come, Word of God, and speak light into my darkness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe

The trust you have shown
shall not pass from the memories of men
but shall ever remind them
of the power of God.
Judith 13: 19
. . .
My first encounter with the Virgin of Guadalupe was historical and cultural rather than religious. Since I grew up in Southern California and studied Spanish, I was bound to come across the "legend" of Juan Diego and the appearance of the virgin. That account of the event has always been dominant in my memory--but today I saw it a bit differently, thanks to the verse from the book of Judith.
The trust Mary showed, the confidence that made it possible for her to say yes to the angel Gabriel, isn't her possession at all. If Mary is an example for us of discipleship, what she shows us is that the grace of God always precedes the opportunity to say yes. It is the power of God that makes obedience possible. And the experience of Juan Diego, as it is remembered this month, should remind us of the power of God. The fact that Juan Diego encountered the Blessed Virgin is not about Juan Diego, or even about Mary. The miracle of the imprint and the roses is about God, still reaching through our disbelief and fear.
Deo gratias.

Monday, December 10, 2012

St John Roberts, and others

Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees,
and say to all faint hearts,
'Courage! Do not be afraid.'
                            Isaiah 35

.     .     .

Courage! I am struck by the admonition to courage, partly because it seems to me that what the weary hands need is strength, or even rest. Perhaps, though, that says more about my own tiredness than it does about this bit of Isaiah 35. The verse above is from the famous bit (to my mind, anyway): the eyes of the blind will be opened; the ears of the deaf will hear; the chains of the lame will be broken, and streams will flow in deserts of fear. So it will be when God's kingdom comes.

But why courage? I suppose that I have always read this verse in Isaiah 35 with its echo in Hebrews 12 in mind. There the strengthening is paired with making level paths for the feet of the one who is lame, so that 'what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather may be healed.' To keep on the road when it seems impossible to go any farther requires courage as well as strength, though, doesn't it? We need faith that God will heal, will provide, will give rest and peace in the midst of turmoil and difficult work.

And my road is not actually as hard as all that: When I think of the martyrs, I am often reminded of the verse from Hebrews 12, which exhorts us to persevere, as we have 'not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.' Today's 'others' include a St Edmund, St Eustace, and St Swithin--all of whom were Catholics martyred for their faith on this date (St John in 1610, the others in 1597). May perpetual light shine on them, even as their light marks the way forward for us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

St Francis Xavier

O House of Jacob, come,
 let us walk in the light of the Lord.
                                       Isaiah 2:5


The sun never gets very high in the sky these days. Advent brings late sunrises and early dusk, and 'the light of the Lord' in this verse from Isaiah reminds me of the warm light that glows in windows in the early evening. It beckons, and promises comfort.

But that isn't all, is it? Advent is a penitential season, a time of preparing our hearts for the Lord's appearing. Walking in the light of the Lord means transparent honesty as well as safety, letting the Holy Spirit search our minds and hearts, dispelling the darkness in which I, at least, often hide. There is no room for despair in Advent, no room for sin.

I needed to be inspired by St Francis Xavier today. I breathed a sigh of contentment and relief as I noted that it was his feast day today. He gave his life, spending it in preaching the Gospel and bringing the light of Christ to the nations. And as I remember him today, that same light falls on me as well. Let me walk in that light always.