...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Psalms of Advent: Magnificat, Joy, and Loss of Control

    The wonder of a late fall sunrise, Jesuit Retreat Center,
    Wernersville, Pa.
    
    With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.
    He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones  and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever. Luke 1: 46-55
     
    In just the first chapter of Luke, we have the only birth psalm of the third Gospel that is spoken by a woman. Mary, who is "overshadowed" by the Holy Spirit earlier in the chapter becomes the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy of "maidservants" receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts 1. Mary, who waits with apostles for the Holy Spirit, becomes one of Luke's hinges, thematically.  
     
    But when it comes to the words of this psalm, which takes as its title, Mary's soul which in other versions, MAGNIFIES the Lord, like mother, like son. Researchers in faith development once concluded that most enduring faith is the kind a child gets from a mother, even more than as father. It is all about what is actually believe and lived.  
     
    It shouldn't surprise us that Mary had the key role in Jesus' faith. (Luke 2:58) So much that Jesus, again in Luke, will teach Magnificat values in Luke 6, where he says, almost antiphonally:
    Happy are you who are poor,
        because God’s kingdom is yours.
        Happy are you who hunger now,
        because you will be satisfied.
     Happy are you who weep now,
        because you will laugh... 
    But how terrible for you who are rich,
        because you have already received your comfort.
      How terrible for you who have plenty now,
        because you will be hungry.
    How terrible for you who laugh now,
        because you will mourn and weep.

     
    In both places, the poor and hungry are filled, the rich and filled are emptied. The lowly are lifted up, the powerful and comfortable, along with the self-exalted are brought down. The imaginary and false self with all its arrogance and pretense at controlling life, God, and others is "scattered," like the enemies of God in Maccabees.   
     
    This declaration of praise from Mary is her response to God's tender mercy and mother love- a joy that  resounds in the "depths" of who she is. And it is enough to overthrow the tight control we think we have on all the stuff we cannot fix the way we want.

    For a second, I think of anything that neither I nor life can guarantee, and I'm freer to rejoice in the one thing that is real - the One who always remembers mercy.   

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Psalms of Advent: Benedictus, Dawn of God's Tender Mercy

 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
  the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
 to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
  and in the shadow of death,
  to guide us on the path of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

The dawn breaks
The third in Luke's trilogy of birth narrative psalms is Luke 1: 68-79. They're the words of the priest Zechariah, the expectant father of the one who would become John the Baptizer.
 
They are the first words spoken by Zechariah after Gabriel rendered him unable to speak. Zechariah did not initially believe the angel's words about his aged wife Elizabeth bearing a son, one who would have an amazing mission. 
 
Maybe the heavenly messenger realized too late that Elizabeth was the better first option. Was the concern that Zechariah would say or do something that might endanger the mother or the soon to arrive son?
 
But Zechariah teaches us something when it comes to men and compassion. The late great Congresswoman from Texas, *Barbara Jordon, once spoke of men not really getting compassion because men are not physically set up for it.
 
She was taking about a mother's love for her children. The Hebrew Bible uses compassion in different ways, the most common is the kind of mercy a king grants a subject. But the second most prevalent meaning is the kind of mercy a mother has for a child. This mercy is not in the head or heart, but visceral, the kind that exists in gut, womb, or even bowels.  
 
God's womb-love? The inclusion of "tender mercy"  (NRSV) or in the CEB, "deep compassion" shows that Zechariah and of course Luke, know all about it from the Hebrew Scriptures and even more from the ministry of Jesus. You could make the case that the many faceted and unique Lukan parables (all of Luke 15 comes to mind, for example) cannot be read and understood apart from God's womb mercy. 
 
I love these words of Zechariah because they seem to indicate that I, too, can both learn and receive something amazing in God's tender mercy. It's God's love and compassion that makes my life possible and worthwhile. There is nothing more to be added, there is nothing to be deleted.  
 
* "I believe that women have a capacity for understanding and compassion which a man structurally does not have, does not have it because he cannot have it. He's just incapable of it."

       



 


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Clergy are frequently present for others, but no one can offer what we don't have.. That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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