Healing, not just pain relief.

Drudgery. Slavery. Pointlessness. Job is feeling pretty negative about life. I have felt squeamish about getting into these readings because of my own battles with depression, my own difficulties with finding a work life balance which works for me and my children and the many depressed people in my life. I have been constantly struggling to feel hope for myself, my situation and the situations of friends who don’t even have enough to live on…let alone the people on Manus Island.

I am reluctant to grapple with the negativity of Job, on top of the negativity around me. What if I simply give a nod to the fact that scripture acknowledges depression and discouragement as part of the human condition. Acknowledges them but does not accept them- there is no acceptance in Job. Job complains, in so many other parts of the bible people complain when things go wrong. At time there appears to be a moralistic tone taken against this complaining (murmuring, whinging) and yet it continues.

Humans suffer.

Humans complain.

Humans make stories even about their suffering.

With relief I turn to the psalm where God is healing the brokenhearted, rebuilding Jerusalem, regathering Israel. I am going to wallow in this hopefulness verse after verse as God heals the brokenhearted (don’t we all want a little bit of that?), binds up wounds. God’s healing goes out to more than just humans, s/he is on first-name basis with every star in the sky. At this point I am cheering and calling for God to come into my world/s of work and friendships and politics and the larger world of the environment. Bring this healing and comfort! We all sorely need it!

The psalmist seems of the same mind, breaking into an ecstatic that God is “great”, “mighty in power” and unlimited in “wisdom”. Well, you’d hope so wouldn’t you? It ends on a very interesting two-liner that is echoed also in the Magnificat

“The Lord sustains the lowly;

the wicked he casts to the ground.”


Granted it does not explicitly state that “the wicked” is a synonym for “the privilege and powerful” however the structure of this triumphant challenge comes across as a reversal of the worldly status quo (especially if with Job we are approaching the psalm really disenchanted to begin with). If we are lowly then God will sustain us. If someone is wicked (including us of course) then they will be thrown down.


The dangerous temptation here is to rest in the cosiness of this psalm and think therefore we can let all the evil and injustice go on in the world because God will fix it all. As far as personal morality goes, that may well be a great strategy- leave it to God to decipher and change people’s interior life (and stay open to being called to change ourselves and to greater compassion and understanding). But as far as we see people deprived of food or dignity, left out in the scorching streets to fend for themselves or locked up in muddy unfinished gaol-camps we can’t simply shrug and say “ho hum God’s really nice and will fix it”.


I’d take this psalm as comfort and a safe space to let go of our anxieties and depressions but not as an escape-hole from the world. We rest for our Sunday meal, our happiness with this healing, fixing God and THEN we are empowered to learn from this God how to bring healing and fixing to others. We are God’s children not God’s puppets. We are apprentices not patrons for the master-craftsman of healing and justice that is Holy Wisdom. What God is, we must yearn to become and what God does we must learn. We may not be perfect and powerful and all wise like God in the psalm but we were created in the image of God, inbreathed with God’s breath and then called and sent to touch each other with God’s blessing and healing.


There is so much more in the second reading and gospel but I have already used too many words. I think Bernadette Kiley’s book on Mark has something on the gospel that I couldn’t improve on. If you have had enough of my words you may just want to repray the beautiful psalm. Or pray with me…


God of rebuildings and gatherings,


Teach us how to stop fracturing and undoing our human relationships and our place as part of the earth. Teach us to plant and nurture, to walk in bare feet and feel love again for our brokenhearted, blue and beautiful earth. Teach us to heal.


Show us that we can build tables instead of walls and we can bring people in to sit around the table of grace. Motivate our societies to be less about the miracle of some technology for the privileged 1% and more about the miracle of feeding the 5000. Indulge our curiosity toward the stars, but remind us to reach our arms up to embrace and appreciate the beauty of the stars not to colonise and exploit even the most distant and powerful things in our universe.


Surprise us with a different sort of greatness and power, than the one that must build walls. Show us the wisdom where power lies in sustaining the lowly. Be our unlimited wisdom that shines hope even into these days of suicidal politics toward climate change and conflict. Cast the wicked down from their places of power over others, give us back ourselves. Cast down the wickedness in each of us. Throw out our fearfulness and apathy and greed. Re-orient ourselves toward radical and trusting love.


