Monthly Archives: June 2016

Be glad because of her

Trigger warning- this is in a public place and anyone can read it so I have no way of knowing the background of all possible readers. I have very positive (though at times also ambivalent) ideas around “motherhood” and I have drawn on them in this reflection. But I realise that some people have major trauma and disappointment around the lack or inadequacy of mothering in their own life. Sometimes we inadvertantly invalidate them or make them invisible by using motherhood as a metaphor. I don’t want to lose the richness of what I get out of this experience and what some readers might get, however if you are someone who finds positive discussions of motherhood triggering in any way please accept my apologies and don’t read this week’s reflection.

Rejoicing and an extended, lusciously female-bodied mothering metaphor are up first this week, probably making some people move uncomfortably in the pews (if they are listening) because yes, even breasts are mentioned! Abundant ones! Coming up to an election, I wonder if we will be feeling this ideal of being mothered and comforted and spead over by a prosperity that belongs to the mother and therefore is shared with us? “The wealth of the nations” oh we do have to have that discordant colonialising note don’t we…to remind us that these are actually the words of religion, not literally the Word of God. Even in this beautiful, loving, familial image there is the human preoccupation with “the economy” in the narrow sense of wanting to have more than people in “other” countries.

But I am all for being carried and fondled and having every need met by a secure and prosperous mother. I particularly love that toward the end of the metaphor the “she” pretence slips and God takes responsibility “as a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you” (my bolding). Whose “abundant breasts” were we really talking about? Then there is the switch back to “Jerusalem” but the shift has done its work and destabilised patriarchy, because God has been seen for a split second (which is the only way we ever see God) as a doting mother filled with unquenchable love and the instinct to nurture. My heart sings with Miriam Therese Winter this song.

Yes, exactly as the reading says:
“When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;” of course elsewhere in the bible (Psalm 90: 5-6) the idea of grass is used to signify impermanence and quick mortality. So this “flourishing” may be short-lived. But I do flourish when even the old texts of tradition give me permission to see God in this way, even for the moment. And I could leave it there, but I suppose I better remember there are more readings.

The psalm continues the theme of rejoicing that is exactly where my heart is with the first reading, except that if we read this psalm from the perspective of the earth (and it is hard not to) then the earth is forced to “bow down” and the sea is “turned to dry land” so that “the Lord” is somewhat of an ecological disaster. But it is just a metaphor! I want to cry, but there is that in Christianity unfortunately, the tendency to see the earth as unimportant, something that we are master-stewards over to exploit, not as part of God’s beloved creation to be lovingly in relationship with. The parts of the psalm that are left out as usual give some context too. God is once more on the side of those whose heads are being ridden over (e.g. the refugees and the poor). Mind you the idea that God allows it to happen for some time or for some purpose may be problematic.

In the second reading Paul reminds us that the purpose of being Christian is to be transformed, to be constantly the “new creation”. It is not about denominations, creeds, traditions, circumcision, uncircumcision or stopping marriage equality and abortion. We honour the suffering (survived hopefully), the flawed humanity and God’s grace in ourselves and others. We show peace and mercy and we don’t engage in silly attacks against each other. This is a timely reminder for a Sunday when we will all be dealing with the results of an election (and the end of a very mean-minded and desperate campaign).

In the gospel Jesus is sending his apostles out two by two (with a giggle I think this is a little like the door-knocking canvassers pre-election). But what do these door-knockers bring to the house? Stern warnings about sexual immorality and fear-mongering about Islam or other religions? No. One-off acts of patronising charity that pay no attention to the real source of the inequality? Again no. Cliches about “letting go and letting God” or “everything happens for a reason” or mindless and extended “Praise, praise, praise the Lord!!!!” choruses? Not that either! Sorry modern Christians we are going to have to look again at what the mission is.

