Tag Archives: baby

Cuddles and baby-talk

Ok so my brain is fried from the heat and I have been busy this week with my son who I didn’t see for a couple of weeks before that, but I will try to have a go. Because if i wrote about Joseph just before Christmas, and Matthew’s construction of an enlightened, spiritually attune and emotionally honest masculinity then I guess the epiphany (which occurs every year) continues this.

The gospel doesn’t tell us the gender of the Magi (and that lack of certainty can sometimes be fun to play with) but tradition has decided there were three of them and they were all male: Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar. This is not entirely satisfactory and the exoticisation of them as various shades of black (set next to the improbable sight of a white Jesus) is certainly problematic. But let’s just for a moment visualise them as traditionally they have been painted and repainted. 3 wealthy blokes.

Suddenly they follow a dream, or an inner conviction or their intuition or something (a star no less) and trek half way around the world to see a baby. I was at a pool party today and there was a small baby there. One of my friends who usually comes across more or less as a big tough man came in and immediately scooped up the baby and started baby-talking to him and cuddling him. He brought the child over to his very pregnant wife and let the baby “make friends” with the other baby in utero. My scepticism about the way Matthew portrays men dissolved somewhat in seeing that and I suddenly pictured Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar jumping off their camels and squatting down and baby-talking and all wanting to cuddle little Jesus. Meanwhile maybe the exhausted Mary had a backrub from Joseph or a nanna-nap or I would like to visualise her popping out for a cup of something with no baby…but maybe that couldn’t (and didn’t) happen in biblical Bethlehem.

Of course I don’t want to make too much of a big deal of men who want to be fathers and uncles and basically decent human beings around children because as has often been pointed out it’s a bit silly that men are “heroes” for doing the things women are supposed to just “naturally” gravitate to. A redeemed masculinity when portrayed the way I have portrayed it is no greater than an ordinary femininity. But maybe we can line the baby-cuddling, emotionally intelligent “wise men” up with Mary who walked miles and miles WHILE PREGNANT to emotionally support her cousin without even the emotional reward of seeing a baby. Matthew’s wise men line up with Luke’s wise woman. Maybe it’s not just about gender, but it is about being a decent and open individual.

Herod’s need to control and dominate is threatened by these strange people with their strange lifestyle, with these powerful men coming past to celebrate a baby’s birthday. The mundane is political. Everyday acts of love and walking humbly with are transgressive against the power regimes of the world. Oh yes Herod is VERY threatened by this queer behaviour and would like to kill them or kill Jesus. We can sanitise the ending as happy- both the magi and the child’s family get protected by the providence of God (and once again their willingness to pay attention to dreams). But there is a human cost.

When we celebrate the epiphany we forget that very male child under 2 was murdered by order of a paranoid king. Where was God in that event? How do we celebrate the transformation and liberation of the privileged individual WITHOUT making invisible the many who are unfairly made to suffer? If we are to embrace a good news, we can’t do it just by framing the action to sweep the abuse of children under a carpet.

The church has tried that course but we need to move beyond it! The child who escaped to Egypt was the child of God and so was the murdered infant and the assaulted mother. So is the child of God the baby born on Manus island and the baby whose mother has her centrelink cut off. As a society/church we need to put our Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh where our God is. We need to love our neighbour.

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat

He was little, weak and helpless

Baby Jesus,

I remember being taught as a child to kneel to you because you were Lord and God and Almighty and Better than us and all the rest of it. Kyriearchy I mean.

I bought it because it came with a very convincing side of inferiority which quickly fermented to self-hate and that seemed logical in terms of the bigger picture in so many ways.

It was not until I was about 17 that I had a close friend who questioned religion and refused to see herself as “unworthy”. No more kneeling to grovel before a judgemental monarch. I began to feel uncomfortable with the classist aspects of religion.

But there was the stable scene at church with almost life-sized statues in real straw and we knelt to see it, to see you as a baby and all the figures that surrounded you in love and awe. We looked at the joy, the sparkle and the mystery and we were little ones ourselves we did not deconstruct this story and all the ways it makes no historical sense.

What we saw as we knelt was everyone’s eyes downwards to a baby: the beauty of God. We felt inspired to kindness, to live a better life with each other and see sacredness even in animals and stars and straw.

That my little Darling was the other side of kneeling.

Now I am all grown up and I work in early childhood and I had my own children who were so little but now I have to look up to talk to them and reach up to hug them. But at work I spend much of my day close to the floor on seats that are too low. I crouch, kneel even crawl all day because the little ones I am working with and teaching are so small. To really see, hear and notice them I often have to get down a level or two. To participate with them I have to also give up the adult dignity of standing (also give up comfort).

So then kneeling in my profession does not mean worship of the powerful dictator, it means getting down to give voice to the vulnerable, talking at a respectful eye-level, being authentically with someone small and in need of protection.

