Tag Archives: Wisdom

Starring Wisdom and justice

33rd Sunday Ordinary time, year b      November 18, 2018      Stef Rozitis

Am off to use this reflection at church. I hope it will be OK
“A time unsurpassed in distress!” Sadly one of the themes of human history is this great distress. Persecution. Oppression. Dispossession. Disorienting change and now climate change confronts us. These times stare us in the eye and remind us how fragile we are and can make us feel horribly insignificant, even as though everything we do is futile. Daniel’s view of the end-times is horrifying, of course he was of a prophetic tradition where substances were used to aid the seeing of visions.

 
The point of consolation in all this is the wise who will shine brightly, those who lead many to justice being like the stars. I think of the turbulent world events, my hopes and often fears for a future for myself or my children. I think of times of great despair and desolation in my own life and of the bright stars, the people who come with consoling wisdom- not to trivialise or dismiss my fears, not to try to silence or repress the negative things we see and experience and our heart’s need to cry out against them- but just to show us God’s face amid the strife. To shine.

 
I could cry when I consider some of those stars, because the world does not always treat people like that kindly. I consider all my heroes- the people who speak out so courageously about human rights, the abuse that gets hurled at them. It’s well documented how in particular women who advocate for others get rape threats, or threats against the safety of their children “Those who lead many to justice” walk a risky path- they may lose their job, their security, their peace of mind.

 
After the psalm reminds us that we have everything we need in God, the second reading talks about how human religions are in some measure obsolete. This does not mean that we should not gather, that we should not break bread and word in memory of the real sacramental action of Christ’s being born into us; of facing our unsurpassed distress to its logical conclusion- the cross. I need to be here. It does however call into question the structures we build around our sacraments- the way we try to imprison some people in various identity cages(1) within overly rigid church structures, while simultaneously keeping people out- out of participation in this way or that, out of democratic leadership, out of allowing their embodied human experiences to inform theology, rather than iron-clad theologies limiting and labelling human experience in narrowing ways.

 
Whatever it is that we celebrate here together- the one we call Jesus has already acted. Wisdom has already set the table and prepared the banquet. We have no right to try to control the flow of grace in this direction but not in that. Sacrament is for all, and the sanctuary is our place to be- women, men and children and perhaps a broader sweep of creation too. The earth’s resources also are prepared by wisdom for all creation and for itself. The amassing of wealth in pockets while so many starve goes against Jesus’ sacrificial action of trying (in history and in the now as well) to open up heaven to the human heart, and open up the human heart to heaven. If all our sins are forgiven dare we enter a new and engraced way of being?

 
The gospel also speaks of dark and turbulent times, but of the coming near of God within these times. We see signs of what is coming. We are asked not to be naïve in our spirituality, or our politics, or our daily living but read the patterns and face reality with courage. Nothing is inevitable, nothing is sure, all things can pass away except God’s Word. The Word has already spoken to us today through the first two readings (and speaks through our hearts and bodies also). Wisdom and justice are the signs of the Word’s bright indwelling in a person, all sins are forgiven and we are free to be part of a new reign of God.

 
Some of the imagery in these ancient texts seems militaristic and kyriearchal to me and it took me a long time this week to look beyond that to the invitation in them. I look from the readings to my world, to the people who give wisdom, the people who lead me to follow justice in everything I choose. They are indeed like stars. The joy and love in my life is always from the goodness of others, from the beauty of someone who is radically oriented toward a redeemed way of being human. When I see those people at times devalued by the world, small voices in a growing clamour of consumerism, greed and corresponding hunger and desperation then I see also what my call is.

 
It is my call to be one of the stars for the people who are stars to me. The darkest night has beauty when we look up and see the pureness and twinkle of stars. We connect them together into pictures, we see them as constellations as relationships. The wise and justice oriented people in our lives, the true stars hold out their hands and call us to join them. Star to star we bring light to a world following the first and last star, the Morning Star, the Christ.

