Connecting with God through poetic articulations of lived, embodied experience–engaging texts from the Revised Common Lectionary for Christian churches, other biblical and spiritual texts, and evocations of the divine in rituals and other public events–always accepting lived reality as a primary source of divine revelation and mystery.
Nothing stops Mary and Joseph,
not traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem,
then to Bethlehem to obey an official edict,
searching in Bethlehem for a place to stay
and giving birth to a son in a manger,
a feeding trough for the sheep and cattle already there,
and surrounded by strangers who arrive after the birth,
then returning to Jerusalem
to bring Jesus to the temple
to be circumcised on the eighth day,
to be named and blessed—
and not having many resources,
they can only offer a pair of turtle doves
to meet their holy obligation.
Joseph probably did not have funds
to rent a room even if one were available,
not only in Bethlehem—
the journeys slow, he walking,
guiding the donkey on which Mary sat
and later Jesus in her arms,
they would need to stop several times,
64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem
six more to Bethlehem
six more back to Jerusalem
then home to Nazareth—
not to mention water and food
to sustain them both,
especially a pregnant and then nursing mother.
The blessings by Simeon and Anna,
truly a gift for all three of them and for us—
even as the parents may have felt both overwhelmed and nervous,
hearing about glory and trouble all at the same time,
not to mention the survival needs of a poor family.
Simeon knew they were poor
because they did not sacrifice a lamb
Would they have appreciated more tangible help?
How often do we bless people for their faith
and then ignore their needs for food, housing,
funds for the basics of life?
A woman with no social standing or power gives birth to the holy child and shepherds, held in low esteem if not victims of hostility, are the ones the angel visits to share the good news, to empower them to share it widely.
Do we know, do we remember, that women of low estate give birth every day in homeless shelters and under bridges, on reservations, in rodent-infested dwellings? Do we know, do we remember that those babies are sacred, and their mothers, too?
Do we know, do we remember, that men and women of low station— victims of White supremacy, rapacious capitalism, drug dependency, and more, have stories to tell, news we need, perspectives to enlarge our own? Do we know, do we remember, that they are sacred, and their stories, too?
Each Christmas I remember a special time in my life, when a ewe gave birth to a precious lamb. I was 14, raising sheep as a 4-H project, when a ewe became pregnant very early— about two months before we had scheduled it. It was Christmas Eve and my father and I attended her after returning from midnight worship.
Kneeling on the straw, stroking the mother, speaking encouraging words, I could not forget the birth we celebrated at church. Our barn was larger than the lean-to often pictured in art and books but it was filled with animal smells, sheep baa-ing, a brisk wind whistling outside, while the light from the bulb in the ceiling and our lantern was not as bright as from the star.
As the adorable little one emerged standing on wobbly legs, mother licking her to remove the birthing membrane, I knew I wanted to name her Mary Christmas!
And so she was.
Still, the time came some years later when I had to send her to market where she joined all the other sacred beings— those hung from trees, from crosses, those shot in the streets and casualties of war, those taken that others might eat their fill, those who die for lack of water, food, and health care— all those whose memory others cherish as I remember her.
God tells a victorious David,
through his counselor Nathan,
I don’t need to live in the house
you want to build me.
My tent works for me,
I can live among my people, move about with them,
besides I don’t require
monuments supposedly for Me
but more likely to glorify the builder.
I am the Master Builder
having already created a world
for you and everybody,
every single body, human and non-human
(those are your categories—all are equally dear to Me).
God tells Mary,
a young woman unknown to the world,
speaking through the divine angel
that she will deliver a child,
a child who will grow up to be known
and celebrated and worshipped around the world—
but God knows his will not be an easy road.
Still God trusts Mary and she does not fail
delivering the baby
not in a grand room
but surrounded by shepherds
cows, sheep, and hay
and yes, several others
of more exalted station.
He grows up to tell us
to value the meek and peaceful
not those who strut the world
building up themselves and those they favor;
to heal the sick,
not ignore their needs:
to free the prisoners,
not add to their number;
to comfort those who mourn
not create more disaster and distress.
He reaches out and heals
those the world ignores, maims and kills,
knowing that God wants
not only life and liberty
but also the pursuit
of just happiness for all.
