kindom musings

Thoughts and musings from a pastor in the peace tradition. Perspectives come from a progressive, justice-minded, feminist position. Responses are welcome.

Location: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States

I am a Church of the Brethren pastor in my thirties. While I love what I do, I started out with plans to be a veterinarian. God has a great sense of humor, and I wound up in ministry instead. However, my sojourn into veterinary science did make me a vegetarian with a love of animals. (We have two cats and a dog at home -- only a small petting zoo!) My husband is also ordained, and we have a son (LB) and a daughter (KB). My husband keeps me up to date on baseball trivia, and my children keep me giggling. All in all, it makes for a well-rounded life. I was born in Pennsylvania, moved several times for school and work, and have recently returned to my home state. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I'm an INFP.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Longest Night

This has been a really long day, full of both incredible joys and incredible pain. Somehow it seems fitting that today is the longest night. As we get closer to Christmas, it seems especially important to remember thsoe for whom the holidays hold grief and sadness. Jesus came into the world, mostly unnoticed and in the midst of real dangers. His birth, at least in Matthew's version, is accompanied by death and destruction. Weeping and mourning soon joined the shouts of jubilation.

But this night is also a reminder that daylight is coming. If we make it through the night, we will begin to explore more light. The days will grow longer, and with it, hope will be restored. What seemed impossible will begin to give way to new life and rebirth. In the meantime, we light candles as individual and corporate acts of defiance against the darkness.


Last Sunday was the third Sunday of Advent, a Sunday in which we lit the pink Advent candle, often called the Mary Candle. This Sunday, the Magnificat is a primary text. As I work on Sunday's sermon, I am again reminded of the varied and often hidden roles of biblical women. So often Mary is relegated to the pure vessel for God's own Son, and her voice is not always heard. However, the Magnificat speaks with tones that display both strength and faith. Mary is a brave woman, not a mousy servant but one who is willing to take on the riskiness of being an outcast in her community.

Though biblical accounts don't give a lot of information about her or much insight into her character throughout Jesus' adult life, her name and presence are also not completely absent. Though she may not fully understand Jesus' mission, she remains his mother, and in his very human nature, he holds a piece of her heart. How could a loving mother not coo to him as a baby, try to protect him as a child, cry out for him when she sees him in pain, or go him in times of both mourning and resurrection?

Nearly four years ago, I gave birth to my son. At the time, I said I had never felt so close to God as creator. Remebering that time, as well as my later pregnancy and birth experience with my daughter, I think it is true that mothers know something about incarnation that men, sensitive though they may be, can never quite grasp. It is in our being, in the potentiality of life that ebbs and flows each month, in the choices we make and the relationships we keep. Even in the most patriarchal societies, women usually have the strongest early influence on children. It is here, through nursing or feeding -- or the lack thereof -- that questions of safety and attachment are either answered or raised. It is here where love is first felt or first denied. Through pregnancy and through birth, life is put on the line in order to bring new life into the world. How much more so that was and is in places where pre-natal care is neither available nor utilized. For Mary to say yes to the angel was to risk her very life. It is not the act of a passive woman -- or teenager, most likely -- but the bold act of faith that would later be repeated on a grand scale by her son.

I found this liturgy in a lectionary and arts book. Although I rarely focus on Jesus' blood (especially at Advent and Christmas), birth does not come without blood. New life is messy, whether it comes in the form of a baby or in spiritual renewal. Why wouldn't Mary claim her connection with boldness, and in the process give shape to our own corporeal connection to Christ?

All the way to Elizabeth and in the months afterward, she wove him, pondering, “This is my body, my blood!”

Beneath the watching eyes of donky, ox, and sheep she rocked him, crooning, “This is my body, my blood!”

In the moonless desert flight and the Egypt-days of his growing, she nourished him, singing, “This is my body, my blood!”

Under the blood-smeared cross she rocked his mangled bones, remembering him, moaning, “This is my body, my blood!”

When darkness, stones, and tomb bloomed to Easter morning, she ran to him, shouting, “This is my body, my blood!”

And no one thought to tell her: “Woman, it is not fitting for you to say those words. You don’t resemble him.”
--Irene Zimmerman

Women who have given birth in comfortable (relatively speaking) hospital beds, in homes, in fields, know well the very real meaning of body and blood. They know the song of Mary, not as a weak woman but as one who was strong enough to give birth to the Christ child, to nurture and instruct him, to watch him up close and from afar, to dream about the changes he would bring, and to weep as she felt her heart be crushed as she watched soldiers crush her son. This woman is the soul of all women who dare to love and hope, who pour themselves into the life of a child and who continually bear dreams for a better world.

Blessings to all women who are or have been pregnant, either in the flesh or preparing to give birth to dreams and visions. And blessings to partners who lend their support and understanding.