Posted in musings

on Mary

“And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
‘And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
‘For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.
‘For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.'”
– Luke 1:46-48

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother,
‘…a sword will pierce through your own soul also…'”
– Luke 2:34-35

It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the first passage, Mary has just arrived at her cousin Elizabeth’s house, and Elizabeth has just proclaimed upon seeing her (and upon feeling the unborn John leap for joy) that Mary is blessed among women. In response, Mary enters into what is known as the Magnificat, praising God for His work in her life and in the world through the coming Messiah. She has been chosen for an incredible and unique role in God’s plan of redemption, and is realizing how blessed she is.

In the second, Mary and Joseph have taken Jesus to the temple for his ritual purification/dedication, and Simeon in the Spirit greets them with rejoicing and prophesying. And in the midst of his praise for the Messiah who is finally come, in the midst of his joy, he comments to Mary that her position as Jesus’s mother will bring her great pain and sorrow.

The two – the blessing and the sorrow – are far from mutually exclusive. They are intertwined, twin fruits of one tree. In entering into God’s redemptive plan, in taking up the role He has offered her, Mary receives both the blessings and the sorrows that come with it. She is given power, responsibility, purpose and calling, and the joy of knowing God so deeply and intimately as Jesus’s mother; she has to endure the scorn of those who think she has become pregnant illegitimately, and the greater pain of watching her people reject their Messiah and murder her son. Because the world is broken, because we are scarred and stained by sin, even the highest calling and the most blessed person will experience pain and suffering; because God is entering into that brokenness to redeem and renew all things, even the deepest pain and the greatest sorrow can be woven into the beauty and joy of His plan.

Posted in family life, musings

God the Rescuer (and learning from my three-year-old)

O Leader of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!

We’ve been using the Advent season to read through the stories of the Old Testament, using the Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for our Advent candle devotion time as well as the Jesus Storybook Bible for our bedtime reading. One of the themes Rondel’s picked up on and really loves is that of God rescuing His people – I’ll ask him which story he wants to read (because we’ve already read through them all in order) and he’ll literally say, “The one where God rescues His people!”

So we read the stories where God parts the Red Sea, David trusts God and kills Goliath, where Esther speaks up to the king on behalf of God’s people, where God rescues Daniel from the lions and Jonah from drowning, and, interestingly to me because it’s more abstract, where God promises to send the Rescuer after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. He hangs on every word.

It’s not a theme that has often caught my attention in the past. I’ve never needed rescuing in any significant way, after all, and other themes in the Bible have seemed more relevant or more attractive. (For example, I would say yesterday’s antiphon, with its emphasis on wisdom and knowledge, is one of my favorites, and represents a characteristic of God and of the Church that means a lot to me). So I’m appreciative of Rondel’s attention to it, because it is opening my eyes to the way God works with power on behalf of both nations and individuals.

And in a world filled with refugees, with the poor, with the unjustly imprisoned, I want my son to know that God is a Rescuer, and that he can labor in that work with God.

Posted in family life, musings

brotherly harmony

I’ve had a lot of ideas for blog posts – and inspiration always seems to strike when there’s no chance to write, and then disappear when I actually sit down with a free moment!

Lately I’ve been thinking about Psalm 133, in the context of the affection between my own two boys.

How good and how pleasant it is,

When brothers dwell together as one!

Like fine oil on the head,

Running down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron,

Upon the collar of his robe.

Like the dew of Hermon coming down

Upon the mountains of Zion.

There the Lord has decreed a blessing,

Life for evermore!

The analogies amaze me, as I come to understand them more deeply (oil running down someone’s beard was admittedly a strange image before I learned more about it!). The harmony and unity of brothers (whether actual brothers or spiritual brothers) is compared to the oil of consecration used to sanctify and set apart the high priest, and to water in the desert. In other words, it isn’t a trivial or an inconsequential thing, but rather one of the sources of life and flourishing.

Earlier this evening I told Rondel that I was going to wash up the dishes before bed, and that he and Limerick could either play alone or play together while I did that. Instantly, he replied, “Play together!” and to make sure he realized I wasn’t going to be playing also I queried, “You want to play with Limerick?” Again instantly, he answered, “You do!” (meaning “I do!”). And off he went to find Limerick and play with him.

