In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Holy Name

A reflection on the readings for Christmas I/Holy Name by the Rev. Camille Hegg

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

Names are important. In many ways they characterize and define those bearing them. Nicknames sometimes come about because they fit better than the name given at birth and pronounced at baptism, in Jewish celebrations or other rituals of all cultures.
I am one of many women who have gone through a process of whether to change my last name at marriage. I know someone who, when she went through a divorce, decided to name herself something completely different from her birth or marriage names. She took the first names of her two sons, played with spellings, sounds and rhythms, and came up with a new last name. Immediately after the court case, she legally changed her name.
I think of pets and the various names in our family and with friends. I had some friends who had a fun sense of humor. Their black and white dog they did not name Spot. They chose Stain. Stain was a great dog, and the coloring of Stain was more like stains than merely spots.
January. 1, New Year’s Day is the celebration of The Holy Name of Jesus. Luke says Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for the naming of the baby. This was a vital part of Hebrew culture. A liturgy that was enacted by Jewish couples over and over. His name was to be Jesus, as the angel had told Mary with the annunciation and as Joseph had also been told. Mary and Joseph did not name this child; the naming was part of God plan of salvation. Mary and Joseph took their places in this plan by doing as they had been told. Going to the Temple for the naming of the baby fulfilled Mosaic law and reminds us that we, too, are children of God.
Naming is only part of rearing a baby. Apparently Mary and Joseph took their roles seriously. Look how he turned out as an adult. Joseph taught him his trade; both taught and modeled compassion and generosity. He fulfilled the attributes of the one who would come. His mother was in his life from before his birth and through his ministry. She was with him through the trial and his murder and was there at the grave. Her penchant for pondering perhaps enabled Jesus to ponder and pray. It was probably this pondering and praying that led him to understand that the laws of the Sabbath were meant for humans. That was why he could break the law and heal on the Sabbath, for instance.
His name is significant; the rearing is invaluable; the faith in God came to fruition in him. Hre was all that scripture prophesied: Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God saves, Christ, intecessor, friend and more.

Names are important. There is a beautiful African folk tale written down and illustrated by Ashley Bryan. For Africans in this book Turtle is a very special God like character. Turtle goes under the sea, on the land. Turtle makes it his business to know the names of all the people in the village. They have a naming ceremony at the time children can learn to say their names. They all go to the sea and the child tells the village, teaches, the village her or his name. After the naming ceremony the child can go outside alone because….everyone knows the child, the parents and grandparents and where he or she lives.
In this story the boy becomes very discouraged because he has such a long name. His Granny teaches him, very patiently and it does take a long time. She always encourages him to keep trying, reminding him that he does have a long name, but it is not the longest name.
After his beach name dance, he goes out but no one wants to say his name. They tease him, refuse to learn it. The animals can’t say it. So, he goes to the beach and is sitting on the sand putting his hands and feet in the water. Turtle swims up on the beach and says the boy’s name. The boy is ecstatic that someone knows his name. He asks how Turtle knows and Turtle says,
“I learn names from the beach name dances;
I remember them well because I take no chances.
I swim up and listen, you don’t see me.
Then I spell your name in shells at the bottom of the sea.”

The boy’s name is Upsilimana Tumpalerado. And the one with the longest name, he learns, is Granny. She is delighted when Turtle knows her name: Mapaseedo Jackalindy Eye Pie Tackarindy. The boy is astonished that Granny has another name besides Granny, but she tells him to call her Granny. And she tells him, that from then on, she is going to call him Son.
There is something so important about names, knowing and remembering them. The Feast of the Holy Name reminds us of that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 2011

A reflection on the readings for Christmas by Janine Goodwin

This year, the lectionary offers a choice between the simple, elegant birth story in Luke and the sonorous and somewhat abstract glories of John, and despite the choices and the multiple commentaries on each, I keep being reminded of a young couple I knew when I was a music student in my early twenties.