He is not governed
by morality the dominant powers create
for their own interest,
but by how God values all,
the poor not just those
successful on the world’s terms
and those who break narrow, puritanical rules
in the name of love;
those whose skin color,
gender, and personal and social identities
are less favored, even abused by,
worldly rules, rulers and life;
those born on both sides
of the tracks,
living in tumble-down shacks
as well as suburbs;
and those who agitate for justice
as well as those who fail
to see and do it.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says God, according to Isaiah. Do we hear the melodic lift from Handel’s Messiah and immediately feel better or do we feel how much we need comforting, knowing how much trauma is in the world— not just in distant war-torn lands but in our own where war rages too, maybe not a shooting war, although Black women and men may have a different view, but war nonetheless, ugly words, untrue claims, threats of violence not just one virus but many, do we wonder if comfort will ever come?
Mark begins by announcing the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then repeats Isaiah to assure his listeners that John the Messenger will prepare the way for the people in the wilderness— struggling under the heavy fist of Rome, desperate for a new life— to be ready for a new reality made possible through repentance and confession.
But does that sound like good news? Does it sound comforting? Repenting and confessing are not easy, requiring honest examination of ourselves, telling the truth even when it is not pleasant facing things we want to forget.
In his own way, John reminds us of the need to go back, to engage in a searching and honest look back— being clothed in camel hair with a leather belt was several centuries out of fashion, and locusts and wild honey hardly reflect success and power to lead. Still, many responded to the gift, yearning for change, for God who resides in human hearts.
Advent can be a nostalgic journey, even one of cheer, remembering Christmas pageants of our younger years now featuring children and grandchildren, obscuring the unmistakable longing for what is just out of sight, the gift of wholeness we are promised in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Is this not a season of comfort, gratitude, joy and longing?
Moses told the Hebrews to prepare for their journey of liberation by eating prescribed food and marking their doors with the blood of lamb on which they feasted. They set off, on foot, through desert and sea to and throughout the land promised by God.
The ancients used their feet, just as we do— dirty, calloused, twisted, arthritic, gnarled, hard or soft, massaged with oil, too, sweet scented or not, smelly sweaty feet common— all sorts and conditions of human feet. on journeys called by God.
Now here is something very strange: Rabbi Jesus wants to wash our feet — even Peter’s, who, of course, objects as he always does. Is there ever a time when there is not at least one Peter in the group, one long ago offended by the idea of his Lord stooping to wash feet, like today’s recoiling at showing the imperfection of feet, even more at being asked to touch others’?
Today, on Passover, Jews everywhere, believers or not, gather to share bitter herbs, unleavened bread, greens, haroset, and lamb or substitute. Most Christians avoid Jesus when it comes to feet. Strange. So many ask, “What would Jesus do?” How about: what he did? Just not with feet.
A preacher said, “Jesus touched his heart and there was healing in his hands.” I want healed feet for miles ahead, years, I pray, of journeying with God. I need strong, resilient feet empowered to support journeys from my Egypts to new worlds promised again and again. I want company, too, I can’t make it alone. Let me bless yours with living water, sacred touch, our Jesus feet guiding us all the way together.
About this poem . . .Every year on Holy Thursday, I am deeply moved by the washing of feet. It is such a humble act—to allow my feet to be washed and to wash others’—so like Jesus to assume the role of servant and invite us to do the same. The invitation, I hear command, is to be agents of healing and to allow ourselves to be healed by the human touch of others.
Give to everyone who begs from you, Jesus says that, oh yes he does, and more, too: Turn the other cheek, give up your cloak, do not refuse anyone, anyone, who wants to borrow from you. How can we keep the economy going with talk like that? And what about the beggars, what if they use my money to buy booze? What good is that? Respond to being forced to go one mile by going the second mile—what if I don’t have time to go that far? Don’t resist an evildoer, love your enemies, pray for your persecutors: How can we live in the world today with attitudes like that? Does he even know, or care, about ISIS and our opponents from the other party?
The world is a tough place; you’d think Jesus would know that, given how Rome treated the Jews, how Herod killed cousin John. Sometimes, I think Jesus lives in another world.
Oh, right, he does. And he keeps trying to get me to join him there, except for him the there is here, now.
