Unexpected and unlikely

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Fiddling with what I sometimes call “the Google machine,” (I heard Rachel Maddow say that about 5 years ago and have used it ever since) I was looking for references to Our Lady of Guadalupe that might expand the focus beyond what we typically find. With thoughts of Pope Francis and his cry to bring the joy of the Gospel to all, to go out from the Church, mla-virgen-de-guadalupe-estampada-en-la-tilma-de-juan-diegoy fingers flew. Knowing that the “Google machine” works this way, I was not surprised to find a post written by my friend Eric Stoltz in 2010; it was for his parish website. (Eric is a deacon at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Beverly HIlls.) What I came across was his website post for today’s feast from 2010, when he wrote:

The third gift of Tepeyac deals with issues of authority. In the story, the bishop is the obstacle and the conquered peasant carries the world-changing message. This is why, in my world, when her oppressed children cry out—whether janitors massing at City Hall, or farm workers protesting along a dusty road in California’s Central Valley, or gay and lesbian Catholics marching down Santa Monica Boulevard; anawim [those who are despised by society but loved by God] of every stripe—they always carry an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We know she walks with us. Impoverished, immigrant, indigenous or “intrinsically disordered,” we remember her words of assurance to Juan Diego: ¿No soy tu madre? “Am I not your mother?”

God persistently reaches out to us, often in the the most unlikely places and faces. Today it is the appearance of La Guadalupana, but that is simply one variation. How can we recognize God? How can we hear and believe the invitation? How do we understand authority?

Juan+Diego+-+Jose+de+IbarraThis all makes me think that perhaps it is not the institution that needs to be toppled, but rather our own expectations, and the expectations of said institution. Today we are given yet another reminder that when that happens, change comes with it.

Over and over we are given examples of God’s love, mercy, invitation, embrace, assurance, and hope. This is God’s authority! God seeks our response and God’s expectation is that we will do the same for others. That is our authority!

Today, may we walk with the images of God, breaking in unexpectedly and in unlikely people and places. Today, may we remember that our expectation and God’s expectation may be very different things.

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Yes or No? Yes and No!

Dormition Abbey, Jerusalem, November 2004. Taken by me.

I was not going to post today but as I prayed earlier and as I got ready for work, the need to write about the Feast of the Assumption and/or yesterday’s Gospel about Jesus and the Canannite woman was persistent. It was even more pressing after finding these three thought provoking posts, one from Ginny Kubitz Moyer, one from Philomena Ewing (ok two from Phil, see this one also,) and one from Claire Bangasser.

Which brings me to a question I would simply like to pose for today… Yes or No? As usual, I go for the both/and approach and come up with Yes and No!

The Canaanite woman will not take no for an answer. She went to Jesus in good faith for healing for her daughter and was not going to go away quietly. Once again we meet a woman, not even a Jew, persistently going to Jesus for help. He is even pretty clear that she is not who he came to save!

She says – no, you must help me. Even the dogs get scraps!

Today we have another Marian feast to ponder, the Dormition of the Theotokos or what we Catholics call the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary has not said no – in fact, she has said “yes.” It is Mary’s yes that changed the world!

What is it for you  in life – the Yes or the No?

We must exercise both? How does this work in your life? I hope you comment here; I’d love to know what you think.

Mary the Mother of God

January 1 is the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. If you read these pages you know I have been very Mary-ish of late. Of late? I am *always* very Mary-ish. Once I had a Protestant boyfriend who wanted me to join his church and my constant reply would be “No Mary? No Fran.”

It’s not idolatry, but I can see how some might see it that way.

Today I read a heart-stoppingly great post by Eileen at Episcopalifem in which she shared some thoughts about Mary. One of the things that comes up is the image of Mary that we are given, which is so disturbingly saccharine and one-dimensional.

In any case, I have written/spoken about Mary twice recently – here and here, if you wish to have a look. Both times I address some of this perceived weakness, if that is the right word. It is easy to get caught up in that and give up on Mary, but Mary is the one who spoke to me when I was returning to Church and I stick with her.

I mean let’s face it – God could have gone down a lot of roads to find ways to enflesh the spirit. Even going the traditional pregnant woman route – he could have chosen a woman from a higher class… but no. God, being God – used the unlikely and goes with a very young woman who comes from Galilee. That is a theological statement- anything that comes from Galilee and not Jerusalem is “lesser than.” This was no mistake.

So he calls upon this young girl, one from the margins and that is how God is made human. When people question my love of Mary and my Roman Catholic faith I want to point them here and say – “Are you kidding me? This is so outrageous! Extreme and unlikely and how could I not be completely in love with all of this?”

Which brings us back to our feast day on New Year’s Day… This feast, once again celebrating Mary the Mother of God, the Theotokos – the God bearer. All the sweet little images can come and go; this is a woman of some serious substance and the way that God is made manifest in human form, through her. Wow. 

It is completely radical and subversive in so many ways! All hidden in plain sight – amid the little lady dressed in blue devotional materials. No offense to those by the way- I had to enter in through that door. I bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker.  However, like any meaningful, intimate relationship some level of maturation is required. You can’t stay where you were when you met if you expect to be in relationship in an authentic way – right?

So I think of Mary as many things – sweet, subservient and meek is not among them. As for the virginal – I will quote myself here, referring to one of the links from above:

We are all called to give birth to the Christ in some way, from our own virgin territory. Oh – that. It doesn’t matter, we all have virgin territory, those places in our souls, however seemingly tiny and shrouded, where we have the tender untouched, flesh given to us by God.