 
Let us sit now and think of the stars who have shone wisdom and justice into our dark nights. Let us think of the ways we are called by God to do the same; to lead others to the justice they thirst for and “shine like stars forever”. Let us know that no darkness is ever complete. Let us resolve to connect and support the networks of light, the communities of hope, the constellations of stars in the image of our loving and healing wise God.

 

1. Morley, L. (2013). The rules of the game: Women and the leaderist turn in higher education. Gender and education, 25(1), 116-131.

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Not finding it in the lectionary this week

Edit: When I wrote this I was unaware that this week is reconciliation week. I feel a bit ashamed that I was unaware but I think some of my points work for that occasion. At church we reflected of reconciliation week, the need to decolonise, the recent arrest of the Catholic archbishop of Adelaide for covering up child abuse, our desire to move away from any model of church that is a “boy’s club” (a man said this), and our tears and love for the people suffering the fall-out of these toxic cultures. I also reflected on the fact that in the week gone we celebrated Pansexual and Panromantic visibility day and that people whose love is outside the box (but respectful, equal and between consenting adults) show the dance of the Trinity in their being.

The idea of “chosenness” that comes through in the first two readings and the psalm this week seems cosy and comforting but it actually if we look closer deeply problematic.

I speak with the anger and bitterness of the outsider- chosen last at team sports, excluded from games and parties and a child, ganged-up on, teased, criticised, harassed, written on with pen and then punished by parents for being written on. I speak with the pain of the eldest child in a large and dysfunctional family- although my feelings of being replaced and passed over were not (I now as a parent myself realise) a completely accurate reflection of reality, the feelings were real. I speak as the child who couldn’t speak English, the teenager who wore hand-me-downs from old people, the young single mother in a primary school where everyone else seemed to be comfortably middle-class. I speak as someone who has suffered mental illness, mild alcoholism, chronic dysphoria around sexual identity.

The minute someone is the “chosen people” you are also creating outsiders, the excluded ones, the ones who do not measure up. I felt this only on a gut level as a child – something about the presumed “chosenness” of the people of God (and lets not blame the Jews this idea is just as rife in the so called “New Testament”) something there seemed a bit off, even when I was a pious little child who assumed my inability to grasp this idea as “fair” and my desire to feel empathy for the ones who were not “chosen” was something I had to try to repress or grow out of (I spent my childhood repressing many things and got quite good at it, not so much now).

I speak with the amusement of the queer, feminist, deconstructive, almost post-Christian (except God doesn’t quite let me slip away). I speak as the outsider who no longer tries to fit in and be “normal”. My hermeneutic of suspicion is triggered by this first reading where we are supposed to believe that no one else ever experienced God until it could be done in the proper patriarchally approved and religiously institutionalised way in the correct sort of fire. This is what the Christian missionaries believed, the ones who worked tirelessly to aid colonialism, at times putting a slightly more benign face of it with gifts of food and clothing but nevertheless destroying cultures and families in the name of this great and good and only Lord and his structure of “rightness”.

Because if we are right then the others are wrong. If we are chosen then the others are rejected. If we have the only and one truth then the others have nothing of value.

And so it begins.

The gospel on this occasion gives no relief. Jesus is the proper rubber-stamped figurehead of the new world-order they worship him repressing their doubts and he commissions them to go out and reach everyone with his marketing message. We can try to cosy up to this, try to read the commissioning as preaching a gospel of liberation and justice, because that fits our theology it fits who we know God is and who we experience Jesus as.

What/who we know experientially and sacramentality is all we really have.

But the church has not necessarily read it this way, when they have seen “make disciples of all the nations” that has fed a deficit view of nations that are not already Christian and an expansionistic mission. Many missionaries no doubt meant well and some were kinder than secular colonists (mind you these colonists also would have considered themselves “Christian”) but this expansionistic mission did huge harm to many people, including perhaps my own people in Latvija colonised by German “Lords” and including certainly Indigenous Australians taken over and used as slaves by the English.

All of this was considered a faithful reading of today’s gospel. All of this is the shame I feel if I admit to anyone that I am a “Christian”.

