church, Seminary, writing

Pussyhats and rabbit poses

Originally written as a Lenten devotional for San Francisco Theological Seminary, a reflection on Ephesians 3:14-21:

Right away I cringe at this text. “I bow my knees before the Father,” the writer says, and my third-wave feminist mind conjures images of submission, passivity, and docility. This is not the posture of a woman who makes sure she always has a seat at the conference table during meetings, who changes the lyrics of hymns to call God “mother,” who crochets pussyhats for the Women’s March on Washington. My image of serving Christ is usually more like standing up and shouting before “She-Who-Is.” This is an image I’ve worked hard to integrate into my being, working against societal norms of polite silence for women.

At a yoga class during this Lent, I tried a pose that was new to me. The teacher called it “rabbit” pose or sasakasana. I was on my knees, with my head to the floor, and my hands reaching behind me to grab my heels. This passage from Ephesians flashed through my mind, and it occurred to me that there is no more possible bowing my body could do. I was completely doubled over. The instructor encouraged us to breathe in and out, and as we breathed, to deepen our bends, and to feel the grounding of our bodies. “Thank your body for getting out of your own way,” she said.

I’m not so sure my chubby body was really doing such a good job of getting out of my way as I lay there with my knees pressing my bosom and my sweaty face stuck to my yoga mat. Nevertheless, I thanked my body, my imperfect female body, for bowing its knees, for taking in breath, for helping me to be me.

I thought of all the other kinds of bowing I have done during this Lent: kneeling on the floor to play with a coworker’s 5-year-old son, bending to whisper prayers for a hospice patient who is journeying towards death, kneeling beside the bereaved during a funeral rosary. This rabbit pose and numerous others during my yoga class.

All of this bowing, letting my body get out of my own way, helped me realize that in Christ, and in my bowing, I can also be “rooted and grounded in love.”

 

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CPE, liturgy, Seminary

For Lent, both a via negativa and a via positiva

The priest who says Mass at the hospital where I work, on Our Lady of Lourdes day, preached on the humanity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is a venerated woman, a saint with iterations in many cultures. She approaches divinity in the minds and hearts of many faithful Christians. However, the priest said, we must beware of prioritizing her divinity such that we forget she is a woman, a human creature, whom we can relate to.

The next week, the priest said Mass on Ash Wednesday, which is the day after Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday is a day when Christians often give up things they have binged on during Mardi Gras. We give up pleasures and indulgences in order to remind ourselves to be penitent and mindful during the 40 days and nights Jesus spent wandering in the desert, enduring temptations, at the start of his ministry. This 40 day period culminates in Holy Week, when the Last Supper, trial, Crucifixion, death and Easter Resurrection occur. Then we feast again.

Many people give up alcohol, or meat, or chocolate during the time of Lent. But Father Bob, the priest at the hospital, suggested instead of giving something up, we add to the goodness of the world. Instead of giving something up, increasing the dreariness, suffering, and drudgery of the world, why not make the world better? What good can you do for other people; what good habit can you cultivate that will make you more whole? Instead of the “via negativa” or negative way, can we practice the “via positiva”?

I saw recently a play, Testament, by Irish playwright Colm Tóibín, in which Mary is portrayed as a very human mother of a just-Crucified Jesus. She is being guarded and interviewed and watched by Jesus’ disciples in Ephesus, where according to legend, Mary lived out her life after Jesus’ death. She describes the wedding at Cana, considered the site of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine, in very human terms. She interacts with her son at this family wedding and realizes that he is becoming more distant and larger-than-life, that the folks at the wedding are attributing to him a miracle, when she knows him as her son, a rabble-rousing delinquent who was always bringing his gang of friends to the house.

The Mary of Testament is incensed that her interviewers think that Jesus’ father is God. Jesus had a father, Mary said, and Mary misses him dearly. (The play doesn’t explain what exactly happened to the father.) Mary understands Jesus to be nothing more or less than her son. The aspirations of being God’s Son are ridiculous to her.

Did this mother give up anything to bring her son into the world? Maybe. Many human mothers make sacrifices. But I know very few mothers who would give up more if their child were more special, or more powerful, or more divine.

My feminist sensibilities don’t sit well with the idea that a Godly love can be evident in self-emptying or pouring out. God’s love is filling and life-giving. Turning water to wine, the fullness of pleasure in giving a feast to your children, taking joy in their goodness and happiness, knowing that their goodness and happiness does not take away from your own, but adds to it, indeed is your reason for being.

But there is always a via negativa. There is always a path to holiness that involves sacrifice. Does a mother feeding her children with her own food, and not from a bounty, diminish the holiness of her gift? Does a child’s prison sentence diminish the holiness of the mother’s tears, or her willingness to sacrifice for her child’s comfort and well-being?

These two ways, the positive and negative ways, of devotion, of love, they are not mutually exclusive. They are always in all of us. We are created to hold both, in the image of God.

The Mary of Testament has a very human, and very powerful, motherly love of her son that is made no more or less powerful by the idea that Jesus might be divine. The love of this mother knows nothing of achievement or divinity or titles or worth.

It is a perfectly human love.

Mother Mary's perfectly human love.
Mother Mary’s perfectly human love.
Seminary, writing

Relieved hostess

Renting my body
Shall I be joyfully debilitated?
I am the house, not the guest
The faith is in joy

Shall I be joyfully debilitated?
Each has been sent as a guide from beyond
The faith is in joy
Turning away my depression

Each has been sent as a guide from beyond
I am the house, not the guest
Turning away my depression
Renting my body

Written at a Companions on the Inner Way retreat, this is a response to Rumi’s “The Guest House” using French pantoum technique from “The Artist’s Rule” by Christine Valters Paintner.

Seminary

Embodiment for Lent: Isaiah speaks today

Filling up the place with some more embodiment: My assignment for the seminary’s Lent devotional series was Isaiah 58:3-9. My Old Testament professor made my heart go pitter-patter when she said she liked what I did. I shall recreate it here:

“Why do we give up chocolate, but you do not see?
Why do we Occupy, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest when you fast,
and loudly shout that you are the 99 percent.
I know you do it just to pick fights and make noise
and to let out some aggression.
This kind of self-righteousness
is lost in the din of the world.
Do I ask for indignation and self-pity?
Do I ask for blog posts and Tweets?
Is this really honoring me: Facebook memes?
Driving a hybrid? Shopping at Whole Foods?
Tagboard signs? Election bumper stickers?
Does God enjoy these outward symbols?

Doesn’t God seek this in our hearts:
to seek the just treatment of those enslaved by poverty, incarceration,
homophobia, xenophobia, violence, addiction, sexism, and hunger?
And not only that, but to end these scourges?
Isn’t this the right way, to give your best organic seven-grain loaf to the hungry,
and to bring the homeless poor into your home so they may sleep on your 1,200
thread-count sheets;
to give your REI-bought Marmot rainjacket to the cold, instead of crossing the
street when you meet a homeless brother or sister?
Only then will you truly see God
and be healed in your soul.
Your fears shall leave you, and you shall walk confidently in God’s presence.
You shall call, and God will answer in the voice of the poor;
you shall seek, and God will say, “Here I am.”