If I distill this down it is that we all must find our inner virgin. The very word is so loaded in our culture – enough for a whole other post sometime. Face it – we disdain virgins in our culture, we do. And by doing so, we disdain a very essential part of our own inner being.

Our virginity – and I am speaking very broadly here – is not something to quickly rid ourselves of and be done with, like an old and slightly embarrassing piece of clothing.  Think about this and reflect on what this might mean.

In any case, if we get lost in the little lady, the virginal as expressed through the context of patriarchy and oppression- well then we might lose the thread of Mary. And if we do, we lose something essential. She is the golden thread that really pulls the true Golden Thread into the weaving.

Before I go, I must point you to another post that is must-read material. Michael Iafrate is an amazing young Catholic writer who blogs at Vox Nova (a blog I often have trouble reading) and at his own place, catholicanarchy.org. I highly, highly recommend reading his work.

In any case, he did an end of year post that pointed me back to something he wrote in September, about the Rosary. You can find that here. It is a rich piece of writing and he shares this post from Brother Vito, a Capuchin, who suggests the Subversive Mysteries for the Rosary. Oh my – go read this, it is amazing!

Well I have gone on far too long – no wonder someone I know calls me “Ramblin’ Rose.”  Anyway, it is the Feast of Mary the Mother of God and I am delighted to begin this year celebrating her.

Happy New Year to all.

Sweet, Lovely, Docile, Passive. As if. Some Thoughts on Mary.

I quite purposefully use this image of Mary from Medjugorje. Some of you know that as unlikely as it seems, I went there.

Little lady dressed in blue. That is an image of Mary that attracted me as a young girl and who seemingly called out to me as a 30 year old woman who needed faith. Mary – sweet, lovely, docile, passive.

As if.

Recently I offered a reflection at Evening Prayer where I scoffed at this notion of the little lady dressed in blue and I return to that topic today.  It is an image that can invite us, but it might not be the best image to keep with us through all time. I do not say this in disrespect… I say in the face of how we might mature as Christians, especially for Christian women. Sweet, lovely, docile, passive women.

As if.

James Martin, SJ offers us some provocative thoughts about Mary in his piece, “Hail Mary, You have more in common with the mother of Jesus than you think,” published at Slate on Christmas Eve.

Martin reminds us that, “Even if you doubt that the narrative is told accurately, you have to admit that buried within this supposedly pious and saccharine Bible tale is the vivid image of a strong, resilient, and self-possessed woman.”  Did someone say sweet, lovely docile and passive?

As if.

Strong. Resilient. Self-possessed. Now we’re talking, that is the Mary that I have come to know and love. I think she had to be the little lady dressed in blue for me to approach her, but like any relationship, we have plumbed new depths and revealed ourselves to one another.  Oh, how I love idol smashing! She is not just some sweet, lovely, docile, passive woman. Nor am I.

As if.

First of all, thank God that Martin remembers that Mary did not just sweetly assent to being the Mother of God, but she did ask a question first… “How can this be?”  I mean really – how could it be? And yet it was.

Mary asks – and then moves on, saying yes, a yes that changes everything. This is not the work of someone who is only sweet, lovely, docile and passive, thanks be to God.

As if.

No this Mary seems to have “active and conscious participation” in what is happening. How could it be otherwise?  Mary is not some empty vessel, but a participant in redemption – as we all should be, if we are the followers of Christ that we claim to be.

Full, active and conscious participation is demanding; it is not the work of the docile or of the dilettante.  Mary was neither.  Mary was obedient however. Sadly, our contemporary use of language has demeaned obedient to mean, well – docile.

As if.

The etymology of obedience points us towards an attitude of listening and listening should lead us to action of some sort. Mary’s action of listening leads her to her outrageous complicity in the redemption of the world! One must have quiet, one must listen, one must question if one is to have faith and to bring light to the world. Or like Mary, to bring Light to the world. Sweet, lovely, docile and passive does not change the world.

As if.

The Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God is approaching quickly; it is an important part of the Octave of Christmas. I hope that you might read the essay by Fr. Martin and remember just who Mary was – and is, in the world.

We are all called to give birth to the Christ in some way, from our own virgin territory. Oh – that. It doesn’t matter, we all have virgin territory, those places in our souls, however seemingly tiny and shrouded, where we have the tender untouched, flesh given to us by God.

It is at that place that we bring forth the child, following Mary’s example of obedience that is not necessary the obedience of the sweet, lovely, docile and passive.

As if.

Why must we always diminuate the extraordinary? Mary deserves our refocused attention and possibly some adjustments in perception.

Refashion your view of Mary if you can. She is not as one dimensional as you might think. Consider Mary – she’s not just some little lady dressed in blue, sweet, lovely, docile and passive.

As if.

Thanks be to God.

She is the Mother of God, she is the Mother of us all.

I love this image of Mary. I get to see it every day as it hangs by the door where I work. Such fecund, rich, fertility – growth, life, abundance!

Nativity of Mary, The Mother of God

I wasn’t going to post anything, but it is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Mother of God. I found this video and realized that I have been to this church. My nephew lived in this town in Bavaria and I visited Amberg twice.

This church is high on a hill over Amberg, a lovely walled 15th century town. In addition to the baroque church (so not my thing, but whatever) the hilltop sports a very nice biergarten!

Anyway, enjoy the music and for those who share this love of Mary, know that this is a special day.