Holy Monday — Precious oil

IMG_0735

(Annie Vallotton drawings)

“Mary’s act of extravagant love does not stand in the way service to the poor. Far from it.
It is the fount from which springs a lifetime of giving for the love of Jesus.”  Fred Durham

Holy Monday. John’s gospel told the story of Mary bathing Jesus’ feet with costly and fragrant perfume. Oil, they called it. With each stroke of her hand and brush of her hair she quietly and purposefully offered the first anointing as Jesus moved closer to his death.

The story does not end with Mary’s gentle preparation. This act was noticed and berated. The sweet smell and intimate scene probably drew much attention. Judas Iscariot, already focused on his own betrayal, considered Mary’s offering as a waste. This fragrant oil could bring much money, he chided, money which could be given to those in need, the poor. Judas was indignant as so often seen in the guilty. The reading tells us he cared little about the poor but found more interest in what filled the common purse. A purse he kept and often gleaned from the top for his own purpose.

A familiar voice indeed. We hear much talk about how money is distributed to include support for those in need yet right beneath the surface a different intent appears to brew. Maybe humans are wired to be selfish, maybe the “survival of the fittest” is primary in our DNA. So the concern becomes what is rightfully mine, what is fair, or worse, what do the poor really deserve.

We may find ourselves in each person at one time or another – Mary’s extravagance, Judas’ judgment and Jesus pausing to receive. This story is rich for reflection. Take note, our call to care for one another is best heard when the buzz of what should be is silenced.

A visit, a sanctuary 

 

img_0368

A painting by Enedina Vasquez

We have spent three Sundays listening to the strong and powerful voices of wise men and prophets. Men sharing news of what is to come – proclaiming good news and warning of the importance to prepare.

This Sunday the themes of sharing good news and preparation are ever-present yet we now shift to the gentle, honest exchange between two women. Filled with excitement and awe they share their insights. Together they can  acknowledge the holy children they each have been called to birth and mother. They can openly share their excitement and concern. They can support one another as they experience the wisdom they have gained, the sacred they now carry.

Elizabeth and Mary greet one another with a sacred kiss and in her elder-wisdom, Elizabeth shelters Mary as she gathers her strength to proclaim God’s good news to the world. The good news that justice will rain down and mercy will be ever known.  The scene has changed.

The time is near. As we have heard in the past weeks and here on this fourth Sunday of Advent, all of creation is preparing. May we continue to do the same. 

A Blessing Called Sanctuary

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
entirely—
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.

Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold, *
and you are welcome
and more than welcome
here.

—Jan Richardson 
from Circle of Grace

What is left? Prayer…

So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.
Mary Oliver

On this quite night we come to the most important moments of our Advent journey. We feel the time for slumber with all projects complete and hearts and homes prepared. We were asked to be on alert and to get ready. We have watched for the signs and completed the tasks

But all the preparation leads us to this moment. For like midwives we must stand near, ready for the ultimate job. In/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/751/11099331/files/2014/12/img_1937.jpg prayerful presence as this young baby is born we are here at highest alert – to assist if needed. This is why we have been waiting. This is the moment, all of our preparation leads to ‘now’.

May we stay calm – to draw our breath as it swims inward and exhale as it flows outward; the rhythm of birth and the practice of prayer.

 

The Visit

He Qi

He Qi

Was it a normal day? How would she ever remember? One minute she was sweeping the floor or brushing her hair and the next… Angels arrive. Maybe there was bright light, maybe her ears rang with music – certainly she felt her ground shift.

The angel knew her name and shared God’s greeting. She was blessed and God’s beloved. What did this mean? She was confused and could not understand why the angel stood before her. In turn she was comforted and told not to be afraid (something angels often need to do).

Mary was awakened in the middle of the day, when sleep was not a part of the schedule. Before her stood an angel, an archangel, proclaiming news too remarkable to fathom. Her eyes were open, yet what she saw and heard must have felt like a dream.

