Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Feast Day of the Visitation and Praise of Friendship Between Generations

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth. Both are miraculously pregnant. As they approach each other, they recognize each other, as mothers, as miracles--even the babies in their wombs understand what's happening.

Some feast days leave me shaking my head and wondering what modern folks are to do with them. Some feast days, like today's, make me wish I'd known about them earlier. I think about my younger self who was enraged that so much femaleness seemed to be erased from Christianity. What would my raging feminist self have done with this festival?

I'm not sure she'd have been appeased. I was also in the process of trying to assert that biology isn't destiny, while also acknowledging that I was one of the first generations to be able to assert that idea.

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, although not in the womb-centric way that the phrase is often bandied about. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.

 Now that I am at midlife, I love this story of two women from two generations coming together to support each other. I love this story of new life being held in unlikely wombs. I am fondly remembering female members of my own extended family and offering thanks for their support. I remember the family stories they told and the ways they included me in family gatherings. I remember the rides to the airport, and memorably, one time that my cousin Barbara (my mom's first cousin) came to Augusta, 60 miles away, at night, to help me out of a jam caused by the breakdown of a car. I remember that she treated it as a grand adventure. No castigating, no lecturing.

I confess that I tend to identify with Mary in the story.  Lately, I've been taking stock of how few older women friends I have.  Even the female friends I have who are 10-15 years older than me seem to be in a similar life phase, wrestling with similar questions:  are we doing the work we've been put on earth to do?  How much money do we need?  Will we ever be able to retire?

This morning it occurs to me that perhaps I have fewer older friends because I'm in a transition time--now I am the older friend.  But I've always had a wide variety of friends.  Perhaps I should be contemplating how our economic lives have changed.  It's not that I don't have friends who are older, a generation ahead of me.  It's that we're all lingering in this land of midlife markers longer than our mothers would have.

This morning, I'm struck by how few female elders are left on this side of death.  If they were still here, I'd ask the same types of questions I've always asked.  Those questions boil down to this one:  "What advice would you give to your younger self?"  Of course, the age of the younger self that most interests me is whatever age I am now.

So on this day when we remember two women of two generations supporting each other, let's say a special prayer of thanks for all who have nurtured us when the larger society could not or would not.  Let's make a special effort to support those coming after us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 3, 2018:

First reading and Psalm:

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Alternate first reading and Psalm:

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Psalm 81:1-10

Second reading:

2 Corinthians 4:5-12


Mark 2:23-3:6

This week's Gospel asks us to think about why we adopt the religious rules and rituals that we do.  We see the Pharisees, those old adversaries of Jesus, feeling and acting offended when Jesus ignores the laws of the Sabbath.  We see Jesus in what seems to be a confrontational mode.

We might ask why Jesus had to take this approach.  The man with the withered hand could have waited for healing for one more day.  The disciples plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath seem to be doing it mindlessly.  They could have found some other food.

We could ask similar questions of the Pharisees.  Why do these rules have to be so rigid?  It's important to remember that although we think of Pharisees as hypocrites largely because of their interactions with Jesus, this could not be further from the truth. They were very sincere and committed to what they believed, far more committed than most of their contemporaries.

And it's vitally important to remember that their motivations for keeping strict standards were very good. In The Secret Message of Jesus, Brian D. McLaren notes that the Pharisees hoped that their own purity would prompt God to send the Messiah to liberate them, specifically to liberate them from Roman oppression. Therefore it's understandable that they would try to recruit others to this cause, and that they would grow frustrated with people who couldn't meet their own requirements--the actions of those people polluted the whole population, thus resulting in more alienation from God.

Before we get too snooty about those Pharisees, before we feel too superior to them, it's important to look at our own time. Anyone who has done any kind of church work probably recognizes the Pharisees in Mark's Gospel.  Whether we're fighting over big issues or small, it's always been astounding to me to see the energy that some devote to a fight.  And I'm sure there are people who would say the same thing about me.

Of course, it's not just in our churches.  I've also described many of our workplaces, and the larger world of international relations.  Some of us may recognize our family life.  Some may recognize ourselves.

Let me stress it is important to recognize our own inner Pharisee. No one is blameless here.  Let's return to the one of the questions the text asks us to consider:  what are these religious rules and customs for?

We live in a time period where it may seem that the very moorings of our society have come undone.  Like Pharisees, we, too, may fall in love with the idea that laws can save us and either restore past glory or propel us to the deliverance that has been promised.

Christ calls us to a different vision as he reminds us again and again that too rigid a love of the law is idolatry itself.  Christ calls us to create a world of open borders and solid bridges, not one of walls and impenetrable defenses.  Christ calls us out of our graves of fear and sorrow.