They were no more than four years older than I, maybe less. They were good kids, thoughtful, responsible. They had gotten married the previous year, and had just had their first baby. I knew they were living on half a worn shoestring and incredibly busy, both going to school full-time, and I couldn’t imagine anything more wonderful than having a baby. My sentimental fantasies did not include diapers, screams, spit-up, or weird rashes, and I had never experienced any sleep deprivation more serious than a single all-nighter pulled on the eve of a deadline, followed by a long, peaceful daytime nap.

One day, after a rehearsal, I was busy telling the young father how happy he must be. He looked at me wearily and said, “Yes, I’m happy. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s not easy. Let me tell you what it’s like to have a baby. Imagine you hear that someone you really love is coming to visit. You’re really excited and you run around getting ready and you just can’t wait to see them. Then they get here, and you’re so happy to see them and you love them so much more than you thought you could and it’s wonderful . . . and then they NEVER LEAVE. Your life is never going to go back to the way it was before.”

For the first time, I realized how tired he looked.

The story of the incarnation is the story of a huge change, not just in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but in time itself, and it is a story of change in our lives. In the presence of the Word made flesh in space and time, we find out what our illusions were and what the demands of a new life really are.

Christmas is the test of our Advent practice: it’s when we will, if we watch ourselves, find out whether we were really preparing to be open to a new thing that God is doing or indulging in a season of holy procrastination. It is possible to listen to the prophecies and be sure we know what others didn’t, to get lost in the beauty of the language and the music that has grown up around it, and forget that we, like others before us, can miss the point. It is quite possible, since we are human, that we can hear a familiar story without remembering how shocking it is, how demanding the Gospels are. It is possible to forget that Jesus offended the good people by hanging around with sinners and outcasts and took the extraordinary step of treating women as students and friends. It is possible to forget that Jesus came into the power struggles and injustices of the world and died of them because he challenged everyone’s assumptions and didn’t play by anyone’s rules. It is possible to forget that prophecies are strange, we misinterpret them, and God always surprises us and calls us in directions we could never have expected.

Should we rejoice? Yes. Should we expect everything to be happy, comfortable, and easy? No. After the infancy narratives and the one haunting vignette of Jesus as a difficult teenager comes John the Baptist, prophet and wild man. He’s already there in John, upsetting pretty much everybody. The birth of Jesus Christ is many things, but it is not an assurance that everything will go smoothly. There will be love, healing, and work that challenges us; ultimately, all will be well; in the meantime, the only guarantee is that God is with us, working in our lives, and will never leave. Emmanuel, God with us. It is enough. Are we ready for that? Are we ready for the tenderness and the mess, the fatigue and the joy, of a life with Jesus?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

But who was God

A reflection on Luke 1:26-38 for Advent 4B by The Rev. Margaret Rose

As far as I recall, I never got to be Mary in the Christmas pageant at our church. I was a sheep when I was very small, a little angel with gold crepe wings, a shepherd, once even the Angel Gabriel, but never Mary. I suspect it was clear to the adults in charge that I did not fit the profile. And couldn’t pull off the look of an obedient passive teenager walking quietly to Bethlehem. Even at a young age I was outspoken about what seemed to me injustice: No room at the inn, taxation without representation. The leaders didn’t want to risk even more chaos at a pageant that had enough toddler sheep and goats crawling around the altar.
The picture we got of Mary was the one from Italian Renaissance paintings, receiving the angel’s news with beauty and acquiescence, light brown hair perfectly coiffed, falling softly on her symbolic blue shimmering robe, halo shining above. We sang the hymns that reinforced that idea: Mother mild in O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hail Mary, Gentle Woman, Sing of Mary Pure and Lowly. Mary was obedient, tender and passively ready to do God’s will.
But even then I suspected that Mary was not quite this. And the Mary I have come to
know since those childhood days of the Christmas pageant is the one portrayed in the only joke my own mother knew how to tell:

