Mary’s defiance?

MAGNIFICATIn my Advent quietness I have been thinking a fair bit about Mary, and particularly about how she was able to sing her song, the magnificat, which I say each evening as part of the daily office.

The Magnificat became alive to me during my curacy at Rochester cathedral. To hear the same words sung every evening to a different musical setting allowed God to speak powerfully and differently. Daily repeated words took a different emphasis and conveyed a different meaning.

The words are familiar to many:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.

I have been struck by Mary’s words of blessing … ‘From this day all generations will call me blessed’. Mary feels blessed. I have one question about that ….

why?

Why does Mary feel blessed?
I ask because I have been mulling on her situation at the time of these words.
A single girl. Not that well off. Engaged. Young. A virgin who has just been knocked up by the Holy Spirit. Life is not going to be easy for this girl, and she realises that. This is a bad time for this to happen to her!

She realises what people in the village are going to say. She realises her parents, her friends, even Joseph himself are not going to believe her. I mean … the line is hardly that believable is it … ‘I’m, err, pregnant … but it wasn’t me it was God … I’m still a virgin. I’m still ok to marry. Honest!’ (words that I imagine to have been said in the context of the time … which in no way indicate my present view of marriage … just in case you were wondering!)

I guess I ask the question because I have become aware that I have fallen into the trap of misinformation where I have allowed myself to equate the word ‘blessing’ with a ‘gift’ or an ‘easy time’ or a ‘change in the situation’. Blessing and gift are two different things. Mary started this chapter poor, and she is still poor and we know she remains poor, yet she says she describes herself as blessed.

As I have mulled these words over I have wondered if there is a little bit of Mary defiance in these words of hers. She knows her calling, her yes to God, is going to present her with a fair amount of crap in her immediate life …. and yet she defiantly looks ahead, trusts God, and her yes allows herself to see herself as being blessed.

So what you may ask?
My ‘so what’ is that I have remembered that blessing from God is not dependant on how we feel or upon the immediate situation we find ourselves in. In other words, how we feel is not a real indication of whether we are blessed or not. The blessing is a fact!  It is there, created within our DNA. The God imprint upon our lives.

Rather than being some gift or situation change, I wonder if the blessing of God is more about choosing to see God at work, trusting that, and accepting that God is actually doing something, that God is actually working.

I think recently I have lost sight of that …. and I believe Advent is the right season to remember that, sometimes, we need to take on a bit of Mary defiance and simply get on with life … because we are blessed.

So …as the day draws nearer, may we defiantly remember and grasp and trust that blessing …  Amen.

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still waiting

2384465741_6942e6103c
waiting,
Advent drawing her last breaths.
While Christmas, not quite present …
cheekily peeps over the horizon
wondering
if
we
are
ready …

 


caressing,
the assurance of that gift
The Architect moving in
Pitching with us
inviting
us
to
sit
awhile …

hoping,
the day will arrive
when this pause perfectly exhales
renewing nativity
calling
us
to
bear
beside

but for now

we wait
we caress
we hope

sanitised sacredness?

water-cooler-sanitisation-kitThe last week or so of Advent has been a very different experience for me. Regular SHP readers will be aware that over the last four years I have been based at Rochester Cathedral. Here carol services occur on a near daily basis, sometimes even more frequently, throughout December. I remember last year by around the 6th of December saying I was already ‘fed up’ with singing carols. So, the run up to Christmas throughout December was always incredibly busy.

The run up in Gillingham this year has been different. There have not been daily carol services, I have spoken and attended only four, and all of them happened this week. It has, however,  still been pretty busy which is why the blog has been quite quiet for the last week or so. The busy-ness has been different and it has involved people in the prison, the school and the High Street.

This blog is really my tool for reflecting on stuff. The busy-ness has meant I have been reflecting, but not really been in a position to express that reflection in a meaningful way here. I like to reflect, and I have been mulling over this whole advent and christmas thing. On one hand I have been reflecting on the grittiness of the story which I think I summed up in the filthy sacred stuff I wrote about earlier. Alongside that, I have been forced to reflect upon the sanitisation and fluffing of the story that we hear in many carol services and conversations.

I wonder how we got from one to the other. The popular media machine of the church has done a grand job of taking all the dirt and risk out of the story over the last few hundred years. We are left with warm images, and safety, and lovely calm animals and calm people and a baby that does not cry. Why is this? In my times of reflection I think I have arrived at two possible explanations for the warm fluffy nativity story that seems so familiar to all of us.

First, I guess the reality and truthfulness of God, in flesh, being born to a young couple in the filth, dirt and grime of a stable is so unbelievingly shocking that it made many feel uncomfortable and so needed ‘dressing up’ a bit. The saviour of the world born in the crap of a stable is scandalous. This is a holy event, and if it’s holy we can’t possibly have smells, and poo, and dirty animals and all that stuff going on. Maybe the holiness of the event calmed the animals, but it surely can’t have calmed the smell.

I think there may be also be another reason. The scandal of this scene has implications for all who call themselves Christian. Jesus was born into the filthy reality of the world and if we read the gospels we see that he remained there, working amongst the ostracised, the excluded, the untouchables, and generally all those people groups that the establishment (in this case the law and the temple) said should be kept away from. To work amongst these people, said the law, would result in you being unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God.

Jesus birth, life and death show this to be wrong; the very way to be holy, shows Jesus. is to be involved in the dirt and need of the world. Getting our hands dirty while working with God is a simple demand of our faith in Jesus.