I am not finding life or Godde in these readings (though perhaps a wiser preacher at church will glean something). I wanted to reflect on the Trinity, on difference and loving “other” or “thou” within God. I want to reflect on the diving dance “peripatesis”, as I learned at theology college the movement of the Trinity is in and out and through and around each other. There is love and beauty, there is relationship and great complexity at the heart of God.

Let’s leave behind colonialist traditions after seeing them for what they are and realising we will be called to account as a culture. Let’s reflect on how we are invited into the peripatesis of the Trinity, the respectful and madly joyful dance of God, the eternal turning toward the other. We are the image of God and as such are called to turn to the image of God in thoughtful listening like Jesus in prayer, in admiring love like the creator at Jesus’ baptism, in nurturing care like the spirit who flows in and through Jesus to the world.

I was hoping that the feast of the Trinity would remind us that “Wisdom has built a house” and invites all to celebrate. There is room then not to colonise, but to meet on equal terms the “others” who are not “Christians” but may have met Wisdom in another place because she likes to get out there- she is no enclosed victim-lady. Wisdom of course, the pre-existing companion of God the Creator is the one embodied as Jesus in the “New Testament”.

But if the lectionary has let me down, then I will dance right out of it to all of scripture and to the ultimate aim in life to understand and heal others. And I will pray:

Father, Mother, Creator of all, Midwife of each life that comes into being. Teach us to know ourselves in your image and see each other in your image. Teach us reverence for all your creation, showing us how to nurture seeds and stones and polar ice caps better. Thank you for naughty kittens and waddling penguins. Thank you for the clever things humans say. Thank you for the richness of which we see only a part. Call us deeper into the connection and love at the heart of your creative work.

Jesus, Christ, Wisdom, Sophia, Son, Word, Mother-Hen, Vine, Way, Truth, Life. As Wisdom you have the eye for detail and for joy. As Jesus you showed unbelievable courage and commitment. You are the one who seeks to protect, heal, scold, reform, feed, teach, guide, send-out and suffer for us and for all creation. You feed us your body and blood, you call us to honour what we eat and to live. Death cannot claim you because your nature is to live always. You bring us transformative possibilities and radical hope but nor without hard work and possibility of suffering also. If the whole world would love you then we would find newness of life. We will seek you and we will find you if we seek with all our heart.

Holy Spirit, dove, flame, fire, love, flow. Giver of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence and respect of God. Pour out your gifts to us. Show us the Creator and the Word in our lives. Help us to read the gospels in the right frame, receptive to your Wisdom and closed off to hatred and abuse. Inspire us with life, fire us with pregnant possibilities like Mary pregnant with the Christ. Remain with us when we are troubled or suffering or even in death. Bring us back to our vocation to love. Bring us back into your presence giver of life.

Trinity of God may I see the love poured out in you each to the others and may I live my life in divine dance, seeking to connect as you connect, seeking to unconditionally love as you love, seeking where the hope is and strengthening there. May my life find meaning, joy, love, peace in you.

Amen.

 

Light

“whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

How do we live the truth and change direction always to be heading into the light. In the midst of the lenten negativity of the readings I am finding this questioning of the integrity of my own life. I want to smugly point to this good work or that moment of clarity in my life and say “see I am all about light” but the point of this reading is not to brag (nor to self-condemn) but to realise that we can’t and don’t live 100% light-illumined and truthful lives but we are always striving to “come to” a light which in its completeness is unapproachable (the bible is full of the transcendence of God just as much as the immanence).

No one person or organisation is fully “the truth” or “the light” none but Jesus of Nazareth perhaps in his claims to be one with Divine Wisdom herself. The best we can do is turn toward God, be influenced by the same Holy Spirit that lived perfectly within Jesus.

How do we know the light of God in a world where there are so many lights clamouring for us to follow them…lights of supposedly infallible authority (which over time reveal themselves to be contaminated with exploitative uses of power); lights of manufactured desires and the consent to turn a blind eye to injustice that go with it (that glitter at the peripheries of our privileged vision even when we strive to be better than that); the light of reason, “the enlightenment” all things rational, efficient, proven, positivist and ultimately reductive of the human complexity to a set of algorithms and chemical reactions?

