Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent Musings with Mary's Magnificat-Week 1

And Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
   In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
   Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
   because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
                                                Luke 1:46-49

For this season of Advent, I want to spend time reflecting on Mary’s song of praise, that spontaneous utterance she gave upon being greeted and blessed by her cousin Elizabeth as she arrived at Elizabeth’s home.

While her song is appropriate material for reflection at any time, I am especially aware of its significance currently, as hateful words and actions seem to be more prevalent, accepted and even encouraged in our country than I can remember in my lifetime.

Today, I reflect on Mary’s chosenness, on her worth as a woman, her status as the mother of Jesus. Mary is a strong prophetic voice, a person of strong faith. Her song of praise echoes that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and the voices of prophets all through Israel’s history, who knew that the weak, the poor and the least are those whom God lifts up and holds in high esteem.

It disturbs and angers me when women are treated as objects rather than as children of God and worthy of respect and equality of opportunity. I have heard first hand disparaging remarks about the capability of women. Being told “you’re pretty smart for a girl” is not a compliment. Calling women bossy for being in leadership roles, criticizing their appearance, and labelling them as “shrill” when they recognize and speak against discrimination does not recognize the worth and dignity of women.  Strong women have changed the course of history but have seldom been highly regarded in their own time. Contemporaries did not esteem their gifts because they came in a female package.

Mary, as well as her cousin Elizabeth, and a host of other women, remind me that we would not have Christianity and the Church today if not for women. And yet, the Church has had a checkered history in its treatment of women that, sadly, continues even now. Isn’t it appropriate as we prepare for the coming of Christ, to remember that God chose a strong young woman to be the one who would not only give birth to Jesus but who could be trusted with his life until adulthood? A woman whose trust in God enabled her to risk ostracism and judgment to become who God called her to become?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Celebrating What Is

It’s a week where we are reminded to be thankful. Many of us will gather with family or friends to share a meal (or two or three). There will be laughter, stress, tears—a whole gamut of emotions. Maybe we’ll go around the table and ask folks to name something for which they are thankful. The responses will vary, and some will be predictable.

Being grateful is easier sometimes than others. But gratitude should not hinge on the acceptability of our circumstances. Gratitude is a way of being. When we are grateful people we see the world with different eyes. Grateful people still see the pain and suffering in the world and in their own lives. They feel it deeply. They hurt—both for themselves and for others. In fact, because they are grateful people, they can more acutely hold pain and suffering than those who blind themselves to their own hurt or that of others.

Grateful people are faith-filled people. They can hold the pain because they know there’s a bigger picture, a larger scenario than the pain they know. It is those who deny, numb, or ignore pain and suffering who cannot truly be grateful. When you numb yourself to pain, when you pretend it doesn’t exist, you cannot be fully present to great joy and gratitude.

To be truly grateful is to celebrate what is, to live fully in the present moment, whatever it brings, with faith and trust and thanksgiving. It is to recognize that being human means being present for all of life. Habakkuk captures beautifully what it means to celebrate what is:
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

Monday, November 14, 2016

Public Park

On a day when hate hangs
like thick fog across the land,
when the tears in my soul
are those of the shaken,
it is good to be here—
to look people in the eye,
to smile and greet each other,
to love by simple presence all
who congregate here.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thinking About Saints

This week we celebrate All Saints Day. In many churches, the names of those who have died in the past year will be read aloud in Sunday worship. We’ll think more intentionally about the Communion of Saints, the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. Some of these are friends and family members who loved us, affirmed us and supported us as they lived alongside us.

There are others whom we never met but who influenced us through their beliefs, their commitment, and the legacy they left the Church and the world. Some of these are canonized saints but many others are not.

Recently I profiled saints for a lunch and learn group at my church. I selected four saints. Certainly there were many others I could have chosen, but the four I selected included men and women from different time periods. Each had a unique story and made an impact on the Church based on their own gifts and voice.

Each was human, just as human as any of us are. The most well-known of the four I profiled, St. Francis of Assisi, went from living what today might be thought of as an upper middle class life, doing all the “right” and acceptable things that go along with such a lifestyle, to living as a beggar, because he took seriously three passages from the Gospel: Go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, take nothing for your journey, and if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.

Brendan the Navigator struck out on a sea voyage while in his eighties, following a leading from God, though he had already lived a life devoted to the Church. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 1100s, was a prophet, physician, author and composer. While there has been controversy in modern times within some denominations about women in the pulpit, she did several preaching tours at the encouragement of the leadership of the Church. Therese of Lisieux only lived 24 years, and did nothing the world would consider spectacular, but she was faithful, performing the ordinary tasks given to her with love and self-effacement.

Looking at each of these, and many others, I am reminded that each represents a life lived with the desire to love and serve God. None of these was focused on accolades from others, but on living faithfully where they were and with the gifts God had given them. They lived life to the full, serving with the capacity they had, something we are all capable of doing. Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, I am challenged to live to my capacity. I hope you are as well.