The apostles are to offer the household peace. They are to accept hospitality if it is offered. They are to cure the sick and proclaim the “kingdom of God”. How do we do this? How do we bring peace and acceptance, healing and good news to the “real world” that we live in? This is something I believe each of us needs to meditate on and nut out, I don’t have the obvious answers and clearly the exact manifestation would change depending on time and place. But significantly this is not just up to the individual either. Jesus commissions the followers all from one place, and sends them out in pairs. Community is the source of our ministry and collaboration is the order of the day. Despite what we are sometimes told “the priest” is not some sort of Christ super-figure. Christ sends out priests in teams (not just as individuals) from the community. Christ is the whole part of that process and reality, not just the one individual within it that claims to be “called”. I need to remember this both as one called and as one who accepts (or critiques) the ministry available in the church.

And then as the end, if we have been called to preach to the household that is the church out deep God-given knowledge that feminism and its insights are also crucial to bringing about an inclusive, meaningful and slightly more achievable “Kingdom of God” and they want nothing of it what then? I did leave. I did wipe the dust off my sandals but I do not accept that God wants to punish the ignorant (even the privileged and therefore wilfully ignorant) and the slow to listen. I’m a teacher after all, I don’t give up on the apparently unteachable, I try to work toward miracles every time.

And so I am back in the church, back in the teams of preachers that like me want to call the church and society to account (in terms of social justice not in terms of narrow conceptions of “morality”). And there is something motherly and nurturing about those patches of church that genuinely wish to transform (as opposed to control) the world. And I rejoice for and with that “mother place” that “Jerusalem” that I can find within church, due to those people who focus on our shared humanity and the need to be “new creation” instead of hairsplitting matters of tradition.

And I know God rejoices in the church that behaves that way. God who also wishes to comfort “like a mother”. God knows, life has taught me a lot about the patience and trust of mothers.

 

Against the grain this week

 

Oh yay! I can choose between two readings from the book of kings to begin with this week. Serves me right for having a sort of week off (posting nothing but a poem) last week, when it was my all time favourite psalm (63) which I had been waiting for. Oh well, I will see what shreds of faith are left me after I deal honestly with the readings of the week.

These lovely readings from Kings exemplify for me what the whole book is about. The book is sort of a kyriarchal self-justification for an organised “church” (I realise this is an anachronistic word but I am being political in choosing it). The great Elijah and the great Elisha work on their succession plan. Elijah also anoints kings (that idea of church mandating state that caused so much trouble in later times- see e.g. Eco’s The Name of the Rose).

The whole book of Kings seems to me to be about “great” men (great meaning full of self-importance) and murderous men, some get the dubious honour of being both. If I ever start to feel warm and fuzzy about the church (and I was starting to) these two books are a great wake up call. We are grounded in patriarchy, militarism and colonial thinking. We still seem to extoll and admire what is legitimated by earthly power and politics and we still seem to silence nearly everyone, and most of all women.

The triumphalism of both psalm choices echoes the first readings. God is almighty, powerful, in control and we rejoice because we are chosen for privilege and ease. Give me a break! Against such a “god” I would side with the children and adults incarcerated on Manus for the “security” of this society and its supposedly Christian values. I would side with Penny Wong speaking out against homophobia and not with Scott Morrison who says he has been “persecuted” for his “Christian” beliefs (recently in Orlando there was a shooting of homosexual night-club goers. This is the “persecution” lgbt people want to counter, not just the “persecution” or people daring to sometimes disagree with them and their tepid religion). I would side with the single mums doing it even tougher by increments because apparently austerity is good for the economy, and with old people who have earned the right to be supported by society but may be forced to work later and later into what should be their years of doing what they like (and possibly doing good too). I side with exploited workers having even their measly penalty rates threatened, and principals facing funding cut that mean students are increasingly frustrated and some turn violent. I side with farmers wanting a decent price for the fruit of their labour, and wanting to keep the irreversible damage of fracking far from their livelihood. I side with the reef and the bight and the old growth forests.

Yes even against “god” because the god of patriarchy and unquestioned power and capitalism is no god at all, no matter how many candles we light and how many times we chant “Lord. Lord” (and didn’t Jesus have something to say about this?). So uneasy and defensive I move on to the second reading.