Heal us as we praise you (and when we can’t) for we are the broken-hearted.

Call, and call, and call, and call again until we learn how to listen.


You are our hope and the Wisdom which is balm.

Be very near.



Dearest Wisdom,
Dutifully, I sat with this week’s readings every day. I thought about prophets- good and bad and my assumption (presumption) that I speak for you. I thought about being humble and reminding people to be suspicious of my words. I thought about how even if well meant, that was a sickly performance of humility that would come across as ironic.
I thought about talking about “fake news” in our world and also critiquing the church but I realised I was performing contortionism to make that what the readings were about. I have come to Saturday afternoon on a hot and busy weekend and I have nothing but my admission.
I don’t get along with these readings and the way they are juxtaposed and I didn’t really find you in them, no not at all!
Power, authority….seems typical of the church to go on and on about those things in a top-down way while meanwhile real ordinary people are suffering disillusionment and lack of representation and lack of material things (eg food, safety) and a rapidly dying environment.
If I have encountered you (true Word) in words this week, then perhaps it was in the words of Naomi Klein and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Or was it that I encountered you in doors being openedin the sweet juiciness of mango- slightly tart about the seed, in sister’s returning from far away, in a meal shared with a former lover and his new partner, in the affirmations of people at work, in children taking my hand begging for a story, in dispossessed peoples telling us again that enough is enough and we should not be celebrating their dispossession.
Was it you I felt in the touch of an over-hot sun and in the cool breeze that blew through it, in the trickle of the creek and the fragrance of lemon myrtle in my refrigerated water? Were you in the purr of the naughtiest of kittens or in the voice of a son telling me he had no need of my mothering (shades of Cana as I asked others to listen to him and stepped back). But if it’s bread you were in then it was in fried potatoes because I ran out of bread this week and was too busy and hot to go to the shop after work. If it’s wine then it is white wine spritzers with ice in them- something I never thought I would try.
You were in the small self-denial of refusing to turn on the air-conditioner, and in the caring colleague who came out to swap because I had been outside too long. You were in the famous writer who offered me her support and affirmation and in the refugee I was pow.erless to offer real help to You were in the 5am rising and the midnight going to rest, in the memories of having been in love and in the stabbing pain whenever I move my knee.
As usual I have used many words to try to reach you, only Word. But you have been in life more than in structures. You have brought life and meaning into each day. My readers may fail to find you in my words, but will have their own bodies and moments and meanings to seek you out in and in the end a prophet (true or false) is not so significant after all. You made us to know you not to follow each other. You made us to touch truth for ourselves not to obey authority (or not blindly).
You made us to dance and sing.
You made us to love better than this.
You made us to be loved more fully than we have known yet.

You made us for love.

For love.


Teach me to love them- the ones who bring me joyous gifts and the ones who bring me challenge. Teach me to seek out the ones who are hurting. Open my eyes and ears and heart to know I am beginning from the place of love.

From being loved.

Loved by you.

Dearest Wisdom, I leave this week’s readings to someone more wise or more obedient.

In love (however flawed).

I’m not a puppet

Read with suspicion, I am struggling this week.

The first reading is all about Jonah doing what God wants. It misses all the interesting things about what happens when Jonah misbehaves, and if we only had this part of the story we would see his relationship with God as very respectable and conflict free. Jonah’s message here is one of doom and destruction. God is displeased and the city will be destroyed. There are many parallels with today that we could misuse this text to fit (and people do). It’s bleak and authoritarian, it’s call is to follow God out of fear not joy.

I used to get seduced by the Jonah story, to the point where as a teenager I tried to change my name to Jonah. I guess I was attracted to the security of being Jonah. Jonah can make any mistake, go off in any wrong direction and God will bring him back like a straying toddler, making use of a huge fish or a plant to teach a lesson. Jonah may suffer some unpleasant experiences, but has an element of invulnerability within that. I didn’t at the time stop to unpack how toxic such a relationship with a codependant and controlling God in fact would be. I couldn’t follow what I saw as my vocation (to the priesthood) and so I trusted God that somehow I, or the people blocking me would be swallowed by a huge fish and it would all come out right in some nebulous future.

