Tag Archives: faith

Eleison

So I skipped over the “Kyrie” and did not even notice until I was trying to contextualize the “Gloria“. Part of the reason for that I suppose is the way I grew up seeing it as part of the penitential rite, because it is tacked onto the end of it and at times you don’t “have to” have the Kyrie if it is embedded in the way the rite is worded (with the “Lord have mercy..,.Christ have mercy” used as a refrain within the list of things we are sorry for. So then when viewed that way the “have mercy” sounds like a plea to not punish us…or not too much…like a plea for forgiveness or clemency out of a knowledge of sinfulness. Or at any rate that was how I read it as a child.

And then of course the Kyrie is inherently problematic to me as I try to avoid “kyriearchal” thought and language and a cringing relationship with God. But when I have worked with liturgy I have been able to change the words to “Sophia eleison, Christe eleison” (Wisdom have mercy, Christ have mercy) to dispense with the Kyriearchy.

But is “have mercy” problematical too? What are we really asking? Is it a cringing in our sinfulness and awareness of a basic dirty worthlessness? It has been used that way. Or is it a request to be “saved” or rescued, a sort of damsel-in-distress positioning toward God the shiny saviour? How do we ask for liberation but not for rescue? It seems to me to be a fine line.

Then I wonder if I need to be more actively involved in this idea of “mercy” and I think back to my time in schools, two schools in the “mercy” tradition and their motto “Loyal en tout”. Loyal in everything. But loyal how and to what or whom?

And we deconstructed ideas of “mercy” at school and talked about how individual acts of “mercy” were only a start but social action was also needed to get rid of injustice instead of always just seeking a bigger bandaid to put over the hurts of this world. So “Sophia inspire justice, Christ teach liberation” becomes the intent of my cry in my heart. How do we deconstruct the injustices inherent in the system and how do we come to shared understandings that are more just and inclusive (and then again more just and more inclusive and again…as humans always having to renegotiate, never having found the silver bullet against all social ills).

But then can we sit back and ask God the holy ATM to dispense us parcels of this mercy or inspiration? Or is the cry more complex?

“Sophia show me how to be more merciful to myself

Christ teach me to extend a respectful merciful hand to others

Sophia integrate me with the earth’s mercy in more reciprocal ways.”

I met an atheist today, who seems to do my instinct what I need God and faith to inspire and teach in me. I see a lot of ethical atheists who honestly I can see have little or no need of religion, they seem to have an instinct for goodness and justice and I wonder why I do not have that. Why do I need God to call and motivate me out of my basic meaninglessness and lack of “good” action. If I did not believe I would not follow, I would just eat, drink and try to enjoy my time on earth and not worry about injustices too big for me to handle on my own.

But other people have a more evolved humanity than me and seem to do so much good without “believing”. So then my cry from the heart is,

“God give me meaning

Wisdom teach me to instinctively live love

Love go more deep in me than my overthinking”

because my ethical framework is still so deeply rooted in an understanding of being loved and accepted and called by God who is “other” to me, I have not fully integrated my ethics in myself. I am not fully independent and I admiringly wonder at people who can spontaneously find that within.

But let’s say at the end of the day that I can let go of “believing” in an other consciousness that is bigger and better and more loving than me and just do what is right and just for no real reason, just as an expression of my true being. Would I do that? Would I make my “goodness” my own if it meant losing the sense of being loved externally? I think of the loneliness I felt as a child and a young woman, my inability to access the imperfect love of other people or to respond or initiate love (and still I really struggle to express affection and affirmation towards others). Maybe I would not chose to isolate myself from the one ongoing relationship that has allowed me to dance back to other people I had alienated at various times.

There is something of the romantic in me after all, I crave intimacy and the acceptance of an “other”. My gratefulness when anyone likes me, wants my company or sees my worth is grounded in my growing reliance that God always likes, wants and sees me. There are bigger reserves of “goodness” accessible to me than my own. Perhaps the “good” atheists are also wrapped in this GOD that they don’t have to see or articulate (I would not try to tell them so).

God’s love is more than “mercy” it is grace and gift and growth.

