Monday, December 22, 2014

Was It Worth It? A Mary Meditation (Part 2)

When she was young, after the angel had come and after she visited with her cousin Elizabeth, Mary was said to have sung her own song of praise to God:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.
It is not the song of a young women, though.  Rather, it is the song of a woman who has lived long upon this earth . . . the song of a woman who knows things . . . sees things . . . remembers things. . . knows things.  It is Wisdom’s song.  Or is it?

This song of Mary is extraordinary as the song of a woman young or old, experienced and wise in the ways of the world or untried and unknowing in her vision of the future . . . for how could a young woman speak such keen prophetic words about the powerful and the lowly . . . the rich and the hungry?  And how could an old woman bereft of her child sing of her blessedness?  Proclaim through the generations to all who would ask that it was worth it?

Through the pain and the heartache . . . in anticipation of the joys and tears yet to come . . . in fulfillment of a divine invitation . . . in retrospection about how that promise played out in real time . . . and all evidence to the contrary, does Mary proclaim through the ages, Oh yes.  Yes.  It was worth it.  From the very beginning . . . from the moment Father Abraham set out on his journey along God’s path . . . to now, when my son is no more and like Rachel before me do I mourn all mother’s sons, none more than my own . . . to future generations who will see the promises play out in their own lives, their own time . . . and all evidence to the contrary, I give my own magnifying yes, my own witness . . . all evidence to the contrary, it was always worth it. . . He was always worth it.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Was It Worth It? A Mary Meditation (Part 1)

A woman gives birth after hours that seem like days passing into night.  A friend who had been by her side throughout the ordeal looks upon her and asks was it worth it?  

The woman understands the question, yet is surprised by it, by her friend’s ignorance.  How can her friend not know?  How can she not see? 

Oh yes, she answers smiling through the pain.  Yes.  It was worth it.

The woman clutches the child to her just a little tighter, as if to protect him from all the doubts and fears that have led up to this single moment in their time.

The woman has no idea what will come for this little person entrusted to her.  But in that single instant when mother and child meet face to face for the first time, doubt and fear are replaced by the single polestar that will guide their lives together: love.

In the days turning to weeks and months and years to come . . . the long nights of worry and the days leaching into old age, the question will come back to her.  The facts of a lifetime will change, the texture of the real life of the child she bore will take the place of the life she imagined for him.  

Yet her answer remains always the same: Oh yes.  Yes.  It was worth it.

The friend’s question was driven not by mere curiosity.  It was driven by a genuine desire to know what she herself had not experienced: how could it be ‘worth it’ to go through what the woman had borne?  How could any woman desire this travesty to her body?  How was it possible that what looked to the friend like torture would produce what she saw on her friend’s face?  For where the friend saw only fear and heartache and pain, the woman saw . . . felt . . . embodied . . . joy, the joy born of love.

So it has been from the beginning of time, as women have given birth and bystanders have wondered that they would.

So it was for the woman.  So it was for Mary.

Imagine, then, Mary, not as the young woman to whom Gabriel appeared, but as an old woman having outlived her son who was publicly executed by the Roman Empire, pondering in her heart all that had happened before, being asked by strangers and friends alike whether it was worth it.

As recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, she would remember the words of the angel Gabriel, spoken to her when she was little more than a child herself:
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
An old woman now, she will remember her question to the angel – how would this be possible?  And in the face of the angel’s response:  For nothing will be impossible with God, she recalls her own words, her own blind, naive-sounding faith:   Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Looking at her own wrinkled hands, pondering that her son, the beloved of her heart, did not live long enough to be so marked by time, she thinks on the promise of his greatness, his ascension to David’s own throne and wonders where the never-ending kingdom went to.

She laughs at her own naivete and considers how God’s ways never look the way her people think it will.  She is gentle with her many visitors, especially with the mothers who themselves have lost sons.

She knows the cost and no words need be spoken between them as she and they simply sit together in the silence of their shared experience and sorrow.

