A reflection on Mark 4:35-41 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski
The cover page of New York Times Magazine last week carried the title, “INFRASTRUCTURE” in bold black capital letters highlighted in fushia on bright orange paper with a pencil drawing of buildings, highways, hot air balloons, cars, trains, and so forth.
I read the NY Times magazine every week, but this one was particularly enticing as I wondered what spin the Times was taking on this topic. Inside the magazine was an article titled, “Datatecture” covering the infrastructure of our world via the internet and our interconnectivity through Facebook, MySpace, iTunes, Gmail, and so forth.
Another article looked at the remaking of Paris while another one looked at high-speed rail issues and a fourth article discussed the merits of more humane prisons with cells that are like mini apartments.
I was particularly drawn to an article on the price of chicken, where the author bought a chicken at a farmers market and then wondered by he, or anyone, would spend $35 to buy a farm raised chicken from a farmers market. This article included a recipe from the author for his homemade chicken meatballs. For this author the price of chicken is an indication of an infrastructure gone haywire. More to the point, I think, was an article about the high number of shopping malls in America: some 20 square feet of shopping space for every human being in this country. America tops the list, compared to 13 square feet per person in Canada, 6.5 square feet in Australia, and 3 square feet in Sweden, according to a study conducted by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. The fact that many of the malls in this country are abandoned or built but never used, is an indication of a country whose infrastructure is over-retailed. You might say that this article looked at an infrastructure of misused abundance, defeating the purpose, according to this magazine, of a well-designed infrastructure whose function is never separate from form.
Like the society we live in, Christianity has an infrastructure. On the one hand one might say that the infrastructure of the Church was modeled on the hierarchical structure of the Roman Empire. On the other, at its most basic level one might say that the Christian faith is as simple as “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Of course what this actually means varies greatly across the spectrum of Christianity and history.
Many years ago when I was in seminary, and when he was still alive, Jim Griffiss, my theology professor said that Episcopalians are an Incarnational people. And so I would add, “Christ was born,” to the other three phrases. For it is in the birth of Christ, in the Incarnation that all else became possible. It is in the incarnation that God chose to work in and through human flesh to bring forth God’s greatest desires for humanity, perhaps for all creation. Generally speaking I define that great desire of God as love. For me this love is not romantic, although that may be a feature of tis expression. It is not necessarily warm or fuzzy, even though those characteristics may pop up in God’s love from time to time. The love that I think of as God’s love poured out for us in the Incarnation is a love of great depth, compassion, hospitality, kindness. It’s the love the lives in between the words that Jesus uses to summarize all the commandments: to love God, to love self, and to love others. This is a difficult to love to do, if we do it well, as God intends. It’s a love without limitations. It’s a love that if we live it well will result in radical openness of Spirit.
Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland, was the commencement speaker at Mount Holyoke College this year. She had this to say in her speech: “Over 40 years ago, when I was in my midteens, I announced at home that I had decided to become a lawyer. The first words I hear in response were, ‘You can’t because you are a woman.’ It was the voice of our parish priest. The next voice I heard was my mother’s saying, ‘ Don’t listen to him.’ To my mother’s surprise I heeded her advice. A couple of years later, the same year that the first human walked on the moon, I started law school and our first textbook was called, ‘Learning the Law’ by a very eminent jurist, Prof. Glanville Williams. In a chapter ominously entitled, ‘Women,’ he stated his views that law school was no place for women and that our voices were to weak to be heard in a courtroom. That man had clearly never met my mother. “ (From the New York Times National section, June 14, 2009, page 18)
Who embodies the Incarnation in your life and helps you weather the stormy waters? Whose voice calls you to your greatest self, the self God would desire you to be? Whose voice stills the waves that would otherwise silence you? These are perhaps good questions to ask ourselves as we ponder the infrastructure of our lives, our church, our world, and how the actual function of that infrastructure lives in relationship to the shape and form of our lives.