As I wade into Advent, the days of waiting, expectation and longing, I think about Mary, the mother of Jesus. I have been reflecting on Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement about the conception of her son (some of which comes from The Real Mary by Scot McKnight). There are two incredible things that Mary accepts in that account. She is given an incredible message that as a Hebrew woman certainly means shame and ridicule. Yet she says, “Let it be according to your word.” Then she turns to her cousin Elizabeth and launches into one of the greatest protest chants of the Bible, which is often called the Magnificat.
Here is what Mary accepts. Mary accepts that nothing has to change for her to be involved in God’s plan except for God to get in the mix. She didn’t have to earn a Masters in Social Work or Economics to analyze the problems in her society and come up with a solution. She didn’t work her way into the places of power in order to affect change. She remained a humble, common person brought even lower by God’s means of reaching out to us. Being part of God’s plan didn’t make her life better. It made it worse. She also didn’t need to be special. She only needed to be faithful and that is what the phrase “Let it be according to your word” shows, her faithfulness and trust in something so outrageous and difficult, yet true and good.
So, Mary accepts her own reality. She takes life and the world as it is and doesn’t expect it to magically change. She will suffer because of God’s plan. Yet she is also able to proclaim something totally unbelievable. She proclaims the Great Reversal in which God turns the world upside down and reverses the unjust ordering of the world. She didn’t pull this out of thin air. She would have heard the words of the prophets proclaiming just this. The incredible thing is that she accepts that this is the way things will be and that this is what God is doing in the world. It’s not abstract and it’s not future tense. This is what is happening.
How hard it is to accept both things, that my life is ordinary and that suffering and pain are part of life and that will not change no matter how much I pray or love God, AND that God involves me in God’s work of redemption and reconciliation in this world just as I am (without one plea). Perhaps it is my privilege that makes this so difficult, but that is a post in itself.
As I yearn and long for God to make things right, for life to have balance, meaning, purpose and fullness, may I also recognize that God is already here. Nothing has to change for God to show up, and just because nothing changes doesn’t mean God is absent. We proclaim a reality and truth that has already arrived and changed everything, yet life continues and remains ordinary and mundane. May we follow Mary’s example and proclaim “Let it be according to your word” somehow living between these two realities.
image from http://www.bcartfarm.com/visitation.html
Last year around the same time that our annual consumer frenzy was reaching a fever pitch I was wrapping up a series inspired by fellow Truett grad, preacher extraordinaire and soon-to-be published author, Kyndall Rae Rothaus, about the nature of our purchases and how they function in the consumer religion (Holy Purchases). I’ve just gone back and re-read these posts and am again struck by how enmeshed we are (I am) in this religious-economic system.
I would love to say that because I have diagnosed these things to an extent, I am somehow immune or above, but that’s always the biggest lie. That is the danger of any purity code whether it’s Leviticus or Fair Trade. You believe somehow that you are able to live up to its perfection by following the letter of that law. Jesus clearly points out that the spirit of the law is more important than the literal interpretation and strict adherence when he repeatedly breaks the ritualistic practices of sabbath-keeping. Purity codes can twist us into valuing holiness for its own sake and devaluing life and creation. We keep ourselves apart and separate so we can believe that we are different.
Maybe this is why Paul writes in Phillipians 2:3 that we are to “regard others as better than yourselves.” It’s not about demeaning ourselves, but rather humbly exalting others and placing ourselves within the greater context of all creation. We are created and loved, but not as special and unique as we would like to think. We are no better or worse than others no matter what we buy or don’t buy. By all means live faithfully and follow your convictions, but don’t believe for a second that this gives you any special status with God or anyone else for that matter. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t.
Hope everyone has a happy and blessed holiday this week. Let’s remember our native brothers and sisters this week. They have given and continue to give gifts to us, if we are open to receive them. Sometimes it looks like repentance and confession, but those are also gifts to be thankful for.
My wife has been taking a class on centering prayer and the women of our community recently had a silent retreat. My friend Michelle shared this on her blog, More With Much Less, about mindfulness and eating.
Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. We pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds crunch! of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body. Where in the body do we feel hunger? Where do we feel satisfaction? What does half-full feel like, or three quarters full?
We also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgment or criticism, we watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we’ve taken a few sips or bites: to grab a book, to turn on the TV, to call someone on our cell phone, or to do web search on some interesting subject. We notice the impulse and return to just eating.We notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating. Gradually we regain the sense of ease and freedom with eating that we had in childhood. It is our natural birthright.
The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change. Don’t try to make drastic changes. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes. We start simply.
A friend from seminary recently asked for some help with theme of creation care for a sermon and the coming church year. She even said, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of you sooner.” I have spent enough time and energy in this area to develop a reputation as someone she “should have thought of sooner.”
I scoured the archives for some relevant writings to share. I was thankful to have some of my past work on this blog to point her to. Hopefully it was helpful. I realized that everything I shared with her is several years old or more. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of my good friends only reads books that are over 20 years old, because often time sifts out the junk and leaves us with those things that are worthwhile and timeless.
But it leaves me wondering what I have to say today. What is it that I want or need to write today?