When it is time for them, these visiting mothers of sorrow, to leave her, she takes their hands and offers her own silent blessing and comfort.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Defense of All Things Christmas Kitsch

Nativities made of fresh meat or Batman and T-Rex . . . blow-up snow globes adorning front yards . . Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer blaring from every loudspeaker . . . every Lifetime and Hallmark schmaltzy Christmas movie ever made (who knew It’s a Wonderful Life would spawn its own cottage industry?) . . . A Christmas Story being about a boy’s yearning for a BB gun rather than the birth of our Savior . . .

Yes, I confess, I love it all.

Every bit of it – all of it, the ridiculous extremity of it makes me positively giddy.  It’s like – well, it’s like the best birthday party – ever.

Of course, I’m the one who picked the picture of the Easter Bunny posing like a Playboy centerfold atop our church sign (What will you do with the risen one?) for the church’s FB banner.

My Christmas childhood memories are all good ones.  Maybe that’s part of it.  My dad, no Christian, nevertheless rejoiced in all the celebration.  We made candy together.  We strung tinsel icicles one by one (the only proper way) on the tree.  We made our way to Grandma’s house.

And there were always presents.  Mom says there weren’t many, but in my memories, presents flowed like a river towards me – maybe it’s the love I’m remembering – the best present of all.

I love that certain men and boys in my life ask for underwear for Christmas and are delighted when they get them.  I love sending and receiving cards of sentimentality in the mail.  I love all the decorations of yards and homes, even when a North American Santa is at the manger (and maybe especially then).  I love the contrast of the busy craziness with the quiet spaces of wonder.  I love the sentimentality.

When I think on my own son’s birthday, I get all teary and sentimental.  Why not when thinking on the birth of Jesus the Christ?

Most of all, I love that it is not possible for there to even be a hint of policing about this celebration – you cannot mandate joy or laughter.  They either happen or they don’t.

So to all my friends with shorts in the proverbial twist over Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, etc., etc., etc., can’t we lighten up just a little, just this once?

After all, it is a party.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Day14 - When Angels Sang

We, the heavenly host, God’s own army, if you will, have been practicing for centuries, millennia even, for this moment.

We’ll have to dial it back, of course, for human ears could not withstand the sheer volume when we are in full voice.  Heaven itself shakes then.  

So do we sing (quietly, ever so quietly, leaning forward into the lullaby of sound) of The Divine’s bright glory . . . splendor . . . radiance . . . magnificence . . . 

To The One be all glory that can be sung, its sounds woven into the very fabric of creation, which itself sings out the wonder and awe that such a One should be. . .

So do our voices raise (who could help it when singing of such Truth?) . . . 

So do we sing that which cannot be named or contained . . . 

So do we return from whence we came, leaving behind only an echo of heaven’s own wonder . . . 

We turn back, all of one accord, and just before the curtain between our home and theirs again descends, we see in their night skies a Bright Light, their north star.

Who is to say that the leading star was not The Divine’s own self?

With one last pitch-perfect note of assent, the curtain falls back into place.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Day13 - Children of Wisdom

There was I from before the first day, side by side with The One.  

There was I, in the foaming chaos of things that were nothings.

There was I, the thing to be given birth to by the creating hand of The One.

There was I, in the intake of a breath upon an imagined cloud.

I am Wisdom, she you know only out of your own foolishness.

And I was there.

I am your witness.

You are my children and I am calling you home – 

back to what you were born knowing but have somehow forgotten

back to resting upon the cloud of your own createdness

back to the floating, embracing, desiring love of your mother’s womb

back, back, back, to who you were made to be.

The One is your father.  I am Wisdom and I am your mother.


For 'deeds' in the Matthew passage, read instead 'children', as some ancient manuscripts have it, and see then the link to Proverbs 8.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Day 12: The Bell Cannot Be Unrung

I didn’t know

When I gave that thing up . . . that thing – the thing that so defines who I am . . . when I gave it up to the call of the needs of another . . . I knew what I gave . . . I knew what a big deal it was . . . I knew I would be changed . . . I knew there would be loss . . . 

What I didn’t reckon on is how very permanent it would be . . . that all the absolving . . . all the praying . . . all the wrestling . . . all the all of it . . . would indelibly rewrite me.

Somehow being changed is not the same as never being the same.

And I have been and will forever be . . . not the same.

For her, that girl over there on the other side of this particular line of time, for her do I mourn.  I liked her.  She was fabulous.  And I gave her away.

It was important, or so I thought.  And I think I was right.

