Tag Archives: Mary

Cuddles and baby-talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat

Shout for joy- daughter, sister, beloved

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the lowly will be lifted up

It’s quite interesting how it’s always human nature to read this week’s readings as offering radical hope and restitution for “us”. We are keen to look at every wrong ever done to us and to barrack for God’s action of redressing injustices and imbalances. But how do we read it if we get honest about our own privilege, which we work so hard at being blind to? How does the white, middle-class, first world over-consumer read this radical idea of the hungry being filled with good things at the expense of the rich? This isn’t an “Everybody wins” situation remember. Those who have taken more than their fair share of power, pride and wealth should feel threatened by this kingdom of God. God’s radical and unsettling justice comes, why do we face it so calmly, and not see the huge reproach implicit in a rebalancing action of God?

We complain about the stress and expense of Christmas, but we still buy toys and decorations made by underpaid children in sweatshops in other countries. We think we are very generous to give a little bit of money or a couple of tins of food to the poor people who are willing to play the charity game, but we calmly let our own society go on creating poverty and increasing poverty here and overseas. We naively leave the union and we talk about how people should get back in touch with the “real meaning” of Christmas and not expect handouts from us. We expect what we pay for education to only benefit our own children, or to at least put them ahead of the “others”.

We say there is no room in our country for families and workers and intellectuals who are fleeing war and horrendous happenings. Last week John the Baptist called us a “brood of vipers” because we want our salvation and our holy joy without any effort, without any transformation, without giving up the unfair advantages we have over “others”.

Is it us that are the “lowly” to be lifted up?

As women in a patriarchal church…perhaps.

As exploited workers, overworked to the detriment of our families…surely

As a queer person in a heterosexist, heteronormative society…undoubtably

As a person who is in any way cast down, rejected, silenced, taken advantage of or abused we can expect God’s restitutive justice to come to our help to point us toward justice and solace. But what will God’s justice do with me when I am the oppressor, the exploiter, the blindly privileged?

We think of Bethlehem as a sweet little town where cute baby Jesus was born. We have a noble idea of it, it goes back to the Old Testament and has been prophesied about. We don’t recognise it for what it was in Jesus’ day a sort of Bogan Hicksville. Our nice middle-class sensibilities like to judge the sort of people that in reality Jesus came from and was born amongst. Shepherds: perhaps business owners of the cashed-up-bogan variety or perhaps just the labourers. Mary whose pregnancy wasn’t adequately explained and Joseph who accepted this! Even if we read Matthe’s gospel where Mary and Joseph are well off or well-connected enough to be in a house, and are visited by what we refer to as “kings” or “wise men”, God is actually tried to unsettle us with heathen foreigners using their own non-Christian religion to discover the Christ child. Not to convert to Christianity, let’s remember they went back to their own country by another way.

So the God that we wait for with all that assurance seeks in, in a stressful time ruled over by unjust governments, to the poor, the not so nice, the foreigners and the underclass. To single mothers and their families to two women meeting together to support each other in pregnancy- finding a non-patriarchal space to share some prophecy and some presence with each other.

So with Mary now, we are pregnant with possibility and it has been a long and hard journey waiting for the impossible- for God to infuse our experiences and make Wisdom out of what has happened to us. That is what it means to be close to Christmas- tired of waiting for transformation and too weary for the work ahead but full to bursting with a defiant sort of a hope. It’s significant then what Mary does with this hope. She has every excuse to throw in the towel- she has more than enough to deal with but she takes herself out on the road and makes a demanding and dangerous journey to her cousin to share her hope and joy and to be a support to Elizabeth.

That strong bond of love, so that she can only experience her hopes and fears adequately by sharing them with her cousin and so that her heart is moved by compassion even beyond the weariness of a long and unlooked for pregnancy. Elizabeth’s statement “Blessed are you among women” is often taken as a statement of her superiority among all women. She is taken by the church to be the first woman, peerless. But when I read it I hear “you are blessed among women, you are blessed to be in a safe environment of women supporting and listening.”

There is a space in this reading that the patriarchy of the church has tried to limit and trivialise because it cannot be colonised. The babies might be males (and how often is that the main focus in Sunday preachings) but they are males who are accepting and enjoying this all-female space where two powerful theologians meet to create meaning together. John, the great prophet as a foetus hears the voice of Mary (hears her unsilencing) and leaps for joy. He correctly interprets this women’s speaking as enriching for the church and related to the message he will come to preach.

This close to Christmas then, there are two things we need to do to prepare for Christmas (more important than shopping and cooking and decorating and all the rest of it). Firstly we need to reconnect with the justice and equality agenda of the reign of God, before we can claim to be “waiting” or “hoping”. We need to seek God’s interests, beyond narrow self-interest (wanting to allow refugees in a a very concrete example of that, but there is so much to be done to undo the wrong and inequality that we hide in). That is the first thing we need to do to be “prepared” for the real Christmas which is more than a festival of consumerism.

The second thing we need to do is find those solace points that feed us, those wise people who need our presence. We need to reach out with support and ask for support not just from the great leaders of society and of the church but from the grass-roots community. There is a space in God for a women’s space, a queer space, an ethnic space, a space to be ourselves with the people who with us may be trivialised by the rulers of this world. Mary and Elizabeth on one level are “switching off” from the patriarchal church perhaps, but they are not doing it in an empty way. There is a moment of communion, of feeding each other God’s word. A moment of praise and prophecy. A moment of love, an embrace.