P.S. I woke up in the middle of the night, knowing I hadn’t completely got it right. Trying to reduce faith to a dyad (God and me) is an indication of my own attempt to deal with being single for so long but it’s inappropriate to put that on God and anthropomorphise God in the process. That is, maybe it is Ok to get through day to day in this way but as an insight it isn’t really the whole picture. I lay there and remembered that I was linked in with refugees, and people trying to survive on centrelink; with old flames and elderly relatives; with fundamentalists who fear for my soul and rainbow youth who crave acceptance. With a little kitten who needs his litterbox changed and with the spiders, slaters and millipedes my preschoolers are obsessed with finding. With hurricanes and stars and sudden changes in weather.

To ask God to respond with “mercy” authentically, to attempt to be caught up in the act of “mercy” is to want to transform it for all of us- not just for me. I felt the very real fear of the way society seems to be descending into more and more injustice as we begin to face the consequences of not looking after the environment.

And then “have mercy” , also “may we have mercy” was a more fear-filled cry at three in the morning. And still asking for grace and gift and growth, but quickly and for all of us and in the knowledge that I would have to try harder to get caught up actively in bringing these things to myself and others.

Life-affirming creed

Please note: I know I can’t draw but I wanted to show what I meant. I never let children tell me they “can’t draw”, as I think we express something even if it isn’t a beautiful product. So try to see it as a child’s drawing. When I can draw it better I will change the picture

New year, new me and all that and I thought about how I began by writing a creed and had meant to write a new one from time to time- not necessarily to reject the old (though I would be allowed to outgrow it if it happened) but to keep trying to articulate to myself what I believe and what all this is about. So it would be time to write a new one.

Then I have been reading “New Feminist Christianity” and whenever I read things theological I feel a stirring to write it and preach it. I thirst to be a priest but at least I have my blog and a couple of side projects. And finally I have been watching “Call the Midwife” aided and abetted by my youngest son who bought me season 3 for Christmas. I have a love/hate relationship with the series but in all honesty more love for it’s emotional directness, themes of love, laughter and women’s friendship as well as birth and sometimes suffering and grief. Also I am a sucker for women’s history ESPECIALLY when they show it with nice frocks and hairstyles.

So then when I go to write a “creed” I have been affected by these influences of all the feminist theologians telling me to get over the kyriearchy (I agree) while Jenny Lee (a fictional midwife) reminds me every episode that the centre of life is love. And I think that my new “creed” will be not so much an “I believe” statement but more of an “I eperience love” statement which is more to the point. I often think about who and how I love and as an examination of conscience this is the right focus. But a creed is even more basic than that. A creed is not about me and how I am, it is about the reality around me. How do I experience and access being loved. When I finally realised I was loved and lovable, when I was 35 it changed my life. Up until then I had wanted to be lovable but had never believed it was possible. Once I was healed of my inability to know myself I became aware of love from a lot of different people and real love (not just grudging duty-love) from God.

So my transformed, liberated “creed” is an “I am loved” statement. Knowing and experiencing are ways of “believing” I suppose but without that rationalising and legalistic edge. Here is my attempt then:

As we awaken in the womb of God,

quicken in the depths of her who conceived us,

Jesus, our midwife reaches

to hold and steady us

on our terrifying journey.

Feeling squashed and stretched,

helpless and falling

 

Jesus takes and wraps us

to bring our newly born selves

back into the arms of the Mother.

The cord may be cut

but the milk flows.

 

The Spirit confronts us in the mirror.

We trace our ancestry:

the deepest reality of the universe

beating in each breast.

Beloved child, allowed to grow and choose

but never a stranger

from the arms of our Mother.

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.

“Justice will be done for them”; remembering who we learned this from

 

I got to give the “reflection” at church this week so this is what I said. I realise there is so much more that could be said on these readings but I tried to keep it positive because the people who asked me to speak deserved that.

There’s a scene in Genesis where Jacob wrestles with an angel and refuses to be give ground. He demands a blessing. I mention this because it is a form of faithfulness that I think we sometimes need to bring to our tradition and even to the scriptures and having found this week’s readings quite tough I bring to you my beginnings at wrestling, in the trust that each of us will find a way to continue that.

I used to read the gospel story as if God were the unjust judge and I in the place of the powerless widow was supposed to constantly harangue God with my prayers. I found this idea as appalling as a photo of a beloved that has had obscenities scribbled on it. God is beautiful precisely because of her justice and kindness and I don’t have to use prayer to bring her into line or force her to care.