The first part of the second reading seems to be in the same head-space as me. It says to throw off all this slavery and be brave enough to demand that the consequence of faith is always liberation. Then the focus is on turning this agenda onto the good of others, not just selfishly seeking self-interest. My only uneasiness, is seeing the law of love “love your neighbour” made excessively personal, it is easy for elite and powerful people (and all of us in first-world countries) to have a sort of interpersonal ethic of kindness and “decency” to the people we mix with, the people like us. That’s not a bad thing of course, but it is not the full deal with “love your neighbour”. Because Jesus is always in the last and the least, not just in our good friends and loveable family. So where it says become “slaves to each other” I think that is a dangerous rhetoric open to at least two damaging sorts of interpretations.

“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” seems to be a good caution against hypercapitalism and neoliberalism. It seems like the exact rebuttal of Thatcher’s claim that there is “no such thing as society, there is only the individual”. In the reign of God of course, the interests of the poorest and the weakest are the interests of God, and God’s interests become our interests through relationship. So there is “society” in the sense of relevant “other”, and relevant other is always broadened. Because God hates nothing she created.

But then the author of Galatians (I can’t remember which ones Paul actually wrote) goes down the predictable and silly path of individual behaviours. I am sure it is better to be sober and chaste and all the rest of it, but the church DOES waste a lot of time telling individuals how not to have a good time, instead of reminding us constantly that we are responsible for whoever is paying the price of our ease. So the point for me is less to avoid drunkenness and excess, and more justice. In a more just world, or in working for a more just world I will in fact have to curb the excesses of my appetite, in order to ensure a just distribution of work, leisure, resources and a light touch upon Mother Earth.

But Paul (if it is him) here is focusing on the symptom and ignoring the cause. Drunkenness and carousing are symptoms of spiritual emptiness, caused by selfishness, despair, desperation or blind privilege. Becoming austere patrician saints without changing the imbalances in the world is both very difficult and I think ultimately unhelpful. Instead I think Robert Herrick has it right when he talks about starving “sin not bin”. It’s not about curbing appetites per se, it is about refocusing on the source of the real hunger, the real deep desire. We are starved for justice and we lust for meaning. It is a sort of escapism, like playing computer games (which is one of my chief vices when very depressed). Drinking, eating too much and having an unhealthy attitude toward sex similarly are ways of trying to quiet the uneasy or roaring voices in hearts that do not want to face the true extent of their brokenness. In a world where we have too many whims catered to, we are profoundly disjointed from one another.

On some level I think even the people who think justice for refugees is “too hard”, “too expensive” [please note it is actually less expensive than the current practice of incarcerating them], or “too dangerous”, I think even those people’s hearts secretly yearn to think differently. We must dare it! As a society, as individuals we must begin to build values into how we live. And maybe that will mean less drunkenness and carousing. I stopped having time for drunkenness and carousing only when I found myself and was able to step into meaning and hope.
The gospel is puzzling, and wiser heads than mine have written a lot about it. There seems to be a level of otherworldliness about Jesus in this reading. He rises above the need for revenge, to me the clearest part of the reading, and then he speaks of the heavy price he has paid for his strong commitment to his vocation. He does not have a “home”. This is where I am puzzled. Does this really mean that we have to be unanchored in this life in some way? Do we always have to wonder through as a sort of an alien? And then when he does not even allow a would-be follower to look after his family responsibilities I frankly feel angry (look at how the Catholic church views both legitimate and illegitimate children of clergy for example!).

But I remember at uni learning about the symbolism of the plough. A plough represents power and mastery over the (feminine) earth, it can be equated with a rapacious relationship. So putting your hand to the plough could represent and overinvestment in the powers of this world. The minute you start to take what is not rightfully yours, to try to control and force your way into wealth and ease you have turned your back on the kingdom of God. But of course if no one plants a garden then we will all starve. Metaphors are limited that way.