We live in a dazzling cultural shopping mall of neon lights and fairy lights and lava lamps and light up running shoes and goodness knows what other lights that stake a claim on our need for security and soothing, our hollowness and anxiety, our preference for easy answers.

And God is not just one such easy answer.

The first reading tells us that God sends us messengers to urge us to turn away from the wrong and dangerous things we do. Which practices are “abominations” however? Ideas of right and wrong are hotly contested and each person feels that it is “everybody else” that is failing to listen to the word of God.

In qualitative research we talk about “reflexivity”, being honest about who we are, what our bias and standpoint are and why we might believe what we believe. Relexivity in practice can also involve looking at our own behaviour and habits to find ways to be as coherent as possible (morally coherent, intellectually coherent) when we are teaching or leading others. An obvious example of bad practice is adults using hitting as a punishment, while trying to teach a child to value peaceful and non-violent strategies to their problems; refusing to listen to honour promises while trying to teach the child respect and honesty…etc…One sentence that sums up this lack of coherence that I have heard actually used is “Don’t you fucking swear at me.”

These ways of teaching or leading show that I am more concerned with my own power over you, than with the content of what I claim to want to teach you. Jesus as the intimate, barefoot-walking word of God came to break bread with us and lie down on our earth and suffer dishonour and death in solidarity with those who seek liberation. Jesus did not just preach, but also modelled. The light in our lives is that which gives us more than escapist distraction, more than certain authority, more than a freaking display of colour – however beautiful- but the light comes to take us a step toward something permanent and another step and another. The light is something transformative of our darkness, more than a night-light for our terrors but a beacon to come closer and be healed (and sent out).

The second reading is that one about faith through grace and not works. It gets misused at times to claim that it doesn’t matter what we do, only whether we “believe” as if belief is a state you can switch on at will a magical spell against having to try to grapple with the real world. The flip-side of this is that we can never really be “good” or deserve credit for our work or our choices. I largely grew up with such a depressing view of my own unconditional unworthiness, even when I have done everything I can all the credit belongs to God and I should still do better.

The word “grace” should surely evoke something more full of joy and beauty than this scenario. We can agree with the reading, we do not “earn” grace, we are not “saved” (or loved, or called or come into being) through any work we have achieved. Life is a gift and the kindom of God also is a pure gift. This does not mean that God does not call us to also give, to be agents of grace to others (and to ourselves). Grace is like a light that can bathe our lives with holiness, that can slowly spread to banish shadows of fear and hatred. So we are always/already loved and saved but then we are caught up in the desire to grace the world, to grace ourselves just as a baby is already beloved before it can even make eye-contact or smiled, but this love bathes their sense of what it means to be and the baby is moved to want to participate in the family and learns all sorts of amazing things (how to sit up, how to form words, how to use humour) not because the baby only becomes human through these “works” or learning but because the humanity the baby already possesses drives them to desire to participate in connection and social agency.

It is the same with the kindom of God. We are loved and treasured no matter how fast or slow our “development” is within God’s call to us. We are called and challenged to participate as we become able, because it is only fair to do that and because it gives God joy and pride in us when we take notice of the work of creation and learn to dance it with her. Perhaps it is convenient to talk about “belief” as the ingredient that brings out our loving response to God but there is also a danger that belief becomes a talisman against having to really, deeply care and do.

Moses lifted up a serpent in the desert for everyone to look upon and be saved. We want it to be that easy don’t we? We want to ignore every other part of salvation history where the people continued to quarrel and contest the meaning of various teachings, continued to make mistakes and had to be called back again and again to look after the widow and the orphan and the foreigner. Symbols bring us together but it is the “together” not the symbol that enacts change. Symbols point to deeper truths, belief is one of those “works” that is incidental to the grace which really saves.