While the boys have the inevitable quarrels that any two people have, when different goals and ideas collide, they play together remarkably well (especially considering all the sibling horror stories I’ve read about). They would almost always rather find a way to work out their differences and come to a renewed unity than take the easy route of just playing individually, and I love that about them. I love how Rondel, after losing his cool with Limerick and yelling at him about something, will feel the tension in the air and seek to heal the relationship by giving Limerick a gentle hug and kiss. I love how Limerick will imitate Rondel’s play even when he doesn’t fully understand it, just so he can be a part of what Rondel is doing.

And my hope is that their growth in unity now, together, will prepare them for the difficulties of community throughout life and for holiness – that it will equip them to be a source of pure water in the dry and thirsty land they’re growing up to inherit, where relationships are utilitarian, selfish, and broken.

Posted in musings

“closed-hand” issues and confusing terms – a quibble with my pastor

In church on Sunday our pastor was distinguishing between what he called “closed-hand” issues (what C.S. Lewis might have termed Mere Christianity, the essential doctrines of the faith) and “open-hand” issues (points that aren’t clearly taught in Scripture and about which Christians are free to disagree, like the details of the end times or evolution). I was nodding along with him, as this is familiar territory for me, expecting him to take it in a truly ecumenical Lewisian fashion, when he suddenly burst out sola scriptura as a core, essential, inarguable tenet of the faith.

Excuse me?

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that he simply meant to say that Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, the primary guide for our faith, because I don’t think any Christian group through the millennia of the Church would disagree. But what he actually said was that Scripture is the sole authority for the faith and for Christian living – and that is not Biblically taught and was not held by the Church for the majority of her existence. Logically, this makes sense. The Bible can interpreted in a million ways, some of them drastically different and leading towards widely varied ends, so as a sole authority it doesn’t seem to be very well-suited for keeping either orthodoxy or orthopraxy intact. There has to be some way to determine which interpretations are valid and which are heretical, and since Jesus is no longer living on earth to deliver those kind of judgments, it would make sense for the authorities within the Church, led by the Holy Spirit, to have that kind of authority.

If the Church isn’t led by the Holy Spirit, than to trust her authority and direction on the interpretation of Scripture would obviously be a dicey matter, no different than turning to any random person on the street and following their opinion. But we do see in the Bible Jesus promising to send the Holy Spirit to remind the apostles of everything He taught; we see the Spirit coming down with power and transforming the apostles and other believers; we see the early church following the decisions of the apostles as to which laws and traditions to live by. Was that just because they didn’t have a written Bible yet? Did all those councils and traditions and oral decisions become unnecessary once the Bible was assembled? Considering the number of heresies and divisions that have arisen in the 16 centuries since then, I don’t think so. We still need a person, or people, led by God, to clear up arguments and prevent error from creeping in to our understanding of the inerrant Word.

So please be more clear, pastor, about your terms and definitions. Please try not to exclude the vast majority of Christians throughout time and space from your tight definition of the “closed-hand” issues one must believe to be truly Christian by narrowing down the broad historically-accepted truth into your Protestant doctrine, which may or may not be true (I’d love to hear your arguments for it!) but which is most definitely not universally believed by even the great Christians of the past.

Posted in musings, quotes

the prayer of daniel

Daniel was one of the righteous men of his generation, the young exiles to Babylon. He kept the law of God, in spirit and in letter, despite the extraordinarily serious threats made upon him because of it. And yet, when he prays for his people, his nation, he makes no distinction between himself and them. He confesses for them, including himself in their number; he begs for God’s mercy, making no mention of his own righteousness or years of faithfulness.

Do we do this when we pray for our country, our churches, our communities? Or do we, in our prayers, distance ourselves from the ones we’re praying for? Do we see ourselves a step above them, separate from their problems and sins? Daniel could easily have done so, and yet he did not. Foreshadowing the intercessory mediation of Christ, he metaphorically took the sins of his nation upon himself and sought mercy at the throne of grace. As members of Christ’s earthly body, faced with the brokenness and sin of our nation, surely we can do no less, in our prayers and in our lives.


 

“O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land.

O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, […] because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. […]

O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from [us]. Hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate.

O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations […]; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies.

O Lord, hear!

O Lord, forgive!

O Lord, listen and act!” (from Daniel 9:4-19)