The readings are little pericopes, dividing up the long and complicated series of texts that is our “Scripture” into bite-sized chunks. They are a gift to be used carefully and in context. Just as “the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath” so the scripture was made to help, challenge, enlighten or comfort us but not to rule us. Although I felt hostile and suspicious to these readings, they help me clarify what I think is wrong in the world and the church and to ally myself to the values I think God calls me to.

I don’t think it is arrogant to do that. I think it is irresponsible not to.

Forward in prayer and love.

What he said

This poem is not from the lectionary readings, it is from the alternative lectionary of real life; from when I went to a political meeting recently and they asked a refugee/journalist to speak about his experiences for us. “My” poem borrows so heavily from his narrative, that I really wrote it not to showcase my own writing but because what he said struck me as so important that I needed to circulate it further. I didn’t catch his name, or even if I ended up noting down one story or two different/similar ones but truth was there.

He’s a survivor,

we might label him an asylum seeker,

a refugee.

He’s a father of two,

a widower (his wife died horridly).

 

He says “They” so that we will understand

though he’s speaking of his own people:

 

“They are not looking to steal your job,

they are looking to have a chance.

I am pretty sure [he says]

that they have dreams

[those people left behind in the hellish camp];

dream like anybody else.

 

“They just want the same things

that anyone who loves their children wants.

[Anyone who loves their children…]

 

“When we left, we just locked the door behind us

and went to another city,

left forever.

I’d known something like this would happen,

just a man with his clothes,

a small amount of money, enough to get on a boat

with his children.

 

“We were three days on that boat

it was very hard [he pauses at his understantement]

But you know?

The hardest thing is knowing

you can do NOTHING

to protect your family.

 

“The endless water…the detention

[“You will never get out”]

…and now a bridging Visa.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

We’ve been here three years.

 

“I am still powerless.

I don’t know what will happen to us next.”

 

 

Let us find in this man’s story, the Word of God.

Thanks be to God.

Vineyards, sacred spaces and being touched

I am a week late with this. Wrote most of it and then my friend was at the door tooting her horn and I had to be whisked away to the Cabaret (I am not complaining mind). But there is also job seeking and a poetry reading and political work for the Greens and a conference to prepare for and my own children too. So I will apologise for the lateness of this and apologise in advance that this week’s will be late or non-existant. You would think an unemployed person could find some time eh? Maybe this is what they call “having a life”

Here we go, I have been avoiding the writing this week because I really don’t like these readings. But perhaps it is time to wrestle.

I don’t want to waste a lot of time again pointing out the obvious misogyny, slut shaming and lack of female agency in the readings (such a low point after my joy at the Visitation last week and besides I am sure I said all of that last year! I could spend a moment smiling that at the end of the gospel when the “twelve” are mentioned, two comparatively wordy verses are then spent underlining for us very firmly that some women were equally significant to Jesus’ ministry (“providing for” of course is a loaded term).

I thought instead of doing what I have done before I might try something I am not good at, and that I recently challenged myself to do and see how these readings reveal or silence the earth itself, to seek an earth-perspective on what is here. My first impression for the senses is of how loooooong the readings are. The listener in a cold and draughty church (as they tend to be this time of the year) will be left passively sitting and shivering all that time. And where is the grace in that?

But Naboth in the first reading has a vineyard. He has some sort of relationship to the place and the traditions and significance around the place so that he cannot sell or swap the vineyard. The capitalist idea of “value” and what is “good” (meaning profitable or productive) is not all there is in Naboth’s life, ideas of place and relationship matter more. Where in Australia have we heard ideals like this? Can we think of people who insist that their connections to place are more than about “lifestyle choices”, jobs or  affordability but have some sort of deeper and more ancient meaning? Can we contrast the white idea of “closing the gap” with a profoundly different way of seeing self and other which does not depend on capitalist-economic productivity and efficiency? I thinki Naboth could weigh in on some of those social debates for sure! The vineyard also is sometimes used as a symbol of female bodiliness, fertility and sexuality. I don’t think that is its main function in this story but it is perhaps worth remembering; in keeping with Elizabeth Johnson pointing out to us us how women’s bodies and the earth have both been exploited, undervalued and silenced.