I did not then accept the implications of free will, that in fact we are called but not forced to follow God and we all hear the call differently and argue over what it means and there is conflict and struggle, loss and failure. The story of Jonah does not allow for these, suffering in the story is temporary and can be corrected by turning back to God.

The second reading is also a dangerous snippet of the sort of “doom and gloom” content that churches overuse and misuse. It can feel true for any generation and any time, and that is perhaps the first lesson to learn, that when the end seems nigh, people were feeling just the same centuries ago! However that way of thinking can also lead us to too blithely dismiss the possibility of real “end times” inherent in the fact of climate change. God is not going to mysteriously put us or our leaders back on the right path if we stubbornly persist in destroying ourselves. Death and suffering are real, and become more probable when we abuse nature or each other.

What I take from the second reading, is the need to stand back to some degree from social “truths” (like marriage, celebration, grief, property, use of nature). These everyday “realities” are human constructions and therefore able to be questioned. I find it interesting that use of wives (no mention of husbands), property and nature are all lumped together…there seems to me (perhaps only seen through a 2018 lens) an admission there that what needs liberation from us and our social structures (or “truths”) is women and the earth as well as the distribution of resources. Also that there is something unpredictable in what we feel, we may not always experience the emotion we are “supposed to”.

In this context I find the gospel interesting. John has been killed. Is Jesus sad and lonely? Is his calling of the fishermen as much about needing friendship and connection as anything else? How was it for Zebedee to be left this way? This story seems to follow on from the second reading, in that they are leaving their structured lives of labour and family hierarchies (but also possibly affection) and seeing a better or more imperative future possibility. If Zebedee and fishing represent “the way we have always done things”, it is pretty daring of them to follow Jesus instead, but faced with climate change we as a society need to have that daring, to turn our backs on capitalist “tried and true” ways of being and seek liberation.

I say that so blithely but it is not an easy thing to see each step or to follow it. We may not all agree on exactly how to proceed to have the best security for the most human beings, but the fact that so many are already suffering (and threaten to become a flood of the dispossessed and hungry…I refer both to refugees and the increasing numbers of poorer and poorer people within our own relatively wealthy society) is a clear sign that we need to seek liberation for humanity. Liberation is not just this modern, atomistic idea of “empowerment”, where you think positive and like Boxer from Animal Farm work harder. Liberation is for me and “thou” for each person who is in any way entangled in my life (and the whole globe’s population is increasingly tangled together by lines of relationship or exploitation).

Perhaps I am feeling bleak because I have to work on my political campaign at what is usually my favourite time of the year, and I am missing out on sunsets at the beach. Perhaps it is just hard to feel positive because all of us are so overworked and people seem to think heaping hatred and blame on those who stand up for the environment and human rights is somehow justified. But the readings seem every bit as crosspatch as I am feeling. So I will still squeeze out a grumpy little prayer…

Loving God,

You know by now that I am not Jonah, that I don’t do what I am told.

That I may need mentoring and advice but can’t stand being used

as a puppet for someone else.

Not even you, bold and impassioned Word.


You have seen by now

that those social structures-

patriarchal marriage, capitalism, consumerism,

neoliberal cancerous growth

leave me cold,

that I don’t know how to smile when I am told

or weep when I am prompted.


It is good news indeed to me

if oppressive structures could pass away.


So I guess I could leave things,

most things not all

because I sure as Heaven am never going to leave my children

even for you

and you taught me that I can’t leave my self.


I guess I’ll come with you, who have lost a loved one

to recognise each other’s broken heart,

to hold each other’s hand on the long road,

to somewhere uncompromising and brave.


But I am not really brave yet.


Embodying “temple”

The readings this week are about being called. Samuel greatly admires his teacher, but outgrows his teacher and finds his own vocation. Eli here is wise enough to know his own limitation and to point Samuel to a direct communion with God, putting himself out of the loop when it is time. So it is with all mentors or teachers and students, the time comes when the learner needs to stand on their own feet and decide for themselves. But there is an inner voice of integrity, a call to be greater than just self-interest and ego. Another way of saying this is that our potential is grounded in the will and wor[l]d of God.