They bring their heavy, pregnant bellies into this communion, their baggage as the nurturers and care-givers of families. Only when we are in that safe space- accepted for who we really are can we really mean the words ”my  soul glorifies God”.

Justice….relationship….then peace on earth begins to look more possible.

Among women

So I did try to be a good girl and focus on this week’s readings. The first one had some potential being God trying to talk the people out of having a king with all the sort of symbolism of hegemonic masculinity, militarism, ruling class parasitism and all the rest of it. Well done God! Now you know how I feel trying to speak out against “common sense” (that’s common sense in the sense of Gramsci) arguments. God of course didn’t prevail and was whipped enough to give the people what they wanted.

I am a bit conflicted by seeing God that way. I guess I could have turned it into a discussion about free will, family loyalties, vocation…..etc, etc, etc.

But I am sad enough to have missed last week’s Visitation story. Not only (as I already mentioned) is this a bible story that actually passes the Bechdel test but I have always thought that at some point I need to talk about Mary. When I was a little girl I was in love with her. I didn’t know it was called being in love and I didn’t know lesbians existed or that I was one. I just used to stare dreamily at the blue-clad statues (sorry this is not a protestant-friendly post…if statues offend you feel free to give this week a miss and come back next time). I was catholic so any of the myriad churches my mother, father and especially my grandmother brought me into had statues of Mary. She wore blue. I have always loved the colour blue on women (correlation or causation?)

Once at least the statue was in a rose garden, there was what at my young age almost seemed like a maze and at the end of it the beautiful blue woman serenely holding her smiling baby and her eyes down-cast which was supposed to signify humility but to a three year old signified eye contact. She looked at me. She loved me.

I was encouraged to think romantically about this beautiful woman by my catholic relatives, especially by my grandmother who was also devoted to her (maybe more innocently…maybe not). A lot of older women wearing black brought Mary flowers- roses mainly and kissed her feet and touched her hands and I wanted to as well very much but my parents told me it was not really the right thing to do to touch the statue.

Many churches had a place where you could light a candle then go kneel by the statue and you were supposed to pray but all I prayed was “here is your candle dear Mary you are so beautiful I want to touch you”. Why should I see sexuality in that when I was only three? Because 33 years later when I realised I was a lesbian, when I recognised the lesbian feelings inside me the particular sort of nostalgia I felt the next time I saw a statue of Mary  (who looks alarmingly young to me now) helped me connect the dots.

I guess it was more like courtly love than a modern version of romantic/sexual love in that I never saw myself as Mary’s equal. I half wanted her to touch me and half wanted to be her and I wanted to be close to her and make her happy and be worthy of her. Catholics are allowed, even encouraged to pray to the saints and especially to Mary. I prayed to her even more than I did to God. Because I was taught that God was male and inaccessible and without an image HE was alienating. Mary was welcoming and I could understand the idea of unconditional love in her soft look (and I consider myself non-visual). When I dreamed of God, I dreamed of Mary too. When I dreamed I died and had to face judgement (which was something I worried about all the time since I was told just how sinful and unworthy I was all the time) I always dreamed there were three figures who were God (I hadn’t heard of the trinity) and one looked like Mary only with a crown of flowers on her head as if it was Jani.

When I googled this week’s gospel (Mark 3: 20-35) with the word “feminist” a poem by Brian Wren came up about Mary. It made me think about the scene I missed last week of Mary and Elizabeth having their exclusively female community of support when huge things happened in their lives. Wren has thus managed to connect 2 very different gospel stories by seeking a pro-feminist reading. The joy of seeing each other causes so much oxytocin that the child in her womb seems to leap. That can happen, the mother’s emotions can move the baby. But is Jesus also thrilling to be allowed into this intimate female space- not as a colonising privileged male but as a voiceless witness to unselfish, courageous friendship and wisdom.

Mary is wise. She comes out with the Magnificat a great manifesto of the kingdom of God who “casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lonely” (If you click the link please note the Magnificat is actually from the bible and the catholic church do not own it, just as they don’t actually own marriage either).

But God casts down the ruthless, expoitive ruling class and lift up the proletariat; casts down the privileged white person surrounded by white culture and lifts up the every other race; casts down the wealthy authoritative male and lifts up the single mother; casts down….down with all privilege, all domination, all exploitation and lifts up and liberates the 99%.

Here is some real good news!

Yes please God. Mary’s vision is one to make everything within us leap for joy, to help us reach out in friendship to one another even when it takes a huge effort to offer that support. I am not trying to continue some sort of awkward older-woman crush that I had when I was 3 years old when I look now to Mary for revolutionary wisdom, guts and authoritative discipleship.

If Jesus, the young man had his moment of not being interested in his mother and brothers (sounds like my son) then so be it. I wonder though, what was Mary doing all this time? What acts of radical discipleship might there be behind the masculine world of the text which focuses on the one shining figure of Jesus? What words of friendship and wisdom might have gone unrecorded? Mary most often gets remembered or celebrated for being a womb…but there are snippets of evidence that she was other things too.

I don’t pray anymore by closing my eyes and imagining Mary touching me. But I see her as sister-disciple, mentor, inspiration, wisdom’s daughter and mother. I hear last week’s gospel about Mary and Elizabeth embracing and talking radical politics and I think here is a sacred site in the text where people like me and experiences like mine exist and are sanctified. Sisterhood is no longer something alien to the kingdom of God.

Hail Mary indeed.