Tag Archives: Luke

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.

Amen.

Advertisements

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!

Lovers, sisters, friends and God’s presence

My intention was to write a reflection for the 4th Sunday of advent but the problem with websites, is they have their own rhythms and when I switched on, the US bishops’ website showed (as always) the readings for today. I did mean to flick across to Sunday, I did! But today’s readings are some of my favourites, it is like turning your back on rich dark chocolate to flick past them. So sorry, but it is going to be readings for the final Thursday in this advent instead (I am sure there will be many other people giving great reflections for this Sunday, or you can consult a decent commentary and make your own with prayer).

In the first reading, the call from God is shown us as a call from an infatuated and very attractive lover. The earth is in perfect harmony with this lover- flowers are springing up, the harshness of winter is finished and this is the beginning of a “happily ever after”. OK so I sneer at romance novels and keep a cynical smirk on my face when anyone says “happily ever after”…usually. But looking past the metaphor this is God we are talking about. God comes to us in desire and joy and beauty, seeing the good in us, “my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one” and calling us into the flower-scented springtime of life.

I am unsure if it is still God calling, or the soul calling back in the last stanza (who is yearning to see and hear their “dove”?) but any separation needs to be ended.

This is what it truly means to “repent”.

We all know that any lover or close friend will take us out of our comfort zone, upset our careful routines and defence mechanisms and call forth from us some sort of change, not because they are finding fault with us but because in relationship it is always needful to accommodate to each other.

We often get the dreary guilt trip to “repent from sin” to “repent from how awful you are” and all of that, like children being constantly told to “wash your hands” and “don’t whine” and “act like a big boy” (although I try to avoid the “big boy” comment these days). Repent because you are dirty, repent because your desires are unanswerable or even wrong, repent because you are (spiritually) immature.

But the lover in the first reading (hint: it’s always God with the bible) says “Repent away from loneliness. Repent away from boredom. Repent away from not knowing you are beautiful. Repent with me into the abundant harvest. Hear me (or let me hear you). See me (or let me see you). Arise my love, my beautiful one and come.”

This seems like an excuse to turn to my favourite Christmas carol (as I already did in last Sunday’s liturgy) and I will use it as a bridge into a gospel that actually passes the Bechdel test (I know I said that last year…but it’s part of the reason I love this story so much).

Let me retell the story in my own (rather biased) words.

Mary understood how important “girl talk” can be for making meaning and offering support together, woman to woman. Although she was pregnant she journeyed a really long way to get to Elizabeth and offer her compassion and share her joy…also to exchange the exciting and slightly scaring news (I think it bears mentioning that the gossipy angel had mentioned to her that Elizabeth had news to share in the first place).

This story so far is full of the sort of femininities that often get mocked- the need for gossip and talk and emotional support and there is a heroic quality to Mary’s determination to offer and receive support in this way. Scripture is not working for the patriarchy here.

Mary “travelled in haste” and got to Elizabeth (in Zechariah’s house, scripture won’t/can’t move out of defining Elizabeth by her husband and his ownership of her home). As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, as soon as the inspirational female preacher spoke, the exceptional prophet (ie John the Baptist) in her womb leapt for joy.

Of course we have always been told (and I don’t entirely disagree) that the reason he leapt for joy was the proximity of Christ (in Mary’s womb). Yes, but what signalled Christ’s nearness? Mary’s voice!

Mary spoke and John heard the first stirrings of his vocation and knew joy. Elizabeth recognises this reaction from her infant/prophet and theologises about it. A gossip session has turned into an important meeting of theologies. But there is still the traditional element of women’s talk- giving compliments “Blessed are you…” (please note I, myself, am really bad at giving compliments and am still learning how to do it, but working in an all female workplace for a number of years has shown me what an important part of interactions it can be).

There the text stops which is disappointing because it means I have to pull my bible off the shelf (or open a new tab) to get the text of Mary’s proclamation and preaching. Mary places her joy and work firmly in the kindom of God with radical restitutive justice sweeping through every human dealing “he fills the hungry with good things, sends the rich away empty” and grounding herself in ongoing salvation history (echoes of Israel, Abraham and all the rest of them). I’ll say it again- with a mother like that can we be surprised Jesus was a great preacher and perceived as a dangerous revolutionary?

A couple of years ago I needed (for personal reasons) to explore a possible lesbian reading of Mary and Elizabeth but this year I am sitting with this as a meeting of minds, an intellectual and spiritual encounter set within the “women’s work” of nurturing and “gossip”. The common theme with this first reading is affectionate, joyful human relationships as places of encounter with the divine. Human love as the vehicle of vocation. Like the lover in the first reading- Mary (and Jesus) travel at haste toward someone they want to be joyfully with – Elizabeth (and John). As in the first reading the one who comes calls and the response in the one visited is joy and transformation.