If we are to follow Jesus as our example, then the task is pretty clear …. to work amongst the poor, the rejected, the outcast, … to work amongst those who are not valued or respected but are ignored, rejected and persecuted.

That’s quite a tall demand. That’s quite a major calling. I guess it makes some sense to sanitise the story, because if we sanitise and take the danger out of the birth, we sanitise and take the danger out of our responsibilities.

admired but not imitated

M‘Kingdom people are history makers. They break through the small kingdoms of this world to an alternative and much larger world, God’s full creation. People who are still living in the false self are history stoppers. They use God and religion to protect their own status and the status quo of the world that sustains them. They are often fearful people, the nice proper folks of every age who think like everybody else thinks and have no power to break through, or as Jesus’ opening words put it, “to change” (Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17).

Why do we love and admire kingdom people like Mary and Joseph, and then not imitate their faith journeys, their courage, their non-reassurance by the religious system? These were two laypeople who totally trusted their inner experience of God and who followed it to Bethlehem and beyond. Mary and Joseph walked in courage and blind faith that their own experience was true—with no one to reassure them they were right. Their only safety net was God’s love and mercy, a safety net they must have tried out many times, or else they would never have been able to fall into it so gracefully’.                                     (Richard Rohrs daily meditation)

Could Kingdom people be people who believe the God given dream of one nation who step out in faith to see that nation grow. Advent … a time when we remember the kingdom nation is here but not yet, started but not complete, visible yet un-noticed.

step out of the tower …

File:Jeztow2Todays Advent thought has got me thinking about nation, particularly the difference between nation and country. The thought starts with Bodenheim reflecting on the tower of Babel, which I find particularly interesting today as only a fe days ago Beth was talking about the Jezreels which is being discussed in her A level RE.

The Jezreels were a sect of the late 1800’s / early 1900’s who were just down the road from where we live. They tried to build a tower to be seen and noticed and shelter them in the end times. It’s a bit of interesting local church history.

Why build a tower? In the Babel story it was out of fear of being scattered around the world. They did not really trust God and sought their security through fame. In the local Jezreel setting I think again they did not trust God’s word, the word that says by grace we are saved …. and instead chose to build a tower out of fire retardant materials to protect them at Armageddon.

When people lose sight of the God story; that story that tells of a God who chose to become vulnerable and take on flesh by becoming the child of an unknown couple of teenagers who lived in the chav part of Israel so that we could experience God’s love for real and become fully who we are created to be, fully secure with God …. when people lose sight of that story they do alternative, and sometimes crazy, things to make them feel secure.

The difference between a nation and a country according to the dictionary is a country is defined by geography whereas a nation is defined by its political and social characteristics. A nation is defined not by geography but by belief.

We are preparing at Advent for the coming of the Christ child, for God who came so that we may exist together as one nation. So, I think Advent presents us with another choice, a twin of the choice earlier in how we use God’s word. A choice of trusting in God or trusting in our own made up systems.

Sadly it is a lot easier for us all to build our own towers of protection if we take on a seige mentality and think the world, and maybe even God, is against us. But … if God’s word is true, if grace really is enough, if God is still talking and involved today … well then maybe we can step out of those towers and work out together how we can become one nation across God’s world.

is the Bible the last word?

bible4In today’s Advent thought Bodenheim challenges us to think about the Bible, or rather how we view the Bible. She starts the thought with words from Eugene Peterson:

The simple act of buying a Bible has subtle side effects we need to counter. It is easy to suppose that since we bought it, we own it, and therefore we can use it the way we wish.’

I believe Peterson is touching on something quite serious here. How do we act if we BELIEVE that we own the bible? If we think this bible is mine? That mindset opens up the possibility of using it to back up our already held ideas. It allows us to pick and choose verses we like, while ignoring those that we do not. Many things have been justified by using the bible in this way, from slavery to domestic abuse. I think it is used in this way today in the news and in certain parts of the church with the condemnation of homosexual love and marriage. (this is another blog post for another time… but apparently the CofE is against gay marriage … I have never actually been asked … and there are very mixed views which I outlined earlier in the year here. )

On the other side of the coin, it leaves us with a choice … we can use the Bible as a weapon, to condemn, to control, to manipulate, or we can use the Bible as good news, to show how God accepts, how God loves and how God encourages us to be who he created us to be.

I believe the Bible is the word of God. If that is true, I have to ask, does the word of God condemn or liberate? Should the word of God condemn or liberate? Or does it do both or neither? Is it to be taken literally or does it need to be read in context? Is it the dictated speech of God or is it God’s word written in a particularly cultural way? Is the Bible the last of God’s words, or does God still speak today?

I wonder of we find it easy to elevate the Bible … and I fear that for some it may have become a god. Exodus 20 says; ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Are we in danger of idolising the word of God?

I end todays thought with Bodenheims last words for todays reading. These words challenge me to think hard. I became a Christian when I was 17, and have been brought up mainly in the evangelical wing of the church … so I particularly find these words provoke me to consider my views more deeply:

If the Bible does not point us toward God, but instead speaks for God, then the Bible has become our god. 

He will come

DSC_1061One of the dangers of thinking deeply into the significance of Advent is that in our dreaming we are at risk of losing sight of what all the waiting and expectation of Advent is about.

The bottom line is that he will come. Christ will return. As Christ was born into his creation, he will come back to that creation and walk this earth again. He will come back to the real earth, the real earth of both beauty and filth.

Archbishop Rowan’s poem, Advent Calendar, points us to this in the simply, deep and beautiful way that only Archbishop Rowan can. I love this poem and share just the first verse.

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

read the whole poem here.