This ‘announcing’ visit filled her with a brilliant awareness. As quick as she was visited by this angel, she was once again, alone. She could only comprehend this news with the strength and courage one gets from acting on faith. She did not know the story’s end but was willing to be this important part of its beginning.

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner

These “visits” are filled with the mystery of God’s movement. There is little logic, for we, like Mary, are asked to use our intuition – to step forward in faith.

To dream of angels

Each year our church calendar offers differing perspectives of our faith story during the Lenten season. Feast days – major or minor – stay in place (their dates are set) as the 40 days of Lent and Easter move along with the spring equinox.20120325-015257.jpg

Throughout our Lenten observance we are in preparation for the tense and traumatic days when Jesus, the provider of hope and wholeness, was abused and killed. These days and this part of our story are important but none-the-less horrific. Yet as we round the corner to Holy Week, we hear readings that tell of angels and dreams.

Within this week, one Sunday to the next, we are invited to another time. A time when the news of Jesus’ arrival was only offered to those entrusted to care for him as a baby and nurture him in his growing years. Like bookends – the week begins with Joseph’s feast day and concludes with the celebration of Mary’s hearing of her role in bringing the Good News into our world.

Both were visited by angels. Joseph was awakened in a dream to the importance of his life and commitment to Mary and Jesus. Mary was awakened in the middle of the day, when sleep was not a part of the schedule. Before her stood an angel, an archangel, to proclaim news too remarkable to comprehend. Her eyes were open, yet what greeted her must have felt like a dream.

These “visits” are filled with the mystery of God’s movement among us. There is little logic, for we just like Mary and Joseph, are asked to use our intuition – to step forward in faith. At once we are faced with all the wonder of new life even in the midst of apparent death.

Both of these visitations filled their beholders with brilliant awareness. Joseph was left with a resolve to care for his beloved and be present to his son as mentor and role model. Mary was left knowing that she had accepted an invitation she could only experience with the strength and courage that comes through faith.

Neither knew the story’s end and maybe this is the point. Lest we sit too comfortably in the midst of these next few weeks – may we remember that the story is alive. God continues to move among us and we are best to be prepared – for angels continue to appear, in the most unlikely places.

reflections on this Christmas Eve

What an unlikely place to be on the eve of bearing God’s child!

As if they had not already gone through enough. I wonder what it was like for Joseph and Mary to prepare for this moment. It seems that trying to make any plans was futile. Mary and Joseph began with certain images of what their life would be like. After all they were raised in a close community–they were trained in the tradition of their ancestors–their life would be a mirror of their parents and grandparents. Of course we know the story. Nothing about the life that Mary and Joseph  shared would be like their close relatives.

Nestled in the midst of a town named in the prophets, they would constantly be challenged to comprehend where they belonged. Visited by angels and encouraged by dreams this family would begin with little security and carry with them a different understanding of belonging.

Belonging to a greater community and charged to raise the child who would grow to lead a new “Way”. These parents would always have to step back in the quiet and trust.

What an unlikely place to be on the eve of bearing God’s child! In a stable, far from home – alert and aware. Isn’t it true – in the most uncomfortable moment we can find the greatest strength?! When all of the familiar is torn away, the night sky is brighter and strangers become friends.

The story is told that a child was born tonight. Vulnerable and yet determined – determined to sit in the center of this fragile earth and make it home.

Come Lord Jesus, our guest to be…

(Pre)Occupied

Few have been this preoccupied with tents

since you recklessly pitched one among us.

I would have chosen something more stable,

not quite so porous and vulnerable,

safe, secure, readily significant,

and missed the whisper of evening breezes,

the restless susurration of canvas,

and that one appearing in the shadows,

light flinting off flesh in a fading sun,

fireflies dancing in the night,

rousing my longing

to step into your own

luminous darkness.

The Rev. Jay Johnson – Peculiar Faith