John recognised in the voice of Mary the presence of Jesus. John was perhaps smarter than some official church leaders who think it is impossible for a woman to preach or minister (I do mean minister as I am sure Mary washed and fed and tended to her heavily pregnant older cousin and family, not just talked). Jesus came into the world surrounded by the buzz of “girl talk”, the sharing of news, the giving of compliments, the radical politics and theology…everything we know we do when we get together with other women. He also had the nurture of Joseph who trusted Mary to go on this long journey, who was the supporter not the “boss” of his family, although he does not appear in this story.

As the last few days of advent roll by let us listen for the voice of love that will make Christmas meaningful. We tend to eat too much and exchange gifts no one really needs and sometimes we feel guilty or judgemental about that. But it is our way of trying to connect in love. Instead of a more ascetic approach to Christmas, perhaps we can discover a more inclusive or transformative approach where gift and food are shared to those who need it “he fills the starving with good things and doesn’t burden the earth by giving his rich relatives stuff they don’t even really want”.

But I hope all my readers will have a really joyful Christmas with the people they love, and find somewhere within the celebrations the voce of the lover “Arise my beloved, my beautiful one and come”

A commitment to joy

I decided not to “preach” this Sunday and not to ask anyone else to preach either. Instead we can all let the readings and music wash over us in silence and then discuss with people around us. If you want to take that option and ignore my words that is fine (we’ll be listening to “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day” but you may have your own favourite advent or Christmas joy music.

For those who actively seek out words to interact with, I will however post some thoughts and maybe an implied or worded prayer. It will be a good exercise for me to do this morning before I begin the jobs of an absolute marathon of a weekend.

The first reading finds God’s Spirit located within the one who has a vocation (hint: that means all of us). Think of modern versions of anointing. The closest I can think of are beauty routines or massage- ways of taking care of the body that come with the scent of essential oils, the pleasure of touch – oils are for embodies experiences, they honour the “here and now” beauty of the world we live in. To associate anointing with spirit is to break down the body/spirit dualism. Located in our bodies, honoured by oil is the Spirit (take that certain pesky Pauline texts).

For those of us who may have got the impression that this life on earth is inferior, that the body is a prison we wish to escape from or that (physical) pleasure is inherently bad this is revolutionary thinking.

And why has the Spirit indwelled into our all too human bodies? To inspire (the word kind of gives that away) us to “bring glad tidings to the poor (please note, no tidings are glad on a hungry belly), to heal the brokenhearted (hint refugees are brokenhearted, so are other people we systematically destroy), to proclaim liberty (and liberation) to captives……” all the good we can do in the world.

I had some drink with work-mates last night, with a group of committed, nurturing women who do childcare together and once the boss had had several glasses of wine, she started talking about her view of early childhood education.

“We are in it to make the world better” she said “that is the only thing it is about. Every child deserves a good childhood. Every child no matter where they are and we are in it to make a world where that happens.” She wasn’t intentionally talking about God but it seemed like anointed, inspired, prophetic talk to me (and we were all agreeing that that was our reason for choosing early childhood as a profession). We all had some thoughts about what sort of adults, what sort of societies might stem from a positive childhood for every child, because this idea of “childhood” wasn’t that sentimental, romantic appeal to an idea that children are innocents or terribly vulnerable, it was more our belief that a good society where everyone is treated right stems from children learning as early as possible in life to be active and caring citizens rather than simply cynical consumers.

Beginning to read Chittister’s “Wisdom distilled from the Daily” I get the same thought from her. Spirituality is something that imbues everyday life, it is not a novelty or set of commodities you can buy or “experience” or consume. Spirituality is not “therapy” it is life. The Spirit of God IS upon me, now in my everyday marathon weekend with parties and liturgies and doorknocking and housework and all the rest of it and God HAS anointed me to do good right now, today in some way…but not necessarily to talk about God, just to carry the Spirit into every place I go and allow her to show me how to be the good news, the liberation, the healing for any given situation.

We rejoice then, because God has beautifully clothed us in salvation and justice and makes justice and praise spring up like plants. This is who we are too, one with the plants, created to be dazzlingly beautiful in our God-clothedness (justice, salvation…again that vocation).

As the second reading tells us we need to keep this sense of joy going, not just for Gaudate, the third Sunday in advent but “always…in all circumstances”. Do not quench the Spirit by insisting that you have the only possible recipe for faith and anyone who disagrees with you is WRONG. Test everything (have some reflexivity and grace in your faith rather than dogma and certainty). The tet goes on to promise that perfect holiness is possible (through the work of God in our lives). Lucky then that we already know from the first reading that God is upon us, within us.