The second reading contains that old saying that many of us grew up with, that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This teaching was often misused to make girls in particular feel fearful of their own sexuality and guilty of any sort of sensuousness. That interpretation however is not really borne out by the text itself. A temple is not a delicate and fragile thing, so prone to desecration- it is something that has integrity. If my body is a temple to the one true and beautiful God, then my body has integrity. If my body, in its bodiliness was sanctified then my body’s abilities and desires also can point to Christ/Wisdom. This is not to say that selfishness and overfocusing on the body itself, or giving into every impulse is desirable. People can work into a beautiful church and feel no sense of the sacred. They can admire the fine architecture and art. They can enjoy the singing of the perfect choir or find serenity in the colourful, scented flowers and incense and warm amber light through stained glass and yet never think that there is more here than pleasure and momentary peace.

In the same way we can live in our bodies in a way that focusses us on narcissism, lust, gluttony and all the rest of it and never touch Godde in ourselves or others.

But how unhappy to try to correct this possibility by smashing stained glass, banning choirs, throwing out art or defacing architecture, banishing incense and flowers and denuding the altar an sanctuary of anything that is beautiful or that adds pleasure to the experience of the sacred. Granted we strip the church (partially) for Good Friday, but this is an expression of our loss and grief and solidarity with Godde’s loss and grief in this time- it is not the ordinary way we approach Godde through a rejection of all the good things of the earth.

Why does communion flatbread have to taste of cardboard? I like that Anglican churches tend to have a good quality port as communion wine. God is in pleasure of the senses as much as in the strength of being able to face deprivation.

My body in its beauty and capability is a place where I or others can encounter Godde. I was deeply aware of this, this week as I returned to work at the childcare centre and had children clamouring for a cuddle and a story and I told them that my arms were long enough to cuddle more than one friend at a time (this was necessary). Then they measured their arms too by how many friends they could reach and we laughed together at the joy of being human with long arms that long to embrace. We told stories, the older children who are on the threshold of leaving for school have listened to my stories and asked me to stop and listen to theirs for a change. In church we do story-telling, and it is called the liturgy of the Word. In church we touch with affection and claim ourselves as part of the “otherness” of God no less than the other (each other in the sign of peace and penitential rite and Godde herself in the Eucharist). I am sure other professions too can find parallels with worship (nursing comes to mind, but even politics has something).

In the gospel Jesus is being cosy and friendly and giving nicknames. To be friends with Jesus is to go out of our way and to get to know him, this includes going to visit him in the elsewhere mentioned “least of my siblings”. To be part of Jesus’ group is to be changed, to gain a new and more difficult identity to learn to be a “rock”- strong and dependable in the tides of life. I think I have mentioned before how much I relate to the flawedness and well-meaning bumblings of Peter- his impulsivity and excess of emotion. Jesus in the readings calls Samuel and Peter but he calls each of us- the female body is a temple no less than the male and the Holy Spirit dwells in the specificity and even the limits of beautiful human architecture.

I am a temple

I am a rock

I am a reassuring touchstone for those

who need to come to God’s presence.


I can embody liturgy

I can embody prayer and praise

I can bring a moment of sanctity

of challenge and reassurance to the days

of God’s beloved


You are temple,

You are rock

You are there to show me something

bigger than myself


You embody Godde

You channel Wisdom

You are a lovely work of art

depicting her beauty


They are temple

They are rock

They are something firm and sacred

that we much treasure and preserve


They embody our call

They embody our sacrament

They call us to the altar

of the one we yearn for


…they are part of “we”…


We are temple

We are rock

We are stones together building

something bigger than just “I”


When you’re Samuel

I am Eli

getting ready to allow you

to hear more than I can tell you

to be yourself and speak with God.

When Jesus comes, the status quo is “greatly troubled”

Happy epiphany! Lectionary readings for the day can be found here. 

We live in a world, where it is supposed to be “common sense” to blame the refugee, the foreigner and the welfare recipient for hard times.  Firstly, these times are actually not all that hard if we are not a refugee or welfare recipient ourselves; secondly such as they are, they are caused by choices the government makes to support and shore up the rich rather than the poor.