If anything I am like the unjust judge, I like to be secured in my relatively comfortable life and ignore the plight of the less fortunate and God is more like the tiresome widow always nagging at me and dragging me out from my rest to talk about my supposed commitment to justice or to my vocation or to plead the cause of her children in some way.

So I question who we are in the story. When Jesus says “God will see to it that justice is done for them speedily” the use of the third person “them” is telling. When I studied Critical Indigenous Pedagogy we were asked to avoid using the third person “they, them, those people over there” because it is a set of pronouns for “others” for the people who are “not us”. But Jesus is using the third person to reclaim those who we have excluded, whoever they may be. God is interested in justice for “them” (he could have said “you” if he just meant believers and those who pray).

So it’s a bit of a stretch for us to ignore our privilege in this world, our comfortable and consumer-good heavy lives and to assume that we are the widow in the story. Are we actually so urgent in our desperation for justice? But I am not so sure that it is completely true either to say that we are not desperate for justice, to say that we are not also in some ways the powerless and the marginalised. The story may speak to us in two ways, encouraging me- the widow to persist and call for justice more loudly and naggingly and also warning me- the unjust judge that God sides with the nagging widows.

What does faithfulness mean then in the light of these roles I may play in my life?

I circle back to the first reading and leave aside for later my wrestling with the patriarchal and militaristic models of God’s relationship with human kind. I also pass over a model of God’s grace which is shown as success in mowing people down with a sword. I need to find a chink in the tradition that will let the light of Wisdom through.

Here is Moses, the great individual- larger than life and filled with power.

His body is exhausted so that his arms must be held up by others (this reminds me of one of the recent popes who was still brought out in old age and held up by others instead of being allowed to rest). The stress on an individual who is the ONLY conduit of God’s action is too great.

Whether we take a leadership role and beat ourselves up for our bodily limits, try to go beyond ourselves to cheat ourselves of rest, relationship and support or whether we take the passive followers role and stand back and let our leaders do too much, allow their hands to be held up past endurance I think there is a flawed model of church here.

Can’t we instead ask God to flow through all of us, so that my contribution becomes important but I can trust that another will do the work that I can’t get to? Can we learn by seeing that even this great leader, Moses was not able to act or wield that unbalanced amount of power without assistance. Our choices as a community support different models of leadership and it might be time to question who we are showing faithfulness to, why and how. Without having easy answers for questions like that I wonder whether at times it is better to stop holding up the hands of tired old structures and institutions and instead allowing God to come to each of us herself. In so far as we have power over others, it might be time to stop controlling, stop fighting even our own bodies.

The second reading invites me to be faithful to what I have learned because of where that learning came from. I need that encouragement not to give up on the church, to retain my membership to something that has been my family for so long and to respect my links with a history that is longer and more complex than my own life.

But I personally did not first learn to believe from a priest, bishop or pope and so it is not exclusively them that form “the church” that I am part of. My mother and grandmother spoke to me about faith on a daily basis. My dad read to me from the bible in my own language (Latvian). At church on Sundays all the older people put up with my toddlerish behaviour and tried to feed me lollies (although mum, a dentist, put a stop to that pretty quickly). Our parish priest was a family friend who went fishing with my grandfather. My teachers at school were mainly women, both the principal and the religion teacher were Mercy sisters.

Each of you has a different story of the particular way you learned faith but I would guess that you too did not learn it from patriarchs and crusading lords but from people who loved, accepted and sometimes challenged you (like my year 10 science teacher who upset me by telling me I was wrong to always use the male pronoun for God). Even now into my forties I am still relearning my faith from the same source. From love manifest in other people and creation.

So that source of faith

-The love of God shown in loving communities or individuals

-The beauty of God shown in the beauty of the earth

That is what we remain faithful to. This sort of faithfulness is not our Sunday best, but our every-day gear that comes with us into every situation, spreading that love and beauty to the whole world.

And then the persistence in demanding justice from worldly powers, or help from God will be grounded also in our faithfulness to the source of our knowing that God. Which is love

Thank you for the love you show by allowing me to speak. Please take a moment to reflect on your own path of persistence and faithfulness, or to wrestle with these readings and then if you choose, you might share your thoughts with each other.