Faith is a relationship, an orientation not an act of will, a contract or a set of tick-boxes.

Seeking light this International Women’s Day I visit the grave of my mother and read the bible-verse that we decided summed up who she was for us and summed up also where she drew her wisdom and loveliness (as we saw it) from.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5)

God’s light is not a competing light display in the shopping mall of shallow dreams. It goes out to where the darkness is and stubbornly shines there. We look for the light in the parts of life we are afraid to face. We know the light will be there and we come to it. The darkness has not overcome it…not then, not now, not ever.

The light shines.

Hey, I know a lot of these rules/commandments are very sensible and I am not going to argue against people following them, but once again I am finding the authoritarian tone of the “God” in the text pretty difficult to deal with. Top down controlling structures of church have been less than helpful over the centuries.

Why do they do this to us in Lent? It almost makes me feel I should give up religion for lent. It’s all just “boss. boss, boss I am your bossy and narcissistic God and you should just do what you are told because you are unworthy”. And yet I am sure scripture has all sorts of wonderful transformative moments for a lent of really reflecting on how we should do better and doing it. I don’t think just telling us to obey cuts it though, look at the churches that are most strongly modelled on this way of relating to God.

With The Black-eyed Peas all I can say is “Where is the love, the love, the love?”

No, to do better at following God (following in the sense of a dancing partner or apprentice or small child with a heroic friend-adult) we need to be able to take responsibility for ourselves and our attitudes not just tick boxes and obey rules. We need to let a larger proportion of our life be taken over by God (by love, by compassion, by justice, by hope, by kindness, by wisdom). We need to teach ourselves to stop craving things that don’t really satisfy (hence we give up something for lent) and find the joy that is there in the things that DO satisfy (ie in God).

The other problematic thing about a set of commandments (and I believe Jesus alluded to this at at least one point), is that it can minimise the commitment that people are willing to give. So I can say “I am decent, I honor my parents and don’t commit adultery and whatever” and keep living off the plight of the third world, or the exploited worker in my own country without examining in more depth what the integrity of the kindom of God might look like.

In this context the psalm seems like more of the same- flattering this authoritarian and narcissistic God. “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever”. Oh great! We’re now going to live fearfully again (which I know well from experience leads to parsimony).

I am going to try to read the second reading liberatively, for all that I have some reservations about always putting the cross in the centre of Christian life (I know we have tended to do this, I just wonder if it might be reductionist and problematic). In a world that wants unambiguous signs/proofs and flashy wisdom/instructions all we have is the experience of Jesus the human, the solidarity of Jesus God. Christ, the “power” and “wisdom” of God has been put to death in our human political structures that oppress others.

Jesus on the cross would seem to typify the victim, the failure but God can reverse the apparent. God’s foolishness can deconstruct what we know and God’s weakness can undermine the inevitable. There’s a hope in that when we are beginning to “know” that there are no answers and we are beginning to face that we have been powerful enough to destroy our own planet. It would be foolish to hope perhaps, weak to turn the other cheek…or would it? There is something about relationships that is more than you might think at first glance.

Then the gospel. I am not in the mood for bossy Jesus acting violently, it’s hard for me to read this right now. And yet I can;t help noticing what Jesus’ problem is- the church has been turned into a marketplace. The practice of religion has become reduced to “this is how you have to do it” so that people can make money by forcing believers to have to buy from them everything they need for the ritual.

In the modern day you might see how much this sort of thing has happened with education or other things that ought to have been relationships but have become “transactions” or “products”. Church in Jesus’ opinion should not be marketised, it should be about the wellbeing of the person and the community, a place of welcome and healing, learning perhaps. Jesus becomes really angry at the cynicism of a society that tends to see everything as “market”. This is a pre-capitalist society the story is set in, and so the parallels to capitalist concerns may be inexact but the general point is the same. God’s love is not for buying or selling or exploiting. Following the letter of the law in constricting ways that take the soul out of prayer is not the point either. There is no formula for grace and salvation and the individual should be knitted into her community not sold a part in a farce.