It is not the person from a war-torn or flooded country that is taking funding away from public hospitals while allowing multi-national companies to use up the natural resources of the country without contributing any tax! It is not the injured breadwinner, the single mother, even the shiftless artist who is stripping funding from public schools to fund pointless and dehumanising plebiscites, give free money to the now foreign-owned propaganda machine and the mining companies; or who is tying our economics to outdated and inefficient coal and scoffing at new technologies that are proven in other parts of the world to work. And as far as “family values” go…it is not the loving and accepting parents of the trans child, it is not the two women bringing children up together that are telling us that compassion is a luxury we cannot afford and that everything needs to be ruled by the dispassionate, uncaring market…the values of the market are the values we now follow as a society. It seems we have a new God.

I reject that God and all the victim blaming and mathematically unsound “economics” such thinking brings with it.

I look for a star in the east, the new hope and I try to be like the magi. The magi got pulled out of their comfort zone, to go to a culture they knew nothing about and to find a poor (perhaps) and seemingly insignificant family that had had a baby. Sure in terms of the gospel, we are meant to nod and smile, this is “proof” that Jesus was someone special but the fact is that God is full of these sort of proofs, that in fact every foreign and poor and displaced baby is “special”. Each one is the hope that this world has.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh- these are material resources, worldly wealth for the “kingdom of God” after all. That is to say, our “spirituality” is not just about being “spiritual” and praying and feeling good and some sort of inner “niceness”. There is a practical dimension to our travelling with God and to the foreign baby, God. God demands an easier life for the poor- real gifts, real help, real earth-rooted and material signs of love and dignity.

Individual acts of “charity” may not change the world, but they change a life or three and they show a commitment– yes God we will go out of our way, yes God we will allow you to help yourself to the goods of this life, yes God even our “worldliness” is centred on you. It starts with the generosity I can show toward others in my life or in my networks and it flows from that to an attitude of acceptance and love, a desire to advocate for Jesus wherever s/he lies, whatever manger, whatever sheets- and let’s face it at times he is not the poorest of the poor either, his life is not the meanest of the mean but he needs something from us other than judgement and a turning away. When Jesus the refugee manages to get a decent job, to get into a decent school, wear fashionable clothes or buy a mobile phone you get people saying “see how easy it is for ‘them’- too easy” but Jesus is still asking us for acceptance, for love, for equality.

When Jesus the single mother can afford a haircut or a glass of wine or is given a nice handbag for Christmas, then she does not fit our idea of abject poverty and we may think that welfare payments are “too generous” that she “has it easy” that she is not suffering enough to deserve support or dignity. But the idea that Jesus lived in a stable in Bethlehem and froze in rags, though picturesque, is probably wrong (houses had mangers in them). Jesus was crowded, displaced, his parents had an uncomfortable journey and much stress (especially once Herod wanted to kill their child) but they may not have been so “respectably” poor.

The poorest, the homeless and the literally starving need our generosity and our support but so do the merely depressed or merely struggling or merely locked out of promotions…the lonely, the under-confident, the disorganised, the depressed, the apathetic and the uneducated. Jesus has needs and is not here to gratify our vanity by showing credentials, being the deserving poor- safely, tamely in a corner that we can define and get out of. Jesus is one of us and will irritate us with poor life choices and a less than warm manner at times!

I struggle to feel emotionally charitable to some of the people that I see on Facebook- I want to judge, condemn, block or destroy with reason many of the people who tell me they are fearful of Muslims for example, or of allowing children to be trans. Then there are the people who don’t understand that their inadequate dole payment and unsatisfying and underpaid work is because of the way we have structured society- not because of these “others” who also want something, who also have needs and families. Jesus is sometimes distant and foreign and hard to spot. Jesus challenges me, frightens me.

Like Herod when I hear of Jesus it will probably be in a context where some power or privilege I have is at risk. Like Herod the temptation is to pretend to help, but really to undermine.

But power and authority, do not always act as Herod. I can be pretty critical of bishops and church leaders, and with reason but occasionally they surprise me.

Today, according to the bishops is the beginning of Migration week in the US Catholic church. I’m in Australia but I like their idea and I will with them pray and reflect on how I can companion, support and advocate for migrants and refugees better. Even though the bishops are asking people to pray, there seems to be an underlying message here of a larger conversion toward better compassion  and acceptance. Prayer is suggested as a foundation for who we are as a people.