This didn’t start with him either, he knows Leviticus: leave the gleanings of fields and vineyards for those in need (remember Ruth?), no defrauding your neighbor, no keeping wages of others, no false swearing, no slander, no unjust judgments; you shall love your neighbor as yourself (yes, Jesus was repeating Leviticus).
So why is it so hard for me, maybe you, too, to go where Jesus goes, to be one of the people of the Way—some of his early followers were called that—to live with open heart and open hand, to speak in love even to those whose ugly words and deeds cause me to shudder and rise in anger to say No? Can I do both? Can I say no and also say I love you? Why not? Is not all possible with God?
Paul told Corinthians the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; so, he said, become fools that you may become wise.
So let us dance in the street when there is no music except the tapping of our souls, let us toss coins in the air and take beggars to lunch, let us hug the racists and the thugs, let us find men and women in need of coats and strip ours off our backs, and do all generous, foolish things that will cause authorities, and our families and churches, to question our sanity, believing, knowing(?), that is where and when we will find Jesus.
Men strut across worldly stages believing what counts is how big they are, or how big others say they are, but other measures come closer to God whom they cannot surpass and who wants them, us, to walk humbly, do justice, and love kindness every moment of life we are given. Micah knew God is not interested in show but in deeds and intention, the heart always showing through at least as much by what we do, what we put first, as by what we say or by what we do not do or say. Knowing this wisdom beyond understanding into action, Jesus tells us what God seeks from us.
Refugees are people who flee to something less terrifying than continuing to stay where they are or what they see coming, often giving up what was once thought comfortable, pleasant, safe, now untenable due to violence already inflicted and/or more about to be dealt, threats feeling so real you grab your clothes and run, maybe a few pictures, a crust or two of bread, your children of course, like Mary and Joseph grabbed Jesus to escape to Egypt. This first-family-to-be ran for their lives in the face of Herod’s fear disguised as anger–tyrants, elected or not, everywhere the same–to return later–tyrants die although they want us to forget– to be replaced by a fearsome son–where have we heard that before– so again this family finds another new home, in Nazareth. That is Matthew’s story, and he’s sticking to it.
Luke starts the story with a Nazorean family forced to Bethlehem for the registration who then return to Nazareth to live and grow together in peace, love, and care. Either way, a ruler, whether Emperor or lackey-King, seems to control the earthly action. It is good for us to remember in days of turmoil that those who claim mandates to do as they wish, no matter the needs of those less powerful, do not in truth control everything or in some ways much of anything. Who cares today what Herod thought or even the august emperor, footnotes to history, necessary props in the story that turns out to be not about them at all, no matter how much they strut and preen and issue a thousand tweets like a flock of angry, self-absorbed starlings?
Isaiah and others knew all this so well– tales of people pushed about by despots from afar and often their own rulers, so that they lost their way– prophets seeing God present in all things, redeeming the people in divine love and pity even when they did not know it, or denied the very God who creates us all, of whom prophets told repeated truths and angels in every sort of form sang loud hosannas echoing across the skies of slumbering yet unsteady, at risk, earth.
When will we learn, really learn and understand, it is not tyrants, blowhards, insecure rulers and small-minded puppets pretending to pull strings of the rest of of us who matter, but God, the one who refuses to treat us with other than respect and love, whose gentle power is what really runs the show? Not a puppet master, not even a taskmaster or judge, but one whose desire for us, for us to live whole lives as we are given at birth, exceeds all negativity, all hate, all puny politics and war–that is The One whom we worship, The One who touched the babe in the manger and continues to touch us, too.
About this poem . . . . . The familiar, though often forgotten story, of Herod’s mad rampage on feeling tricked and scared by challenges to his rule, is the backdrop for Joseph and the family, as it really is even today as in the midst of wonders and joys in our lives, and even our private sorrows, we continue to contend with small-minded, petty oligarchs of politics, business, militarism, etc., just to survive. But history is not really about them, any more than daily life is.
A Reflection in Response to the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A
Text Focus: Psalm 146:5-10, Luke 1:45b-55, Matthew 11:2-11 Click here for all biblical texts Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in their God—truth known by John the Baptizer and Mary too. Can it be so with us? Dare we open our eyes enough to see God at work in every moment, read signs of the times and feel joy as God takes us on new journeys in faith? John did, and it led him to prison and death, while Mary’s life grew both inside and all about her, she proclaiming the gift of God’s favor, mercy and strength.