 

 

The vision still has its time

Ok I guess I am addicted/afflicted/called to this because I am missing it horrifically and need to come back to it. Every week at church I get strong words echoing through my mind about what I could have or should have said in the analysis I did not do, and actually i do waste a lot of time feeling helpless and not getting anywhere on the job seeking or the academic writing so I may as well continue to do my blog because at least that is something, even if it is not everything.
And today at feminist theology group I heard from braver more persistent women than me who have been silenced, mocked and reproved by the church for decades now and yet live to give life and wisdom to others. This made me realise that small as my voice may be I mustn’t let it be silenced, even by my own weakness.
So I google the lectionary and as soon as I see the first reading I think, I have made the right decision because it expresses my mood perfectly. I am puzzled as to why the bishops in their dubious wisdom chose to leave out verse 4 because I think it really well sums up the modern world, the refugee “crisis” and the attempts to prevent gay families from simply living and being.
And then God’s answer is actually sort of reassuring (if only we can believe this is God speaking and not just God’s publicity team via the bible):
” the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.”
“The vision” for me is of finding meaning in life, of finding my own dignity as the person I am and a place and way to help others be themselves in their own dignity too. The vision is the chance to really teach, not just hold a place for others and of being published. The vision is also bigger than me of course, the reign of God bringing justice and joy everywhere and including all creation in radical liberation. Eco-feminism and then some. And I would like to think that my own lack of energy and ability notwithstanding the vision is still pressing forward. Older people than me began it in my lifetime and before then there were foundations laid even further back. I do not have to finish it either.
“The just one because of her faith shall live” reminds me to be just, not to “sell out” to any of the seemingly easier paths. Of course this is easily talked about and more difficult to live out in every day decisions and courage. But the call is there. Let’s go to the psalm.
If today you hear Her voice harden not your hearts. Am I hearing the voice of God in my world? Who do I harden my heart to, because that may be a clue to where the voice of God is for me. Am I hardened against those who are suffering? Those who call me to put to one side my privilege and relate more authentically? Those who wish to give me the good news that I am loved and lovable? Those whose vision is greater than mine or those who lag behind in their fear? Where is the voice of Wisdom in my day?
The verses speak of joy, praise and thanksgiving; then of acknowledgement of God and of our belonging to God’s reign and community (I am deliberately overlooking the kyriearchal framing here); “oh that today we would listen” weeps the final verse, showing us the history of the “fathers” whose faith failed and who sought to control not receive God. How do we set ourselves apart from the failure in faith of our father and the reluctance to justice that they bequeathed to us too? What transformation is needed so that we would accept God’s offer and take her hand and walk to the somewhere of liberation and love?
The second reading reminds us that, that flame of God is already within us waiting to be stirred into life. I don’t agree that we have it from the imposition of hands of some patriarch, but we have it even before that (my capable child philosophy) through the womb walls that were our first ever touch and the midwifely hands that caught us and in a sense confirmed life. And yes then the patriarchal church has to make a ritual of the obvious that God is already in our everyday we are seeded with the flame, better we are small anam cara, twin flames of God herself (though imperfectly nurtured by our fears and our situation).
God is waiting for us to be true to our spirit of power and love and self-control not our spirit of privileged first-world and patriarchal cowardice. Our true nature is the flame, not the dying of light…and here I weep at myself and my inadequacy, even job seeking is too hard for me let alone the real work of salvation. And I scream to God a yearning need of help, tinder to keep the tiny flame alive, for God to stand between me and the winds of the world to keep the flame safe until it can grow to something. And that i suppose is one of the reasons why church communities are needed. None of us alone can keep the flame bright in such darkness of our own limits.
Paul (or whoever is claiming Paul’s identity to stir us) here offers us the solidarity. Yes there is hardship in the journey but so it has been for all the great ones of the faith. For Paul. For our flawed and silence mothers, our flawed and privileged fathers. Paul offers for this, not an easy answer but a reminder of “the strength that comes form God” and the “Holy Spirit” within, helping.
Reading this I think of a small child I saw yesterday, a two year old with “global delay” and yet so determined to communicate, so determined to walk. She held my hands tightly and refused to let go and walked many steps that looked painful, leaning heavily and almost falling and then smiled at me and said what I think must have been “Thank you” repeating it many times and only smiling when I finally realised what she meant and said “you’re welcome”. That flame to walk and talk, I need to kindle it within myself as a globally delayed child of God. I need to follow God around with the same determination and the same grasp and the same grateful persistence.
In the gospel Jesus is using hyperbole to remind us that faith is powerful and transformative. Reading his metaphor from the perspective of earth however jars. Should my faith be like a mustard seed (a weed) and should it uproot a fruitful mulberry tree into the sea? I’ve always been taught to try to rehabilitate this metaphor but as an eco-feminist I have to make a face and admit that it jars!
And then being told to simply consider myself a servant before God, I am too marxist and critical to be prepared to do that. I don’t see that there is an “obligation” to do God’s work, I appreciate that there is no great riches and status in it, but we are not just “servants” we are also members of families and communities and may be tired and hungry and expect to be paid fairly for our labour. Servants in a kyriearchy, wives in a patriarchy- I don;t see a need to accept being ordered around by some privileged individual even if that privileged individual were the almighty God. Jesus here is referred to as “the Lord” is that a clue of the caution needed with this gospel? I am not sure how to make sense of it, after such good readings this gospel seems kind of anti-climactic and less than useful. I will look forward to seeing how my church community makes sense of it (or perhaps remain uneasy).
But this is a week of St Vincent de Paul’s day (think of the poor) and of St Therese of the child Jesus (one of the very few female doctors of the church, think of women’s ministry and teaching) and I will seek to use my faith to make progress toward better life, not in the vanity of my admitted desire for security and success, but remembering that God’s vision of transformation serves all our interests as flames of that flame.
My heart sings to attempt this wrestling match again. Alleluia.