Baby Jesus,

I pray with Magi, with bishops, with the powerful, the foreign to me and those who search. I pray ready to travel, ready to receive people from other places.

I begin my year of travelling, searching, loving you in the world and within my own heart. Like la Befana from the children’s story I have been busy with trivial things that the world judges me on, but my heart yearns to be part of your miracle. Like her I know that seeking later is better than never. Like her I have the wisdom to see that every child can be gifted in your name and that every act of generosity is a step on the journey to you.

Like the magi I can be distracted by the Herods of the world- powerful people and their propaganda. I can look in the wrong places but I will eventually find. I can use the wisdom in my own life, in my own culture because every person and their culture are created in your image.

Baby Jesus, show me what to do to support those who are out of their own homes, those who search, those who are looking in the wrong places, those who only wish they could be in the safety of their own home. Help us build a world where you (or the “least of these”) will be welcome and safe in any corner of the earth and the earth itself is respected and healed.

We have seen your star, we come.








Holiness, families, connection, otherness

The first reading today, is a couple of disjointed passages from a longer section where surprise, surprise the father (patriarch) of a household is setting up his own wellbeing and interests as “God’s law” over his children. There is a section defining the parent’s power over children as natural and right, God’s will, then he sensibly looks ahead to a future time when he may be feeble or have dementia and sets up taking care of him them as a virtue for his children.

While I agree that looking after the old with compassion and respect is virtuous, as a whole this piece of writing leaves me cynical and disconnected from my tradition. I want to look for holiness instead at real holy families I know… two women who defy their church and some of their relatives to give loyalty and nurture to each other “for better for worse, for richer for poorer…” and let their mutual love outflow to their communities… a single mother on the barest pittance who struggles to put food on the table but always finds some change or a cigarette for any homeless person who asks her, and refuses to give up her World Vision sponsored child…the couple who take turns running for election or supporting each other’s efforts, who work together to manage their household finances, chores, child rearing, extensive political involvement, gardening and still find time to each have personal interests and entertain friends (how do they do it all?)…the single person who knows s/he (I know more than one of these)is on a good income and looks for opportunities to be generous and transformative with their money, even while enjoying a good standard of life themselves…the elderly people whose love for their own (now grown up) children spills over into grandchildren and others who they can mentor, support, encourage…the teachers who are like family in the way they see and respond to an emotional need…the nurses who heal more than a physical wound by lingering or listening for a (precious and scarce) moment longer than they have to…the chef who finds an excuse to feed people even beyond the call of duty…the boss who genuinely cares about how unique her employees are and their individual needs and issues…the now separated or divorced couple who remain friends for the sake of their child, or add encouragement and support to the ex, rather than bitterness and judgement…”

And there are broken families too of course, people betrayed, abandoned, insecure, criticised, misunderstood, neglected…all families are Christ’s family whether we approve of them or not, whether we can see the life-giving potential in them ore not.

To extend this logically, the family called “the church” which is also extremely flawed and at times abusive is Christ’s family too…

The second reading starts off well, with all the advice about loving and forgiving each other, but also ends up devolving into patriarchal family hierarchies. Husbands over wives, parents over children. I don’t want to rehash all the apologetics here about “this is actually liberative for its time and culture because it is two-sided.” Maybe, maybe not but I am reading it on the threshold of 2018 and this way of putting it does NOT liberate someone who has experienced being a child and then a wife. As a lay-person in a church where there is so much power and authority accorded to clergy I am wary of this asymmetrical two-sided responsibility where my responsibility to obey is supposed to mesh with someone else’s responsibility to nurture me. That has often not been the way it has panned out. I also added back in here the verse the lectionary has swept under the carpet, because I think it illustrates our need for caution with texts.

God created all humans with intelligence, will, agency; it in no way makes sense for some to give up their own ability to reason, choose and decide and to hand that power over to others.

I am digging in my heels at these reading with a big fat NOPE.

In the context of these two readings, the gospel seems a little bit oppressive too. Here is Jesus’ family following tradition, celebrating his maleness and first-borness by killing some pigeons. I understand that this is not my culture and I try to bite my tongue as I read it (but there were those other readings to set the tone for me to resist this too). So here they are doing everything that is “prescribed” and Jesus’ specialness is affirmed by people outside the family, people important within their religious community.