A construction worker is repairing the roof of a church early one morning when a woman comes in to pray. She kneels reverently and begins her silent prayers. Deciding that he will play a trick on the woman and give her a big scare, he conceals himself in the balcony and calls down loud enough for his voice to echo toward the woman alone at prayer. “Helloooo down there, this is Jesus.” No response from the faithful woman. A little louder, the worker calls again, “HELLO down there, this is Jesus!” Again, the woman does not move but continues her prayers as before. Wondering if she might be hard of hearing, the man calls out again, this time in a loud voice, ‘HELLO DOWN THERE THIS IS JESUS!’ Finally the woman responds, stands up tall, arms akimbo looking the direction from which the voice has come and exclaims, “WON’T YOU PLEASE BE QUIET,. CAN’T YOU SEE I AM TRYING TO TALK TO YOUR MOTHER!”

The Mary many of us have come to know over the centuries is the one whose world was as broken as our own, who knew a mother’s care, joys and suffering in her own life. That Mary is the one whose own suffering at the death of a child is shared by many a grieving parent. I will never forget, when own my father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, seeing my grandmother keening in a chair as she attempted to find meaning in this disorder. The parents are not supposed to outlive the children. She took comfort in Mary, whose own child had died a violent death, much too young. Mary, whose courage in bearing the child of God was only matched by her courage in seeing him die on the cross. She has been an image of solidarity and compassion for those who suffer throughout the ages. The joke above is only funny because it is so true. We can talk to Mary about our lives.
In my childhood pictures we never saw the terrified Mary, or the one whose hand was raised in protest as she pondered the angel’s words and decided whether she would be able to accept this announcement. Most of all we didn’t see the Mary whose response to the angel is more radical than anything the Wall Street Occupiers or others could imagine. The words of the Magnificat ring out from Luke’s Gospel in the voice of Mary. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord….He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and rich he has sent away empty.” What a vision for a new world she ( and Luke) offered us.
This Mary had something to say and is still saying it today.
If the theologians have it right, Mary’s obedient response came from a knowledge that the Messiah, long promised to faithful Jews, like her, was going to come to pass, yet with no assurance that this angel’s prediction was the one that mattered. There had been many predictions of Messiahs before. This Mary is one who was willing to face ridicule or shame for her yes—in a culture where a pregnant unmarried woman faced certain rejection, outcast from family and community. The Mary I have come to know was not one who answered “Whatever you say, God.” But who was perplexed and who pondered her response, took her time before replying.

And that is the astonishing thing, something unimagined, but which may have been true, is that God waited. God waited for Mary’s reply. God waited until she said yes.

During these weeks of Advent we speak often of our own yearning for the coming of the Christ Child, of our own annual expectation and desire that Christmas really will come again. I had never thought of God waiting for Mary, of not being so absolutely sure this will work out or that she will say yes. This is in some way God’s own Advent, God waiting for Mary to say yes to the Announcement of the terrifyingly wonderful news.
And could it be that God waits and desires an affirmative response not just from Mary but from us as well.

I wonder then, what announcement has come to us, to me, for which God is desiring an affirmative response. And I am grateful that as with Mary, God is waiting for me, for us to catch up. God is waiting for us to have the kind of courage that Mary had to say, “Be it done to me according to your word.”

Poet Denise Levertov in her poem, The Annunciation says it better than I.

The Annunciation:
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren't there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes..

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child - but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, "How can this be?"
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel's reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power -
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love -

but who was God.

~Denise Levertov : The Stream and the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3B

A reflection on the readings for Advent 3-B: Isaiah 65: 17-25; Psalm 126; 1 Thess. 5: 12-28; John 1: 6-8, 19-28 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

Apparently, the Syracuse Stage production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tries to downplay the fact that the author, C.S. Lewis, wrote these rollicking good children’s books – The Chronicles of Narnia -- as both adventure stories AND as Christian allegories.