The “better part” in a world that doesn’t get it

It seems like over the centuries nothing much has changed. As Amos had God saying back in the time of the first reading, so we could easily believe God would start an angry rant today:

” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,”

These are “good business-men” according to the values of 2016, they are very concerned with efficiency. They want the holidays (holy days) to be over so they can get back to making money, they alter the measures to give themselves a better profit margin. Any multi-national of today would gladly welcome such canny entrepreneurs into its fold! But these days the disease has spread. Schools and hospitals, care centres, churches and even charities feel the pressure to behave the same way. Everything we have is commodified and then watered down to make it cheap to produce and sell.

The needy are trampled upon, the land is ruined like never before. So if God was angry then, what might God be feeling now (no point in saying Jesus’ death cancelled out all of that, since Jesus never said that social justice was obsolete, or that his death came to replace our responsibility for how we live).

But we do slowly compromise our beliefs to get along in this very difficult and cynical society: “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

God notices and God does not overlook this. The rest of the reading is full of dire threats against the escapist sties of excess of the rich.:”The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

And is that not what we experience when we bury ourselves in lavish but empty lifestyles and pursuits? Having been quite well off, and recently having experienced a lack of many things that would make life easier, I have been brought face to face with the best and worst in people. Many people have dealt very generously with me, and that puts me to shame because I know that when I am well off, I forget a little about the suffering of others.

But none of us should forget the homeless in this hideous winter weather (a bus station is better than the street but still woefully inadequate when the wind howls and the rain floods). None of us should forget the children in large classes, with inadequate learning materials and exhausted teachers. It may not be my child, but it ought not to be anyone’s child. None of us should neglect the ill or the old or the mentally ill, or those who were kicked off their centrelink payments just in time for the school holidays, so that their children will go back to school with nothing to talk about the holidays apart from how cold and hungry and scared they were.

My challenge is to help people more than I do, but our collective challenge also is to change these systems, because increasingly there is too much hardship for one person’s charity to reach (and world-wide the situation is even more bleak). As God (via Amos) reminds us that the land itself has been oppressed we need to look at atrocities like fracking, nuclear weapons, excessive consumption, genetic manipulation of seeds to maximise control and profit, cynical versions of medical research, fossil fuels….the reality that we have already changed the global climate in extremely dangerous ways.