As someone who never got to be “special”, as “only a girl” I can watch it from the outside but this story has never really captured my imagination much, nor has it given me any sort of useful concept of “holiness” so that as a child this feast-day was more of a puzzle to me than anything else. I was a pious little goody-goody so I took it for granted that they were holy, I was not and my role in the faith always was to obey and follow- never any more.

But when I was pregnant myself (no longer a child by then) I thought a lot about Mary and her struggles, about Joseph and his ability in other parts of the gospel to put his family radically first (which is pretty transgressive in a patriarchal context). I thought of Jesus’ contradictory attitudes toward his own family- now clear affection, now a seeming desire to escape and deny…of his need to be more than his origins or pedigree, of his resistance to being subsumed in domesticity or family expectations. Leaving the security of the family leads to the cross; the cross might have broken Jesus’ body, but imagine the wreckage it wrought to Mary’s heart?

I prayed that none of my children would ever in any way or in any movement be a “Messiah” and yet I also knew that whatever they were or were not, despite the first and second readings of today I would neither choose nor control. The holiness of “family” then, must lie somewhere in that contradiction between individual agency and call, and collective support, love, acceptance of one another. We yearn as human beings both to connect and to be free. We can achieve so little alone, as a pure individual and yet perhaps the most frustrating and perennial challenge is the attempt to be understood by each other (and the pain of stopping our own knowledge and emotions in their tracks long enough to know another).

So on this feast of the holy family, I look at my own flawed self as a mother of sons, as a sister and daughter, aunt and cousin and friend. I look at my single-state, my difficulty with managing intimacy in my life, but miraculously the relative stability of my friendships. I offer a prayer of thanks for the people who have with-held judgement (or even advice) and have offered encouragement and practical help, fostering my slow growth.

I anticipate my need for more- necessary but slow and painful growth to better relationships and the best inspiration I can find in tradition can only be the prayer of St Francis,

Divine Wisdom make me an instrument of your peace,

where there is injury let me sow pardon,

where there is hatred, let me sow love,

where there is confusion, let me bring Wisdom,

(God I know the original said something different but I mean to bring creative doubt to over-certain faith as much as reassuring faith to toxic doubt)

where there is sadness, let me bring joy

where there is darkness let me bring your light

(and as a three-year old once pointed out where there is too much light let me bring the rest and peace of your darkness)

and to despair let me always show the chance of hope.

Oh beautiful and loving One teach me always to seek

more to console others than to need consolation,

more to listen and understand than just to be heard and understood

especially when I have privilege in worldly terms.

Teach me not to be needy in matters of love but to be generous and ready to pour out and be poured out in love.


Let me know with you that it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning and making allowances for others that we lose our own guilt and complicity in sin,

and somehow, in some hard to comprehend,

miraculous way

even death is not final as our eternal vocation is into You.


Make me an instrument, a way for you to play the music

that is peace and healing

to all.


Not being silent

So many readings to choose from for Christmas services…and many of them so well known they’ve almost become a cliché. But I will start with the vigil, which may sound like an odd choice (and in fact any Christmas vigil mass I ever went to used Luke’s nativity story which is more child friendly). The gospel is a bunch of this person “begat” that person. I didn’t bother using a more modern translation this time, because I remember when I was a kid referring to this passage as the “begatteries” (I think I got that from my Dad and thinking it was the most boring passage (and to me pointless) in the hole bible. I wondered who cared about hs patrilineal line that way as if he was a breeding animal or something. Jesus’ remarkable person was nothing to do with who “begat” who.

Later on, I noticed – or perhaps it was pointed out to me- that in this account of fathers and sons four women manage to squeeze their way in and for a time I thought it was a feminist victory of sorts. I don’t like “liberal feminist” ideas though that some women (often at great personal cost) can break into patriarchal places in small number, because of their own individual “empowerment” or some such- but the norm is still exclusion and low status of women in general. I sometimes see this in churches that begin to ordain women, it takes a long time for real change to happen (and to me it doesn’t matter so much these days who does or does not get ordained- it is the effect on the wider community that matters).