Then ideas of earth continue to be present in that it is over a meal that Naboth is tricked (and the patriarchal idea of honouring one person over others is part of the trickery). I don’t feel inclined to discuss in detail the misogyny in the characterization of Jezebel and Ahab but God’s wrath to Ahab is symbolised in the image of dogs licking up the blood. Dogs are non-human parts of creation, to me they call to mind the “dogs” that surround the sufferer in Psalm 22 (who is often equated with Christ) and the idea of eating blood calls to mind Eucharist and ideas of unworthiness. I don’t think this story in any way deliberately speaks into later ideas of eucharist, I think it is more that we need to remain aware that the eucharist symbols and ideas and stories came about in a tradition where dogs circling a victim and licking up his blood was a sign of a humiliating and horrible end, a punishment for grave misdeeds (and here also there is a connection the the vineyard). So then when I read like that I don’t get any great amount of sense out of the reading per se, but I can see this awful, violent tradition of colonisation and patriarchy and punitive ways of being, of people being wrenched away from right relationship with the land and each other for the sake of wealth and comfort and of the way family relationships can become unhealthy alliances against “other” all this corruption and evil. I see this polluting and capitalist workd view even so far back, so far before Jesus that then Jesus in fact is some sort of an answer to the same sort of evils and hopelessness that plague our time.

Naboth, the lover of the vineyard is dead. Jezebel has used her position as social climbing “wife” for a bad purpose and Ahab has displeased God.  I don’t find the self-righteous pericope of psalm we are given very enlightening to this context however. We are left in this darkness and move on to the next reading.

Galatians tries to nut out the Christian’s complex relationship to “Law”. Here it probably means church law, maybe also secular law. What does it mean to say we are justified by “faith”? I need to find a poem I wrote a long time ago about faith being a garment that becomes patched and stretched and finally too small and then we can try to use it as a security blanket for a while but ultimately maybe not. But if we are “saved” by thins thing called “faith” what does that thing look like? Seems in the context of the reading that maybe it means a sort of family-likeness with Christ, where we identify with Christ and pursue his interests. But then awareness of our sinfulness is part of realising that not everything we can think, feel, choose and do is necessarily of Christ.

Christ lives in me and so there must be something inherently sacred about me otherwise Christ died for nothing and lives nowhere. Something like that. I think as women in the church we need to retain that precious and almost-forbidden reverence of the “in me” where Christ dwells, not in the way our mothers always told us -where we are old-school temples that polluting things like sex need to be kept out of for as long as possible, but more in a “sacred site” sort of a way that has every right to demand that people come with respect or not at all. I am a sacred site for the mystery of Christ’s continued presence in the world. I am both the site and the steward of the site, I cannot be colonised or owned by any other. A lot of food for further reflection and testing against other places in scripture but we better have a glance at the gospel too.

The power (and powerlessness/abjection) in this reading actually appalls me. But I left it to one side to attend a cabaret performance (belly-dance, burlesque, magic show a LOT of dancing and assorted types of role-play performance both off and on stage). I helped a girl fix a zip on her costume and she threw her arms around me and theatrically said I was “wonderful” and poured me champagne and even though she was playing the character of a flirtations, loose woman she was actually a real person and more complex and we went back to being strangers in the blink of an eye. And that is the thing with touch, sometimes it just is what it is. Jesus can talk all he likes about the forgiveness of sin and all that but frankly what we have here is a simple case of Jesus enjoying being touched. He is not allowed to simply enjoy it, he needs to debate it and this idea that she is “more sinful” that Simon the repressed non-toucher rears its ugly head and affects how the church treats affectionate (women’s) touch for centuries to come!