Loving Wisdom,

I am so tired. What words of consolation, inspiration, everlasting life do you have for me?

I am angry and jaded. What connections can I foster to be whole again?

I find it easier to follow instructions than to pursue a creative course through life. Sweep me up in a dance that you lead, teach me how to orient myself toward you in a trust that becomes confidence.

For all the myriad ways that I could, should or would be better- give me your love and your peace to find within myself the spark of my desire to be whole. Give me a moment of joy so that I may be filled with grace to keep trying. Give me vision to see and know the good in others that I may be inspired to emulate them.

I accept your love and your acceptance of me today.

Amen.

 

 

Healing, not just pain relief.

Drudgery. Slavery. Pointlessness. Job is feeling pretty negative about life. I have felt squeamish about getting into these readings because of my own battles with depression, my own difficulties with finding a work life balance which works for me and my children and the many depressed people in my life. I have been constantly struggling to feel hope for myself, my situation and the situations of friends who don’t even have enough to live on…let alone the people on Manus Island.

I am reluctant to grapple with the negativity of Job, on top of the negativity around me. What if I simply give a nod to the fact that scripture acknowledges depression and discouragement as part of the human condition. Acknowledges them but does not accept them- there is no acceptance in Job. Job complains, in so many other parts of the bible people complain when things go wrong. At time there appears to be a moralistic tone taken against this complaining (murmuring, whinging) and yet it continues.

Humans suffer.

Humans complain.

Humans make stories even about their suffering.

With relief I turn to the psalm where God is healing the brokenhearted, rebuilding Jerusalem, regathering Israel. I am going to wallow in this hopefulness verse after verse as God heals the brokenhearted (don’t we all want a little bit of that?), binds up wounds. God’s healing goes out to more than just humans, s/he is on first-name basis with every star in the sky. At this point I am cheering and calling for God to come into my world/s of work and friendships and politics and the larger world of the environment. Bring this healing and comfort! We all sorely need it!

The psalmist seems of the same mind, breaking into an ecstatic that God is “great”, “mighty in power” and unlimited in “wisdom”. Well, you’d hope so wouldn’t you? It ends on a very interesting two-liner that is echoed also in the Magnificat

“The Lord sustains the lowly;

the wicked he casts to the ground.”

 

Granted it does not explicitly state that “the wicked” is a synonym for “the privilege and powerful” however the structure of this triumphant challenge comes across as a reversal of the worldly status quo (especially if with Job we are approaching the psalm really disenchanted to begin with). If we are lowly then God will sustain us. If someone is wicked (including us of course) then they will be thrown down.

 

The dangerous temptation here is to rest in the cosiness of this psalm and think therefore we can let all the evil and injustice go on in the world because God will fix it all. As far as personal morality goes, that may well be a great strategy- leave it to God to decipher and change people’s interior life (and stay open to being called to change ourselves and to greater compassion and understanding). But as far as we see people deprived of food or dignity, left out in the scorching streets to fend for themselves or locked up in muddy unfinished gaol-camps we can’t simply shrug and say “ho hum God’s really nice and will fix it”.

 

I’d take this psalm as comfort and a safe space to let go of our anxieties and depressions but not as an escape-hole from the world. We rest for our Sunday meal, our happiness with this healing, fixing God and THEN we are empowered to learn from this God how to bring healing and fixing to others. We are God’s children not God’s puppets. We are apprentices not patrons for the master-craftsman of healing and justice that is Holy Wisdom. What God is, we must yearn to become and what God does we must learn. We may not be perfect and powerful and all wise like God in the psalm but we were created in the image of God, inbreathed with God’s breath and then called and sent to touch each other with God’s blessing and healing.

 

There is so much more in the second reading and gospel but I have already used too many words. I think Bernadette Kiley’s book on Mark has something on the gospel that I couldn’t improve on. If you have had enough of my words you may just want to repray the beautiful psalm. Or pray with me…

 

God of rebuildings and gatherings,

 

Teach us how to stop fracturing and undoing our human relationships and our place as part of the earth. Teach us to plant and nurture, to walk in bare feet and feel love again for our brokenhearted, blue and beautiful earth. Teach us to heal.