Then again this is God’s history, not “man’s history” and if you look carefully at what sort of women have got a mention in the patrilineal line they are transgressive types- Tamar and Rahab and Ruth, who in various ways broke conventions or used their sexuality and agency to achieve moments in the story of liberation of their people or themselves. Mary also, she has been colonised by so many artists and theologians- depicted as passive and submissive but if we knew her only from the scriptures then she comes across very differently- as outspoken, courageous and somewhat of a visionary.

So Jesus could be a male saviour in a male story of a male church- except God keeps calling women at various points in time (probably always) to transgress patriarchy (like Wisdom herself who is free from constraint) and to change history for the better. This text is not very feminist, the very few women mentioned are all mothers and wives, their other deeds unmentioned but they are THERE and if we look at the story in full then we know them. And we know who is missing- Jepthah’s daughter for example and other victim’s of men’s violence.

I’ll go back to the first reading with all this in mind, and proclaim together with it that I will “not be quiet”. The first reading is all about “Zion” depicted as female and needing advocacy (and waiting for God’s intervention). Unsilencing is a theme of Christmas, especially if we consider Jesus the “Word” of God- speaking and spoken (through Mary’s embodied production of “Word” and through Joseph making room for Mary’s work in this). God unsilences the voices that call for repentance, change, better ways of being and knowing and relating.

They sing that “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” which I suppose is meant to be a moralistic guilt trip on the tendency of children to talk and complain so much, but instead I think little Jesus screams his lungs out like the healthy, fully embodied human he is, like the voice of unquenchable Wisdom, like the son of the composer of the Magnificat (and of God and of the quiet and assenting carpenter), like the future preacher and threat to the status quo. He screams that unjust hierarchies and powers will fall and Herod hears enough to be frightened (that comes later of course).

When I went to Latvija, I was in a relatively atheist state of mind. I was “over” church and I didn’t know what I believed apart from the fact that church is too often boring, depressingly patriarchal and generally unhelpful (this is not true in the community  I attend but while travelling further from home I often find services that shut me out in various ways). After walking out of a service which seemed to be about the little, guilty me having to grovel to the patriarchy (which is a form of idolatry anyway) I went to visit my great aunt, Stefanija, for whom I was named and who has since died. I have posted her picture on this post so you can see her.

She told me stories of what it was like living under the Russian regime. Atheism was part of the ideology of the state. People who strongly advocate for universal atheism, often claim that atheists have never visited religious oppression on anyone. That is simply not true. In Latvija during the occupation you could be deported to labor camps even for saying “Merry Christmas” on December 25th, the state proclaimed that the correct festival was the secular “new year’s eve” and any religious celebration was forbidden. Church was not available, nor were decorations and the like.

Enforced atheism has shown itself to be every bit as horrifying as any other enforced religion, for all that atheists tend to claim a moral high-ground…educating ourselves about the (un)beliefs of others in a spirit of tolerance might be a better thing to try.

Anyway Stefanija told me that she and her husband had some Christian neighbours, that they knew it was safe to say “Merry Christmas” to (very quietly so no one would hear and report them) with a little smile of significance because Christmas is still a big deal to a Christian even when you are not allowed to celebrate it. And I realised that my faith does mean something to me after all- when it can mean quiet defiance of an unfair regime, it can mean a joy and hope we are not “supposed” to feel.

So like the shepherds in the reading I didn’t get to discussing, we stop work for the evening to focus on someone else’s baby in wonder and awe. Like the magi in a few weeks we follow even a star, even a rumour of a hope to connect across cultures with generosity and respect. Like Herod we might be threatened by the politics of the kindom of God, and need to resist the temptation to defend the status quo by making othered families suffer. Don’t you think you are Herod? What is your attitude to refugees? To trans-kids? To teenage mothers? To the unemployed or homeless? The wonder and transformative power of the Jesus story has been very resilient over centuries and it is part of our identity as individuals and as communities.

Jesus was grounded within his own Jewish tradition with its problems (eg patriarchy) and its possibilities (eg the radical call to social justice). I am Latvian, my relatives were courageous about having a “Merry Christmas” under an oppressive regime.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and your families. Don’t be silent- be advocates for the oppressed, be hopeful, be joyful. Let us be in the Jesus movement together!