But another thing here is that Simon has a responsibility toward Jesus to welcome him in a way that is responsive and affectionate and fulfills the rituals of politeness. Simon is the man, the householder and it is his duty and privilege to ensure these things happen. Just as it is both the duty and privilege of the clergy to ensure that the sacraments are gifted to all of us in a way that is responsive, welcoming, touches our real lives and fulfills the reality behind them. And sometimes they do it, but there are times when there are not enough priests, or they are not diverse enough in outlook to minister to everyone, when the few exhausted priests can’t be everywhere or when the celibate and aging men can’t understand everyone. And at that point the “unlcleanness” of us as women is not the point. We weep, we kiss, we anoint, we share. We come to what we value to touch it.

I don’t like her self-abasement in the story or the tacit approval of her label as unclean and sinful. But going back to the second reading if her “faith” has saved her then what does it mean for her identity not just “With” Christ but as “Christ” which we become through sacraments. How significant then are touch and tears and kisses?

I better get back to the myriad things I need to do today. But I see this woman as saving sacrament from people like Simon. Encounter with Christ touches us, washes us, makes us feel things. Like John the baptist, she is bringing sacrament TO Christ. Washed for ministry by John, washed for the political activism that leads to death by this unnamed woman. Just as when Jesus adds sacrament to a life, it comes with a vocation to ministry. So when this women washes and anoints him, the encounter sends him out in 8:1-3 exercising his ministry, somehow refreshed for what his work in the world is and now we begin to see the women who consistently support him.

She sends HIM out. Think about it!

 

 

 

Shout for joy- daughter, sister, beloved

 

I have nothing against the Sunday readings and if I had more energy would do two blogs this week. But Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, the one day of the year when the church lectionary passes the Bechdel test (Ruth and Naomi could be argued too I suppose), and the one Feast day of the year that actually talks about God’s work working not just through men, not even just through an individual woman, but at times also through women’s relationships and networks of support. This is such good news it ought to be on a Sunday! The reading from Luke is so rich in prophecy, in affirmations of women’s prophetic, leading, teaching and sacramental role in each other’s lives and in the lives of significant male members (Jesus and John though unborn) as well. So much richness here that writing once a year I could never find it all, and I hope each person finds even more in the readings than I can say. But let’s make a beginning.

The first reading (Zeph 3:!4-18A gives away that what is coming is unusually good news “shout for joy” and that this is specifically for women “daughter of Zion”. Even this begins a bubbling up of joy. Women we are not invisible in this Feast, we are valued by God and the silencing, dismissal of our needs and attacking us as “vain” for wanting for ourselves the basic dignity and consideration that we extend to others has been dismissed by God. God is onside with us. We “have no further misfortune to fear” and God sings joyfully because of us. This is a profoundly healing thought, the idea of being so beloved by God that we are not only vindicated but the cause of joyful singing. Here we reclaim our birthright since the opening of Genesis to be part of God’s creation, made in God’s image and assessed as “good”.

But if God is singing for joy, then we know that more good news is in store so we move on to the next reading. Once again the canticle (ie like a psalm but not in psalms) from Isaiah prophesies good things “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament we see the drawing of water as “women’s work” and the well as a place of meeting and socialising for women (well maybe we don’t see the latter in the text so much and are indebted to historians for reconstructing the world around the text for us). So that nexus of women’s social life and relationships, the well becomes symbolically a place of “salvation” a sacramental place, a place where the truth of God is joyfully encountered. Among us is the Holy one of Israel. The ancient promises of God are fulfilled in the mysterious depths of women’s flesh, the womb.