The apocalyptic message of night and day becoming skewed and wide-spread lamenting seems quite close to hand and God in the reading seems to vow that the wilfully blindly privileged will not remain untouched by this curse they are calling down. The psalm jeers at those who are foolish enough to take refuge in their excessive wealth instead of God. But the “righteous”, presumably the one who seeks God’s values for living is like an olive (judging by the olive trees I never planted, that are taking over my yard this means tenacious and resilient). Somehow withing all the apocalyptic possibilities before us we trust in the steadfast LOVE of God.

That love has never meant easy answers, or that we are off the hook. But in some way we may not yet be able to grasp it translates into hope for those who DO speak up for the poor and for the earth. The second reading adds evidence for this. We have Christ’s headship and ongoing presence making the best out of us, turning us back from evil ways to redeemed possibilities (I cannot see how, but the hope is there). But our hope is part of or faith, both things we need to steadfastly hold onto. Some aspects of this are mystery, we do not know everything. Wisdom in the second reading consists of trusting God and turning toward God’s way of life, listening to the warnings and teachings to achieve a “mature” faith.

Finally the gospel.

This is one of the ones that at times I have grappled with. Because what makes Mary so special? It seems really rough on Martha that she is excluded from the ease of Jesus and the apostles. Granted I can’t see that it would be better if Mary also had to do the “shit work”. But I can’t blame Martha for being angry that she has been left with all the work. I enjoyed a book called “Through a Woman’s eyes: encounters with Jesus” by Chris Burke that I read several years ago that put a different possibility on this story, with some of the male apostles being less entitled and helping Martha out so that Mary could have her connection and teaching from Jesus. To me those sort of imaginative possibilities are helpful but in the context of today’s readings I can see another twist to it too.

Ignoring questions of gender (and I realise we can’t always do this) and relegating Jesus and the apostles to background in the power-play between Mary and Martha, I put myself into the place of Martha (easy for someone like me to do). I am resentful, jealous, tired. I resort to judging because I am not getting what I need. If I then read Mary as a special little flower who has more important things to do than help me then I remain angry! But the fact is I don’t know about Mary. I have not walked in her shoes. I do not know her inner battles, her exhaustion, her background or why she needs to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, drawing in healing, life, teaching.

So my challenge (still as Martha) is to get my needs met in a way that does not judge Mary. I don’t think that this is a perfect way of reading this episode of the gospels, but it becomes relevant to the other readings of the week if we consider our society’s suspicious and grudging attitudes towards artists, thinkers, “dole bludgers”, the disabled or single parents. We feel envy and resentment at how hard we need to work and the fact that others are given what they need whether they appear (to us) to have earned it or not. We are beginning to teach ourselves to see taxes NOT as a public good, but as our hard-earned cash that ought to deliver a measurable good to ME the individual consumer. Instead of thinking about what is missing in our own lives (more family time, leisure, creative expression, meaningful connection, spirituality) we can get caught up in feeling self-righteous about how unpleasant it feels to “have to” be an economic participant in such a flawed society and losing our compassion in the fear that added pressures will be put on us, or that something will be taken away.

I have felt like this. It is related to the panic that people from overseas will come and drive down our minimum wage and take away our (seemingly) inadequate share of the cake.

Martha’s thinking is twisted because she says “make Mary work” instead of “I need to find a way to spend less effort so that I too can come and connect in with the Word and have Life”. We ought to have compassion for Martha because I feel that we all make that mistake one way or the other when we look at “others”. But as Jesus explains, Martha does not fully understand what is going on with Mary (or the possibility that she could and should have it too).

Jesus reminds us to look at ourselves, and get our own priorities right instead of trying to take away the joys, interests and vocation of others. I don’t think he is endorsing the exploitation of Martha (and if he is I would quarrel with him). In Amos we see the devastation that comes when people’s wrong priorities are allowed to fester into selfishness, and their skills go into getting ahead instead of getting along. The psalm echoes this and reminds us that our safety is in God not in wealth. Colossians reminded us that hope comes from coming to Jesus with a steadfastness.

All of us have things in our lives we could cut back on or slow down on to focus on relating and to redirect ourselves toward hope. All of us have people like Martha, who judge us when we don’t “look busy” or compete at mundane things. Perhaps we also have the tendency to show off unimportant things instead of just relating, and to try to control the contribution of others.

What is the “better part” and how do we choose it? How do we also free up our sisters (Marthas) and others to have some “better part” in their own lives too?

 

 

 

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!