 

Show us that we can build tables instead of walls and we can bring people in to sit around the table of grace. Motivate our societies to be less about the miracle of some technology for the privileged 1% and more about the miracle of feeding the 5000. Indulge our curiosity toward the stars, but remind us to reach our arms up to embrace and appreciate the beauty of the stars not to colonise and exploit even the most distant and powerful things in our universe.

 

Surprise us with a different sort of greatness and power, than the one that must build walls. Show us the wisdom where power lies in sustaining the lowly. Be our unlimited wisdom that shines hope even into these days of suicidal politics toward climate change and conflict. Cast the wicked down from their places of power over others, give us back ourselves. Cast down the wickedness in each of us. Throw out our fearfulness and apathy and greed. Re-orient ourselves toward radical and trusting love.

 

Heal us as we praise you (and when we can’t) for we are the broken-hearted.

Call, and call, and call, and call again until we learn how to listen.

 

You are our hope and the Wisdom which is balm.

Be very near.

Inadequacy?

Dearest Wisdom,
Dutifully, I sat with this week’s readings every day. I thought about prophets- good and bad and my assumption (presumption) that I speak for you. I thought about being humble and reminding people to be suspicious of my words. I thought about how even if well meant, that was a sickly performance of humility that would come across as ironic.
I thought about talking about “fake news” in our world and also critiquing the church but I realised I was performing contortionism to make that what the readings were about. I have come to Saturday afternoon on a hot and busy weekend and I have nothing but my admission.
I don’t get along with these readings and the way they are juxtaposed and I didn’t really find you in them, no not at all!
Power, authority….seems typical of the church to go on and on about those things in a top-down way while meanwhile real ordinary people are suffering disillusionment and lack of representation and lack of material things (eg food, safety) and a rapidly dying environment.
If I have encountered you (true Word) in words this week, then perhaps it was in the words of Naomi Klein and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Or was it that I encountered you in doors being openedin the sweet juiciness of mango- slightly tart about the seed, in sister’s returning from far away, in a meal shared with a former lover and his new partner, in the affirmations of people at work, in children taking my hand begging for a story, in dispossessed peoples telling us again that enough is enough and we should not be celebrating their dispossession.
Was it you I felt in the touch of an over-hot sun and in the cool breeze that blew through it, in the trickle of the creek and the fragrance of lemon myrtle in my refrigerated water? Were you in the purr of the naughtiest of kittens or in the voice of a son telling me he had no need of my mothering (shades of Cana as I asked others to listen to him and stepped back). But if it’s bread you were in then it was in fried potatoes because I ran out of bread this week and was too busy and hot to go to the shop after work. If it’s wine then it is white wine spritzers with ice in them- something I never thought I would try.
You were in the small self-denial of refusing to turn on the air-conditioner, and in the caring colleague who came out to swap because I had been outside too long. You were in the famous writer who offered me her support and affirmation and in the refugee I was pow.erless to offer real help to You were in the 5am rising and the midnight going to rest, in the memories of having been in love and in the stabbing pain whenever I move my knee.
As usual I have used many words to try to reach you, only Word. But you have been in life more than in structures. You have brought life and meaning into each day. My readers may fail to find you in my words, but will have their own bodies and moments and meanings to seek you out in and in the end a prophet (true or false) is not so significant after all. You made us to know you not to follow each other. You made us to touch truth for ourselves not to obey authority (or not blindly).
You made us to dance and sing.
You made us to love better than this.
You made us to be loved more fully than we have known yet.

You made us for love.

For love.

Love.

Teach me to love them- the ones who bring me joyous gifts and the ones who bring me challenge. Teach me to seek out the ones who are hurting. Open my eyes and ears and heart to know I am beginning from the place of love.

From being loved.

Loved by you.

Dearest Wisdom, I leave this week’s readings to someone more wise or more obedient.

In love (however flawed).

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!