This is NOT to return to a view of womanhood as solely being fulfilled in motherhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written about “wild mothers”, the way older women sometimes support, mentor and teach younger women, the way younger women find their own role models and need more than one. Even this is only a fraction of the whole truth. The patriarchal promise that can only be fulfilled in the male body of Jesus may come into the world through the female body of Mary, but if that is all that matters then why the Visitation? Why does Jesus also need the “Auntie” or “Wild mother” Elizabeth in his life? Why does John leap for joy at the voice of Mary? The voice is about more than flesh, it is about opinion and agency. The canticle goes on to bid us to sing praise to God for “his” glorious achievement. Well that seems only fair, in the context of the first reading where God was singing on account of us. The glorious achievement here seems to be a nurturing and reciprocal relationship with us who are lovingly created and affirmed. This will be shown in the gospel to have world-changing, radical possibilities – unseating the unjustly powerful and bringing in a new reign of God.

The other first reading (which I am going to treat as a second reading as I think the Visitation ought to be a Sunday) gives instructions on the “good life”. Even though usually I am feeling a bit like saying “give me a break” when I have these long and complicated responsibilities placed on me, by allowing the other readings and the feast-day to contextualise it, it takes on a non-oppressive meaning. In fact the God who has celebrated and affirmed my existance and our relationship in the first reading and psalm has every right to ask for this respectful reciprocation of that gift. The instructions in this reading are really a call to be authentic, to honour who we are as God’s beloved and as sacramental, priestly people. We are called to be sincere, loving, committed, critical, resilient, courageously forgiving and compassionate. We are called to be “more than” those who oppress us, not to cooperate with oppression but also not to retaliate with bitterness and hatred. We are called to be humble in ourselves too, not to put ourselves down but to see our good like our imperfections within a context of God’s love and God’s call and the shared dignity and humanity of others also.

This reading, within a context of good news for “daughters” and the gospel that is coming is for me a powerful call to remain in the imperfect church and to trust in God’s ability and desire to find me there and sustain me. The grace of God in actual fact cannot be stopped or blocked by patriarchy but we must continue to bless even those who have not blessed us. We are called to a holy partnership with God where we pour out love to the world. I turn to the gospel to see what possibilities for transformation this call may hold.

In the gospel, Mary is not wise in her own estimation, that is she is not complete outside of her ability to reach out to others. Her good news needs to be reflected by Elizabeth’s good news. She has a need to support and be supported, to be in a community where each can rejoice in the other being blessed. Each has a relationship with a husband that in some Christian circles would be assumed to be the most appropriate arena of rejoicing. But each is part of a larger network of support, each needs also the ministry of women in her sacramental life (and don’t we all?). Mary, pregnant though she is goes on a journey that would possibly be dangerous and certainly be difficult. There is something in Elizabeth’s company that calls to her, something precious in the relationship or some need she sees in Elizabeth and responds to.

The great prophet John hears the voice of Mary, who is about to offer one of the great prophecies of liberation and hope. John recognises in this voice the same call that is already whispering into his baby heart the potential for a committed spirit-filled life. He leaps for joy! Elizabeth recognises this leap and knows what it means. Mary’s preaching will shake the church and the world. Elizabeth says that Mary is “blessed” for hearing and heeding the call of God. She recognises Mary’s priesthood. Elizabeth and John become church to accept Mary’s priesthood as Mary both literally and sacramentally carries Christ into their lives. Mary preaches her joy and hope in a God who reverses oppression and liberates. There are strong forces in a world where Mary’s people have been colonised by the brutal Roman army, she lives in a patriarchal society with limited opportunities. But her hope is in God’s power to be greater than the powers of the world.

Mary aligns herself with a utopian view of radical justice and voices her commitment to God’s power to bring this about. She grounds this vision in faith history. Then she stays with Elizabeth for three months. The relationship of sacrament is about more than words. She is there for practical support and shared affection. Faith and ministry are not about a ritual once a week but are about companioning and loving our fellow humans on the journey.

My heart like unborn baby John leaps for joy at the good news of the Visitation. I want to shout it aloud and sing it, this dignity and hope in the reality of God’s call to me as daughter and sister. My response needs to be loving and faithful to the dream of transformative justice. My spiritual hunger is filled with this good thing. I can look to the unofficial priests, when the official church leaves my pastoral needs unmet. No wonder these readings mentioned singing and joy so many times!