Tag Archives: Merry Christmas

Merry

I was not looking forward to Christmas. I am exhausted from a year of politics, work, grief and loss, anxiety, activism, editing, marking, failing at housework and estrangement from some. My year has also had meaningful work, writing, beautiful food, roses (I mean literally), music and most of all love so I am not looking for pity but I am tired and anxious and I am always unmotivated about cleaning and it takes a lot of self-coaching now to even cook.

Added to this my children are now adult or almost-adult men and I don’t want to be the woman in their lives who “makes the Christmas magic happen”. I hate the memes about that on Facebook equating self-exploitation with love meanwhile the same women posting that about their mother are in tears and in some cases closet drinking because of the pressures of Christmas. We circulate to each other the “greater love hath no woman” myth of the perfect Christmas and the patriarchy wins once again by what we label “love”.

So I said “nope” to that and we did minimal cleaning (I insisted the sons help but I did not give up my whole freedom either to do it for them or to police them). We divided up the cooking tasks (after initially looking unhappy with it they all pitched in quite happily). We kept presents to a minimum (with some people asking for a donation to their favourite charity instead of more stuff to try to find a space for),

Christmas eve I was meant to go to church. I love my church community and I was all set to do my duty but I felt heavy-hearted at the way for feasts to official church takes us over. In fairness, it is people WITHIN the community that want and value (and ask for) this but some privately and very quietly have said to me “we shouldn’t need a priest coming in, we are quite capable and should have someone from the community ordained. But ordained we (mostly women and some married men) are not. So to avoid Christmas and Easter being the usual “leftover” the crumbs from the table of grace we ask a priest to come in and help us

The one we ask is quite a nice person too. He does it very well and very respectfully and I have no problem with him personally (neither does anyone else). He still runs with out liturgy and our “reflection”. He is what I think a priest should be and was one of the first people I was able to talk honestly about my vocation. He reproved someone for interrupting and trying to silence me and he has been very respectful ever since. So I have no problem with him at all as a person and kind of as a priest too- except we should not have to bring someone in.

Now that my dad is a priest I have all the complicated feelings of betrayal and abandonment around that. I tried to bury them deep but this year they have started coming out more and more…but this is not a good place to unpack that. But it’s a factor in how I relate to the other priest who lives in the same house as him.

All of this means that I was going to go to Christmas Eve church with duty not joy. It’s a happy sort of duty to be with the community because they are spiritually my family but I generally don’t see them anywhere else except church. Over the years the community has accepted my children’s misbehaviour as well as my transgressive and evolving theology and terrible attempts to decorate the altar when it is my turn. They’ve accepted me at times in bare feet, talking too much, crying or poor (also I think sometimes poised, intelligent and almost-neat…at least that’s what I attempt now). But when my eldest son started making cashew and lime-based sauces in the kitchen and offering me Irish whisky and my youngest came in from working in the garden and decided to order take-away food I decided to join them. I am good at feeling guilty so I felt guilty but there is was again.

I looked at the clock it was time to get ready for church and I said “nope” to that,

The third one I still feel guilty for so I won’t discuss it, but there was one other thing I said “nope” to this Christmas. I was preserving my mental health and the healthy boundaries around some off-duty/rest time that my last psych told me to. I was doing what I was role-modelled as a child. See how defensive I am? I still feel guilty but to have done anything else would have made the day an ordeal. I will have that ordeal but for Christmas I was off duty (mostly).