If you haven’t seen the play or any number of film versions, or read the books, I don’t think I’ll be spoiling the story to say that Aslan, the lion who is a figure, or representation, of Christ, is willing to die at the hand of the White Witch so that the life of one of the other characters is spared. This is to fulfill what the White Witch and Aslan call “the deep magic,” a spell, or incantation, or promise, written in to the essence of Narnia at its beginning. But Aslan, killed on a great stone table, comes back to life. It turns out that the Witch does not know of a deeper magic still, an older magic, that turns everything around:

Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.

The death of Aslan, the innocent, causes the table to crack, and “death itself starts working backward.”

The promise of new life comes from the depths of that Deep Magic, comes from the stillness and darkness before the dawn of time.

Lewis got that idea of the Deep Magic from the Gospel of John, from the verses which come before the passage we read today. The words are familiar, and we’ll read them again during the Christmas season:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John …

In the words of Aslan, John the Baptist comes from that time of the Deeper Magic, from the time before the creation of the world, from the beginning of the Word itself.

One way to think of Advent is as the time we remember that we still have time. It’s the time we remember the way the world was created to be. Things may have gone awry since that first creation, but God is promising to renew it all: God will create a new heavens and a new earth. The ancient city of Jerusalem will be a joy, and its people a delight.

This passage from Isaiah was written after the people of Israel had returned to Jerusalem. For generations, they had been punished by God and exiled to Babylon. They were punished for not following God’s commandments to live righteously, to care for the poor and stranger, to worship God alone. Then God forgave them, gave them another chance, let them go back to Jerusalem. But here was the challenge: were they going back to “the good old days,” with the kind of life choices that took them down the path to the way of living God did NOT like? Or this time, living in this new Jerusalem, did they realize that to live the good life God wanted them to live meant doing things a different way?

The prophet Isaiah came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who still remembered the hard times in Babylon, but were hoping things could get back to the way they used to be. Listen, he said. Two things: it is only God who creates, and in God’s own time. And, you, people of God, have to hold up your half of the bargain. Remember the commandments: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The prophet John the Baptist came to people like us. Listen, he said to the people of Jerusalem who were living under the hard times and oppression of the Roman Empire, an economic, political and social system where the decisions made in faraway places wreaked havoc in their daily lives. People who needed hope. People who had forgotten some of those essential commandments, to love God and to love neighbor as oneself. People living in darkness, tripping down crooked paths. Repent. Turn from those ways, for the kingdom of heaven is about to get here. You know what God wants you to do. You know how God wants you to live. Do it. Now is the time.

Advent is for two kinds of people. It’s for people who need to realize that God’s commandments include social justice – who haven’t quite worked out that loving God and loving neighbor are inseparable. Advent reminds those people that it’s time to get going in the good works department.

And Advent is for people who care deeply about justice – who know the world can and should be a better place – who devote their time and resources to doing good works – who hear these promises for a new heaven and a new earth and then wake up day after day in the same spot. Advent reminds those people that God alone creates, and that the new heavens and the new earth are on their way.

It’s the message from the Deep Magic from before the beginning of time. Repent, and get ready. Hold on, and hope. Things are about to turn around.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2B

A reflection on Mark 1:1-8 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig As these Advent days fly by, I’ve been thinking how challenging it can be to observe this season of waiting and “not yet” in a culture that begins to celebrate Christmas in October. Sometimes it makes me feel kind of out of step to be saying, “No, wait, it is NOT Christmas yet, we are in another season entirely! And clearly we are—the readings in these four Sundays give a lot to think about.

Last week it was apocalypse and fig trees as we were reminded to be awake and alert. This week we encounter John, this wild prophet who appears in the wilderness preaching a message of repentance for forgiveness of sins. Repentance. Now there is one of those words. A word that might have some juice! Perhaps it was thundered at us from the pulpits of our past; [mis]used to remind us of just how far off the mark we were, how badly we were behaving. “Repent! Repent or else!” Just hearing it might scare or shame us. Now if this was John’s approach to repentance, you’d think that his followers would have been fleeing into the wilderness. But they did not. In fact they flocked to accept his baptism. What did they hear in John’s invitation to repentance that sounded like an opportunity rather than a threat? John quotes Isaiah to them: “Prepare the way of the lord, make his paths straight.” Prepare. Create a way for something to happen. This kind of repentance is sounding more like like an opportunity than a threat.