These two readings in this week’s liturgy get joined together by a lovely bridge, no less than Mary’s Magnificat. I like to think that Mary’s passionate and beautiful (and political) preaching in the Magnificat explains much about the man Jesus turned out to be…that while we assume he inherited all his goodness from God, Mary’s genes and teaching might also have been very formative in bringing us a wonderful embodied Wisdom-healer like him. And what of Joseph’s committed care…it takes a village to raise a child as God ought to know!

The gospel rounds off our call to joy and to embodying the Spirit of God. John the Baptist comes along not just to big-note himself but to point to something bigger and better – Jesus the living Wisdom and Word of God. John is not the light, but testifies to the light…it can be reassuring to remember that in our calling we are not alone. We are part of something bigger. We carry and show the light but we are not the light. We can rest sometimes, fail sometimes, leave it to others sometimes (though it is important to strike a balance and not assume that our work is unimportant or that we can slacken off too much, John didn’t just leave it all to Jesus).

Let us commit today to be happy and to celebrate the nearness of the kindom of God. Let us witness to the good news (that God wants justice for the poor, the broken hearted, the captives, the prisoners) and be part of the movement to the light. Let us wear our kindom outfits: “robe of salvation, mantle of justice” with pride in how beautiful we become and joy as if we were marrying our truest love. Let us find the little acts of joy and love we can share with everyone we meet today and every “now” each day. May we entirely- spirit, soul and body be caught up in the deep holiness of God’s closeness to us. Amen.

Thanksgiving: more than an insipid “inspiration”

 

It’s so fashionable now to practice “gratefulness” as a means of self-care, a sort of niceness and middle-classness inner-beauty routine and a cynical part of me can’t help wondering if a purpose of it is also to dull down our radical edge, to quiet down our critical possibilities and manufacture apathy and consent to the oppression of others. At the very least the saccharine sweet “gratefulness” that I am fortunate and relatively wealthy and superficially beautiful seems like an exercise in shallowness. I have a handful of friends who sneer at it, pointing to the parsimonious attitude toward others present in some of the most smarmy advocates of “gratefulness” as a five-minutes-a-day lip service.

Gratefulness that is grounded in inequality, the celebratory attitudes of the class war winners is like fundamentalist Christianity. It is something ugly made out of what originated as a call to deep beauty. It is a hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre.

The danger, when looking for a deeper, truer gratefulness (real thanks grounded in a two-way relationship with a God we touch) is that it is all too easy to fall into other forms of superiority like the Pharisee in this parable. But sourness and ingratitude is also not the answer; after communion there is a dedicated time to sink into thanksgiving.

I am going to struggle to articulate a thanks that is not complacent, not superior and has the grittiness and tears of solidarity. If I am better than “the least of these” then I am better than the God I claim to thank. If I am thanking God for elevating me above others, then I have lost sight of who God is in salvation history and my life.

I thank you God for being present in glimpses and grace-filled moments. For being present in the challenge and affirmation of community.

I thank you for responsive and accepting people. I thank you for the anger of those I ought to stand with and help. I thank you for my identity as one oppressed, one who stands with you. I thank you for the awareness you call me to of my own privilege, for the insistent asking that I remove my foot from your neck (you are present in my sisters and brothers and the earth herself).

I thank you for the call to do good. I thank you for other labourers in the vineyard who insist I rest and self-care at times. I thank you for my ability to nurture and support others. I ask you not to ask me to lead. I thank you for giving me the resources to do what needs to be done (the bare minimum perhaps) and your call for me to stretch and be more than I have been. I thank you that greater and wiser people surround me so that I can fail and fall without catastrophe (I hope).

I thank you for feeding me and for demanding that I feed others. I ask you to teach me to feed others better by sharing what I have and my gifts and even my anger. I ask you to show me the grace to be a friend, a mentor and an affirmer of others. I ask you to place Wisdom in my heart so that no words get past without her influence.

I ask you how I might love myself without being complacent and a parasite? I ask you how I may critique myself without losing necessary self-acceptance.

 I thank you for loving me regardless of the questions around who I am and what I do. I thank you because I largely know I am beloved. I thank you for the people who show this to me. I thank you for the beauty which is in the world. I ask you to scatter beauty to every corner, to the eyes of any that might be moved or supported by it. I ask to be part of the beauty in your way.

I thank you that the bread is broken and has crumbs. I ask to be the hands that break and distribute it. I ask not to be broken, I lack the courage.

I thank you for wine, and the way it has no purpose except sensuous beauty and pleasure. I thank you for being the wine in the world. I thank you that wine is better shared wider. I thank you for plump purpleness and bursting sweetness of grapes. I thank you for the miracle of fermentation.