But oh, I do miss her.


Thinking on the cost of choosing, with humility and trepidation do I try to imagine God’s own choosing and its great cost to the very Divine.  

To choose human flesh, not as window-dressing, not as a suit of protective armor, but as a very identity . . . to choose that vulnerability . . . that limitedness . . . what must it have been like to step across that line?  

Did God hesitate?  Did God ponder the enormity of the change for God’s own self in The Divine Coming?  Did God ask God’s self what am I doing?

Did God hesitate?  

All I know is I would have.

In Defense of the CIA

To attack the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for torture as part of our nationally self-described ‘War on Terror’ is nonsensical, for one simple reason: as a nation, each and all of us joined the conspiracy of silence (tacit approval) and spoken approval.

We renamed torture ‘enhanced interrogation’, admitting to ‘enhanced interrogation’ and denying torture.  The media (yes, you too, NPR) joined in the renaming farce begun by someone in government at the time, apparently under the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes rubric that if we don’t call it torture, well, it can’t be torture, now can it?

News outlet employees performed ridiculous ‘re-enactments’ of waterboarding to make a joke of it and claim it wasn’t torture to experience forced drowning.

People on social media, ordinary citizens, spoke often and loudly in defense of torture (calling it something else, of course, and denying at the same time that ‘we’ torture); denied it was happening; claimed it was deserved.

Democrats and Republicans alike supported and enacted laws like the Patriot Act and its progeny, granting enormous and sweeping powers to the Executive Branch to wage the so-called War on Terror.

Guantanamo Bay (still housing detainees today) and other sites outside the territorial United States were opened or reopened, under the apparent theory that if you don’t do it (torture) within our national borders, somehow it isn’t torture.

My point is simple: we the people of these United States are not now allowed to have a single ounce of moral outrage for what we knew was happening at the time and did nothing to stop.  Not we the ordinary citizens.  Not we the members of Congress.  Not we the courts.  Not we the Executive Branch.

There is no cover here.  And the Senate’s high dudgeon is ridiculous.

You got exactly what you wanted.  Do not dare to now claim you didn’t know.  You knew.  Maybe not the extent of the torture.  But you knew torture was happening.  To claim you didn’t because you didn’t know every detail is tantamount to the quibbling over price joke* (well, yes, we knew they were forcing water down their throats but never imagined they’d force water up their rectums!).

You knew.  And you and we did nothing.  Nothing.

And to borrow or paraphrase from Senator John McCain, the question of whether it works or not is entirely beside the point.  The point is that it is wrong.   

And none of us need the blow-by-blow of rectal insertions to know that it’s wrong.  Or we shouldn’t.

So if there is a tone, a posture, to be taken in the now of things torture, might I suggest that the posture be confessional.  There is no one to blame but ourselves.  We did this.  We did it together.  And we did it with eyes wide open.

It is who we are.  Because we did it.  We are people who torture.

Admit it.  Claim it.  Take it on board as part of our national identity.

Or Admit it.  Confess it.  Regret it.  Repent of it.  Change it.  Don’t do it again.  Learn from it.

But do not dare act as if some rogue element in the CIA pulled one over on us.  They didn’t.  They did exactly what we wanted them to do.

That doesn’t sit well, does it?

Well, it shouldn’t.

So please, Senator Feinstein, spare me your righteous indignation.  You stand with too many others in your post facto condemnations of something you were actually in a position to stop at the time.  There should be a Hall of Fame for folks like you and Colin Powell, you chagrined people of power who did such great harm and now wish to claim the status of victim for yourself.

Well, this is one citizen who isn’t having it.  

The only problem is that I’m culpable too.  

I confess:

I confess that I did not write enough, protest enough, speak out enough.

I confess that I kept on paying my taxes to support the torture and murder of others.

I confess that I enjoyed the benefits reaped from our torture policies.

I confess that I did nothing to physically interrupt our export of torture around the world.

I confess that out of my own self-interest, I have not once attended the SOA protests.

I confess that I did not do enough.  Not nearly enough.

I confess that their blood is on my hands too.

* A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:  She: What kind of woman do you think I am?  He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.  Variously attributed to Winston Churchill (how I heard it), Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and others.  Quote Investigator