At work baby Jesus you would relate with my day where I sit in the sand and pretend to eat meals the little ones prepare. I construct a better train track for their trains, do up their shoes and wipe their noses. I find ants to watch, sweep up tempting but dirty crumbs and sit with children crowding onto my lap and snuggling in from all sides complaining “I can’t see the story”. I sit on the floor between two mattresses patting tiny backs to stillness while quiet music plays. I crouch down to take a picture that isn’t “from above” or to clean a variety of messes or to see what is out of reach (and move things as needed).

And that is “kneeling”.

So how then do we kneel down to the level of vulnerable and emotionally needy, the ones who are you little baby Jesus? How do we touch the little heartbeat of wisdom that needs care and nurture and even reassurance? To me this is one more call to social justice. Any adult can walk into a room and perform the basics for the child- hand them food, tell them off, even smile and clearly like the child and perform a variety of services for the wellbeing of the child but it is just not the same when we don’t get down to their level (your level, my God) and deeply listen.

All our Christmas charity to the poor and general “niceness” to people is fine, we ought to still do it because it is like feeding and clothing and keeping the child safe. The weather is particularly bad in my city this year and I will take them something if I can and it is good but it is not enough.

Who are we to give out our generous gifts from above people? Who are we to decide for others as an adult decides the fate of a child?

Baby Jesus, you need a closer encounter, for us to get down on the floor and enter with you into play- to hear and see and know the vulnerable of the world, to share laughter and tears as well as the leftovers of our bread. Like any child, you are demanding Word of God.

Even when we are exhausted may our hearts allow your little fingers pulling at our clothing and reaching for our hands and calling us back into play with cuddles and smiles and sometimes tears. Like the childcare workers who well and truly earn their ten-minute breaks just to get out of the room and try to restore sanity after a few hours of it, or like the parent who has been sleep deprived for many long months we don’t always respond to you as quickly and tirelessly as we want to.

So we restore ourselves this Christmas with good food and good company and Christmas carols and lights and all the rest.

But what about those who can’t? How do we work together to support each other’s work and self-care? What love and attention can we bring to you Jesus in the “least of your siblings”, in the babies who need better supported families, in the women whose gifts are rejected by their society or church, the homeless people, the refugees, the unemployed and unemployable, the aging or dying and those who used to make Christmas wonderful for others and now barely manage to enjoy a moment of it because of age or stress.

That is where we kneel, we can’t solve all the world’s problems but we be with Jesus and with the “least of my siblings”. We come down to eye level when the baby cries. Sometimes there is no solution there is only love and presence.

Being patient- the “not yet” of Christmas.

“The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.”

As a metaphor this is a beautiful idea, that the wasteland and disappointed places inside myself have transformative potential at the coming of Sophia. But there is a chilling side to this metaphor in the year when we have had such a wet and abundant spring that everyone has harvested record breaking vegetables and roses (this in Australia) meanwhile the North Pole is fast disappearing (and how many species with it?)
But…
“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

All the limits we feel in our bodies and in our places in society will be overcome by the one who comes to “vindicate” the weak and frightened. There is radical hope here. How to read the hope together with the despair of a burdened earth? The psalm reminds us (as scripture does again and again and again) of God’s agenda, nothing to do with what you believe or who you sleep with but justice, relief, healing, sanctuary. God offers these to the poor and oppressed and calls us to be part of the movement of actualising her offers. I’d like to take that psalm on as a creed. The God I worship and call to is the God who does all those things. The hair-splitting theological points become irrelevant as God in this psalm, elsewhere in scripture and in the world rolls up her sleeves (shades of Washerwoman God here) and sets to work cleaning the house, nesting, making ready for baby Wisdom at Christmas and demands that as members of the household, the economy/oikonomia of God we do the same.

The second reading calls for patience (like every Mum ever talking to her small children about Christmas coming). Apparently we can’t hurry grace. We are also asked to stop complaining about each other, I would not think this refers to people who cry out against the genuine oppressions that God abhors but rather the nitpickers who judge other people’s sexual morality, spending habits or lifestyles and completely miss the point that God is coming to spread radical hope and justice and above all LOVE. We can all be a little bit mean-minded and judgemental at times, we all know better than others how they ought to live their lives. God doesn’t seem to have time for all that though because there are real things to be put into order (strangers to be protected and widows and orphans to be sustained).

The gospel could be read simply as part of the story of John the Baptist, a great prophet one who called people to repent back toward God and tried to open them up for the radical possibilities in Christ. There is also the bigger picture of reading the signs of the times. We keep wanting more and more and more proof and certainty before we make any decision or act. Jesus here seems to be advocating a boldness in the gospel. Don’t follow every reeed swayed by the wind, don’t expect your prophets packaged more perfectly. There are already voices of prophecy telling us about our times (there are the plants telling us the climate is skewed, there are the refugees telling us capitalism has failed the world). Take on the news you don’s wish to hear (that we must all repent radically and immediately) in order to make way for the Word that we do want, the hope and salvation of the world.