I pray that your bread and wine will enter the experiences of all, and that your call will reach every heart. I pray with a heart open to being called into the movement. I pray tiredly with an apology for not being more. I pray with gratefulness for being loved and for feeling love.

This is not my five-second “gratefulness” exercise, a trick I play on myself between bouts of consumption and tears. Show me God how to make my life an act of gratefulness that you loved me enough to touch and call me. Breathe on me breath of God, and make us one. Thank you for knowing the “me” you love and loving the “me” you know.

In love, in deepening gratefulness.

Amen.

Mercy

Imagine if we all lived our vocation: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because “the Lord” has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. S/he has sent me to bind up the broken(hearted). To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. To proclaim a favourable year of the Lord” Just imagine if that was our view of what our job is as Christians? Good news, healing, liberty, freedom? It seems quite relevant both in light of the marriage equality debates in Australia and of the next part of the mass, the Agnus Dei.

I have had so many thoughts over the years during the Agnus Dei, usually trying to get God to take initiative to change things in some sort of palpable way. “Take away sins” I want to be freed of everything that is wrong with myself or with others or the world. I want easy answers. I want…I want…

But perhaps I will try to sit with the words a little and reflect, bringing in whatever of my tradition or experience can help me live them…

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world….

I am in the world, I am of the world. Is it “my” sin that you take away? How do you take it away? How do you find and identify it? What is my role here?

have mercy on us…

Mercy. I went to a “Mercy” school, and the motto was “loyal en tout”, loyal in everything. Mercy then was not a condescending quality but a loyal one. I am not pleading with a forbidding authority figure for a “mercy” that simply means withholding or tempering punishment. I am asking for a loyal mercy, a mercy of friendship- be my friend despite it all, take my side.

Of course all of God’s creation has God’s loyalty, so I don’t get off the hook for having wronged whoever I have wronged. Because God is loyal IN everything and TO everything that she has made.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb, innocent and relatively powerless part of the world. One who is raised to be eaten. One who is vulnerable. Historically used as a sacrifice. Non-human part of the beauty of the earth. Enjoyer of green pastures and sunshine. Joyful, vulnerable one.

I am sinned again in the world and by the world. I am oppressed, trapped, made powerless, voiceless, impoverished or given unacceptable choices. I am exhausted and overthinking, anxious and sleep deprived, hollow and lonely. I am the refugee. I am the queer family. I am autistic. I am too female to follow my vocation. My welfare payment has been cut off. I can’t understand the paperwork. Noone will employ me. Noone will love me. I am addicted. I am cold. I am hurting.

Have mercy on us. Once again back to my school’s version of “mercy” where we were encouraged to see individual acts of kindness as insufficient for real “mercy”. Real mercy we were told was about a transformative justice not just to bind up the wounds of the broken but to create change so that no one need be broken any more. Real mercy happens in tandem with the initial mercy, the kindness from one individual to another but becomes a movement- requires people to debate terms and have the courage to remake and renew.

Mercy not just on me, but on us. Mercy is not an individual grace but one that is lived in communities and given (in loyalty and love) to each other. Mercy (hesed) and faithfulness have met. Justice and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth and justice gazes down from heaven. Even the virtues themselves are written thus as community of love, living both within earth and beyond it at God’s wherever.

They generally forget to tell you that any of this is about kissing.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Lamb of God we are entangled in the webs of sin in the world. We are privileged and blinded by it. We feel powerless to demand that oppression in our name cease. We are conscripted into sin, at times against our will and at other times without our full and comprehending consent.

This calls for the mercy that smashes down walls and breaks chains. This calls for the mercy that strikes the zealot off his horse and makes a physical blindness as an improvement on the blindness of the soul. This is a mercy that can turn the sword of our lives into the plowshare of feeding all creation. This mercy is never without resources and turns water into wine and tax-collectors into friends.

This mercy may be put to death but insists on springing up to have the last Word.

Grant us the peace of forgiving ourselves for our slowness to grow. Grant us the peace of understanding that others are insecure or ignorant rather than malicious. Grant us the peace of a message of love, an affirmation from the heart, a quiet night’s sleep. Grant it to us, and grant it to them. Grant us the peace of a ceasefire and a recognition of our common humanity, our common earthliness.

Grant us the peace of the almond blossoms that are determined to bring us into longer and balmier days. Grant us the peace of the little babies of every skin colour reaching tiny arms for their parents. Grant us the peace of knowing we have enough to share. Grant us the peace of knowing that tomorrow you will call us again into your justice, into your love. And all those kissing virtues!

Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.