They seem so different, rough-clothed, even angry, on one hand (though might he be sweet in his own way), soft-spoken, gentle on the other (but so strong as well); yet both open to what God delivers— promise of salvation through another born to her, seen by him; she births, nurtures, the sprout, he witnesses the full-grown tree standing tall, speaking true in biblical witness in pages close together but separated by decades, yet saga tells us their births—John and Jesus—were close in time and even blood so they are cousins through their mothers’ line.
We know stories of these men as they live and die, almost side by side in Jerusalem and countryside, to carry God’s word to those who want to believe so long as it does not cost more than they, or we, will pay. If Mary had known she would weep at the foot of the cross on which hung her beloved son would then she praise or curse her fate, and his? And John, and his mother, cousin Elizabeth, would they then sing or speak in joy and love for the God of Jacob? The answer is yes, they did not count the cost dear but the chance to witness so much more than ever they dreamed in ordinary lives, a gift so rich their hearts ring full, Mary’s praises, John’s hand pointing to the one he came to announce.
Can it be so with us? Will we birth and nurture what God places in us trusting Holy One who is our soul and knows us inside out, from glowing darkness of God within, calling us to abandon old and narrow habits that block our own sacred living in a world that wants control and substitutes order for life? Will we cast out fear and choose joy, to take a chance on God?
Jesus tells us, several times at least, that we have what we need, but most of us worry, doubt even, that we are not good enough to earn, deserve, what we have already received. And then Jesus tells us more proof that the gifts will arrive, perhaps when we least expect it, and it can sound like we had better be sitting up all night with our ears attuned to every sound—which one will be him or God or Spirit breaking in our lives?
What he is really saying is that it is always happening, In fact we need to learn how to be open to all the gifts, so many gifts, that God has for us each day, all day.
Did you see the glint in the person’s eye as you passed by them at the mall, they were having a God moment, you could have received it too if you had been paying attention. Or what about the touch of your friend as you parted after lunch, did you feel the embrace of the Holy Spirit, did you feel electric current between you and your friend as it traveled up your arm into your shoulder, taking direct aim at your soul? I mean, did you really feel deep holy warmth at your core?
And the simple Shasta daisies outside your neighbor’s door, did you see heaven as you rushed by them this morning on your way, late for work, not too late for God’s presence if you could simply pause long enough to breathe? The question is not only where are you putting your treasure, your money, but also your time, your energy, focus. Where is your heart? Your mind, is your mind on God or your to-do list? Indeed, is God on your to-do list? Does God have a time on your calendar? Every day? More than once a day?
Jesus wandered around Palestine talking with people, all sorts of people—including the local people of color known as Samaritans, as well as hated tax agents, listening to their troubles, worries, ailments, offering healing and hope and clarity about how God, the holy, is not locked up in Temple or even a book, but is on the loose, moving freely among us, like Jesus, open to hearing us, sitting with us, even praying with us—how about we stop praying to God, start praying with God?—everywhere we are, all of us, not limited to folks in a particular pew in a particular house of worship, God in some ways less like a bridegroom, more like a street person, a beggar, just hoping we will notice and stop and pass the time of day, perhaps sharing not only a quarter or a dollar but also a word or two of connection, human connection, divine connection, trusting that as we open ourselves to the wonders of the universe we shall remember from whence we come and whose we are. And then we shall be ready for the next moment we catch a glimpse of the holy among us, in us, with us, and we shall celebrate with God and know we have once again been invited to sit at the holy table and feed until we are full of our inheritance, ready and eager to share the blessing with those who do not yet know what a glory it is to be blessed, to be beloveds of God.
About this poem . . . . It is so easy to get wound up in the literal text that we miss the larger message. In Luke 12:32-40, I don’t experience Jesus telling us to be in a literal vigil, not doing anything but sitting in readiness, day and night after day and night, but rather to be alert in all that we do and say and see and hear, in all moments, to the presence of God. We are given so much each day, each moment, and we, at least I, miss so much of it, busy fending off the vagaries and troubles of life that I forget to see the beauty and joy and holy power in each molecule, each atom, each moment.