So pressed for time energy and money this year, so bereft of hope I do not know what I can bring to the table of celebration, in what way to connect with God in this coming season of Christmas. Patient waiting with the pregnant Mary is all the action I can offer at this stage, but also accepting the refocussing and repentance of the advent readings, to prepare myself for hope, for tiny baby-voice Wisdom to wrap delicate but insistent fingers around my finger and bring me back down to her level. To first steps not yet taken; to angels singing in Luke’s remembrance of the beginning or mysterious gifts and sudden journeys that are Christmas in the gospel of Matthew. And John reminds us to open our hearts to the Word- full of grace and truth. If we already had all the answers I guess we wouldn’t need Christmas.

Epiphany

I wrote this hymn. It can be sung to the same tune as “How great the harvest is”. It’s not brilliant but I used it in a liturgy and some people liked it. I hope to do more hymn writing when I get time…and get better at it!

We follow Wisdom’s star,

that calls us by its shining

to gather all we are;

our separate gifts combining,

gold, frankincense and myrrh,

lives glittering, fragrant, lavish.

Your reign will heal our earth

you’ve come all hate to banish.

 

Now at the stable door,

we leave our pride and enter.

So tiny and so poor,

and yet you are the centre:

the reason for our long,

our winding lifelong journey

transforming all that’s wrong

with Wisdom’s dance of learning.

 

We’ve called you “God” and “king”,

our language can’t contain you

and yet in love we bring

our gifts as we acclaim you.

You are our star, our road

the giver and the treasure

your love’s abundance shows

life filled beyond all measure.

In the unlikely event you want to use this or any other poem or song by me, it is free but please let me know you are doing it. Thanks xxoo

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

I am humbled and grateful for the people reminding me to post each week. I apologise that it is late. I had the opportunity to put together a little liturgy including this reflection at my church. Like a miracle, the minute (ie after a few months) I committed to writing this blog weekly God started throwing me back in the way for little opportunities to do the work I love! That connects with the reflection itself as the frankincense of my life that I am finding to offer after all!

I want to keep the words I use short as I think the readings have already given us a rich tapestry of images to work with. So I will just briefly highlight  a couple that strike me…

… images of people from far away, with different cultures and beliefs yet drawn to the beauty and transformative power of God embodied in Jesus. I think it is very important to note that they come, give their gifts to Jesus and then return to their own country and presumably their own way of life. This is not a conversion story giving us permission to colonise others, it is a story of trusting, as believers, that God is big enough to be noticed by people from other places, people who will use their own beliefs and traditions to come to the one we call Christ in their own way.

Another image is of the smallness and vulnerability of God in this story: Jesus is a tiny baby, passive and waiting and receptive for the action of others. In a world that tells us that what is active and acting and ruling is important, Jesus dares to be the weaker half of a relationship.  God here as a tiny baby draws people in, presence is shown to be greater and more mysterious than mere power.

So what of us? As the magi we can travel to be in the presence of God and stop asking what God will “do” or trying to have beliefs or rituals or to justify that thing we call faith. We are simply drawn into presence by God as we are by babies who wrap their tiny fingers around our larger fingers and bring our chattering hearts to silence in awe and adoration. We come into the presence not just to ask for something, not to cower as before an overlord or to appease God. We kneel down to the baby’s level and we simply love, we simply gaze in love.

We are called to be like the magi and leave aside the “rational” in order to waste a lot of time following an elusive star to bring our gifts to this baby who neither tries to control us not is really owned by us.

The gifts are gold- sometimes this is said to symbolise kingship. What else might it symbolise? All the material wealth that we have, all of our resources that we control and decide about. All the status and power and influence we have in society and in our smaller communities. This we bring and gift to Jesus. What if we used the gold of our resources and our influence for God’s reign? I am not advocating some sort of radical giving-up of the good things in life: far from it. But how can we enjoy the great things we have in the fairest way that most furthers God’s interests?

Then there is frankincense sometimes seen as a gift of priesthood. Do we bring our priesthood to Jesus? By priesthood I mean our call to take Christ and break with Christ and distribute the body of Christ to feed people’s spirits. Our spiritual gifts, our identity, our deepest desires and knowledge brought to the waiting, patient baby-who-is-God. Each of us has some sort of a call to minister to the spiritual reality of our church and we do that well here by sharing the ministry. Where else are we called to be priests? In our workplace? In our daily struggle?

Finally there is myrrh, often said to symbolise death. Do we bring the myrrh of opening our eyes and hearts to noticing suffering and darkness and death in the world? Do we refuse to let faith be simply escapism as we bring myrrh to the human suffering one, the one who will die a horrible death rather than turn aside from integrity. I wouldn’t want to look for suffering and death – I certainly don’t want to be crucified. But perhaps I am called to walk with the Christ who suffers oppression, exploitation, silencing or death?

The Herods of this world would prevent us bringing these gifts to God. It would be more convenient for rulers like Herod if we did not dare to connect all that we have and all that we are to God’s interests. And yet we are here at the epiphany, yearning toward the quietly waiting baby- arms and hearts aching to hold the tiny bundle of fullness of life.

You may wish to reflect upon the gifts that are implicit in the gold of your life, frankincense of your identity and myrrh of your compassion. Or there may be other images in today’s readings that grab you more and after reflecting you may wish to share a small part of your thoughts with others.