And maybe that was what John was talking about on behalf of God--for his people in his time, and us in ours, the chance to come to grips with and change the things that stand in the way of loving relationship with God, with others, with ourselves by clearing away those things that hold us in bondage and keep us from being our God-created, beautiful, unique and authentic selves. It is about cleaning out the clutter in our lives and making room for love. Yes, the repentance message is about love. God’s amazing love for us was/is manifested incarnationally in God coming among God’s people in the person of Jesus to transform us, and to bring about God’s Kin-dom in this world.

We know this is true. When we are reminded, we nod, we agree. Yes, of course. But still, we hesitate and stumble and get confused and mixed up, because we keep forgetting this one crucial thing about the Gospel message. The repentance we are called to is not so God will forgive us. That has already happened! WE ARE ALREADY FORGIVEN. God’s love does not rest on what we earn or deserve, not, as John says, “that we have loved God, but that God has loved us…” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us does not depend on us but on God. And because of this tremendous love there are three gifts that we get for Christmas that cannot be found in any Mall or catalog! These gifts are freedom, authenticity and security.

When we understand how we are loved and forgiven by God, we are given true freedom. There is no need to hide anything, not from ourselves, and not from God. We can present ourselves to God just as we are. We can admit to all those silly, shortsighted, human, mean-spirited, unthinking, selfish, things we do every day as a result of our human brokenness. And we can do it without fear! We can repent of them, clear them away and allow ourselves to be forgiven.

The second gift we can claim is the gift of authenticity. When we see ourselves through the lens God’s love, we can do so with compassion and honesty. If there is no need to earn God’s love, and in fact we cannot do so, we can look at ourselves just as we are. We don’t need to better (or worse) than we are. It won’t make God love us more. We can look at the self God loves, the self God created. We can remember that we are loveable because of the whole of us -- the light and the shadow! We can risk being authentic because it really cannot ultimately harm us to do so--God’s love for us will not change. And we can risk repenting, doing the process of change and transformation again and again knowing that God is there, loving us through it.

The other gift that comes if we believe the message of the incarnation is the gift of being able to have the ultimate security that comes from knowing ourselves as truly loved.. “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). If we really let this message that we are loved this much by the God who is the creator of the universe, the God who has been in continuous and covenanted relationship with humankind since time began begin to sink in to the depths of us, we will begin a process of coming to see ourselves as truly beloved of God.

If we claim these gifts, really allow them to penetrate us, the idea of repentance takes on new meaning. It really can be seen as a way of clearing away the obstacles or interference to our connection with this Ultimate Gift. As we are more heist with ourselves about being by turns weak and foolish and amazing and beautiful, we may begin to find more compassion towards others as well. As we treat ourselves with love, dignity and respect, we are more likely to do the same for others. As we realize that if we are God’s beloved, they must be also, we inevitably will begin to deal differently with others and with the world.

Of course, even if we try our best to hold these truths, we will forget who and whose we are. We will fall back into old patterns, and hurt people and make big human messes that we need to make amends for and clean up! We will need to go back and repent again, and again be forgiven. But hear the good news in this, too. In our repentance, God’s love and forgiveness is always there for us. There will never be a time to wonder, “Is this time too much?” “Can I be forgiven again or did I really do it this time.” No. Never. Through God in Jesus we are loved and forgiven and there is nothing on our part that is deserved or earned about it! It is pure love, pure gift. So we can risk being honest; risk being authentically all of who God created us to be. We can rest secure in God’s unchanging love.

And from there, we can go out and change the world, being God’s voice and hands and feet in the world, being in our own way the messengers to prepare the way to God’s Kin-dom among us here and now.