So we had a small low-key lunch (with far too much food) that was all vegan. Decorations was one bunch of flowers I bought myself for submitting an article (it’s what I always do) and another vase with a sprig of pine that the cockatoos threw at me and a sprig of holly that crawled over the fence from the neighbour’s yard. I put on a playlist of choral songs interspersed by children’s songs, retro music, modern tracks and even joke songs. My son ended the evening playing his new computer game (second-hand from his brother) in his room with three empty tubs of vegan icecream stacked next to him and a spoon (oh to be 17 again!). I read my new book “Feminist theology from the third world“, which my kids had burst out laughing when they saw and they said “That’s so mum isn’t it? Typical”. I felt cosy about that though, they know who I am. We went for a walk in the evening and there was a woman and a little girl, both in hijabs delivering junk-mail (a job my sister used to do and sometimes I would walk with her and help her). “Happy holidays” I said to them while my youngest son glared at me for randomly talking to strangers and embarrassing him. The woman grinned at me as if she had no idea what I said but decided I was harmless, she might not have understood English judging by the expression on her face. I started the usual guilt about “It’s not a holiday for them they are clearly working” in my own head but then I heard a clear voice speak back to the guilt and say “it’s not an observation, it’s a wish for them to HAVE a happy holiday, if not today then on their own choice of day”.

My son chatted to me of worker’s rights and of redistributing wealth and I suddenly thought about what this Christmas had been. My three children all wanted to see me, even though I was not providing lavish presents or taking responsibility for all the food (they had to help). All three of them took an opportunity to sit or walk with me and talk about things I care about and ask about things I care about. I did the same for them too of course but that’s in the “mother” job description (besides which when I look at those handsome young men I still see the baby that used to need me so much). All three showed a connection with me over ethics, humour and a confidence in my work in the world (and therefore hopefully their own). We talked about the earth, human diversity, politics, death and generousity (also a lot of puns and teasing). I had avoided church for the reasons discussed above and because living with a “Christianprime minister and other members of parliament makes me a little less devout myself. But “church” my own family as a community of faith and practice was with me and therefore so was the sneaky and hope-inspiring Wisdom of Godde.

I reflected last night on the people I love and the people who love me but more significantly the people with a big enough love to love the world. I thought about Freedom Hill Sanctuary, where the humans were forced to suddenly evacuate without their four-legged friends and they were distraught with guilt, fear and grief. They came back to a charred mess of buildings but the animals had been wise enough to take shelter in the dam. I thought of all the awful stories, but the small spots of happiness and hope. I thought of firefighters all around the country and again felt guilt because it’s been a tough year for me but much tougher for some others. I thought of little girls imprisoned over Christmas by a “Christian” government and how such cruelty hurts the whole community.

I found myself not praying for the big things but for little insignificant things that matter only to me. I felt Godde like a wall against the guilt that such self-reflection sometimes engenders. I thought of my nutroast with a stuffing inside made of breadcrumbs and I thought of the Syro-Phoenecian woman gathering her crumbs of grace with dignity. “Dogs”. As a vegan I see dignity in a four-legged child of Godde too. And I thought how the world needs loaves and loaves of the Bread of Heaven for refugees and fire-fighters and thirsty rivers and farms. But that did not mean that there was not an abundance of crumbs for people’s small hopes and relationships also. And that survival is in the loaves but joy is sometimes in the crumbs that make stuffing for the festival-food. God wants our small happiness as much as the larger picture of social justice and a thriving ecosystem. The new mother Mary, thought less of Herod or Caesar on Christmas night than of her baby’s perfect little toes and perfect little eyelashes and dove-like little newborn cries and her own exhaustion and how good it was to give the baby to Joseph for a few hours and sleep.

I woke up this morning to see what a friend had posted on Facebook. “I’m not Christian, but the story of a baby born in a shed who grows to an adult who leads the downtrodden against oppression is a story of triumph over adversity, of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty. ” Typical of Wisdom coming out in a self proclaimed “non-Christian’s” post. This person went on to say that the worst is not inevitable and our efforts are never futile and that we should radically orient ourselves toward hope and community-action in the coming year. I am reading that, unable to see the difference between that and “Christian” in the real sense, just as I cannot detect Christ in any sort of law that allows bigotry and hatred or that keeps selling out our earth and communities for fossil fuels.

Whether in the crumbs or in too many tubs of icecream Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the barred gates spring open, may streams flow in dry places and may there be Bread for all.

Thanks be to Godde.

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!