A Profane Nativity (2nd Advent Sunday)

The nativity story is familiar. So very familiar.  More-so than merely as the result of repeated annual exposure… but at a deeper level, as a tale that somehow seems to have echoes throughout every story ever told.

Archetypes are deeply resonant mental images, shared across a collective human unconscious (or so Jung suggested). The nativity story has these in abundance; the virgin, the innocent babe, the wicked king, supernatural messengers, exotic oracles; a prophesy, a journey, a hero of humble beginnings… take your pick! They feel familiar, universal, and sacred. Perfect for high choral hymns, dramatic orchestral compositions, oil paintings, readings delivered by candlelight with thunder and hush, (and the odd Hollywood rendering). And yet the Christmas story is not myth, not mere archetype.

The risk of familiarity is the ability to let the tale recede into a glossy distance. What happens if we bring it a little closer?

What were Mary’s pregnancy cravings? How did she feel about her stretch marks? What did the stable smell like? Did the straw itch? How badly was Joseph freaking out when he realised the baby was coming RIGHT NOW and it was over to him? Did Mary’s labour groans (grunts? bellows?) disturb the neighbours?  How did they cut the cord? Did Jesus cry with that horrible, soul-tugging newborn shriek?  Did he latch onto the breast right away? Was the water she washed her blood-caked skin with, freezing cold?

How does it feel to bring the story back to it’s real, profane setting? Awkward? Intriguing? Transgressive?

Perhaps this is the miracle….. the archetype writing itself into actual time, place, people… the sacred tearing a hole in the order of the universe and inserting itself, forcefully, passionately (with blood, pain, tears, and a newborn’s cry) into the messy, the dirty, the human.

The sacred and the profane: are we brave enough to let the two meet? What happens if we let the mythic beauty of the Christmas story (of the Christ-mas child himself!) touch our own everyday life… become part of the smell, the touch, the taste of it (… part of the piles of nappies, the tepid cups of tea, the late night blue-glow of our screens)?

If the story becomes part of us, do we also become part of the story?

There is a joy in discovering the echoes of this archetypal tale in the world around us. There is a deeper challenge in allowing it to enter our own lives, to break into the everyday profanity of working, parenting, living. An ongoing, disruptive, transgressive miracle.

Are you ready? Scared? Excited? It all starts with a familiar story…

 

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand

[PUBLISHED FIRST in December 2016 on: https://themarinade2016.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/the-uncomfortable-profanity-of-the-nativity/. Republished with permission.]

Peace and Anger in a Time of Christian Betrayal

I’ve probably been spending too much time on Twitter recently, it’s not the best for mental health. It’s hard to feel peace when you are constantly faced with misogyny and other kinds of prejudice users of the internet feel free to rationalise and verbalise as they troll threads on issues important to minorities. Two things in particular in this week’s news really affected me emotionally: 1. was a heartfelt tweet by American Christian Feminist author Rachel Held-Evans as she discovered yet another Christian male leader refusing to believe young women sharing their stories of harassment in the recent #metoo movement;  and 2. was the news report that the Sydney Anglican diocese spent $1 million of church money in support of the ‘No’ campaign for Marriage Equality in Australia — and only $5000 on investigating a widespread problem of domestic violence (including marriage rape) amongst clergy in that church.

Of course these kinds of news tweets bring out all the people who have something to say that has been said many times before — the Australian thread quickly and predictably turned into a ‘tax the churches’ thread; Rachel Held-Evans faced the usual ‘you lump all evangelicals together’ accusation as she wondered if anything she had been taught as a Christian child was true. I felt angry, and indeed, embarassed to see these Christians more concerned for a particular brand of conservative politics than women’s safety from sexual violence. It is sometimes too shameful to be a Christian in these times, when the so-called leaders in the church consistently and intentionally seem to miss the point, using their positions to hurt and discriminate and justify violence against women ?

Yet trolls were not the only ones present in the conversations that ensued on social media. What also came through was an immense solidarity — by the time I got to Held-Evans’ tweet some 346 people had already replied, and the tweets in solidarity continued to grow as I watched. What struck me in the in these two examples was this: the struggles of women for recognition and belief in circumstances of abuse of power are not separate from the struggles of the LGBTQI community. Why? Because LGBT people in particular are consistently painted as sexually deviant and immoral by these Christian leaders while at the same time the leaders support men in acts of sexual violence and even paedophilia against women and girls. This is what makes me angry, embarassed, sad, and actually — frightened.

I am a big believer in contemplative prayer and meditation. I think taking the time to connect with the Christ-presence dwelling within is essential in maintaining some semblance of peace in the stress of my work and life. Yet in this case, I think peace is not yet where I can go. I think there is also value in sitting with the anger, the embarassment, the sadness, the fear and contemplating those things.

When I sit with these for a while I think of Psalm 62:

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.

Where, of course, in my mind the persons of prominence are women and LGBTQI people struggling to be seen and heard in their pain. The verses that follow can then be read in the light of my anger at this, especially…

Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; God is a refuge for us.

Despite the verses where the author ‘waits on God in silence’, this isn’t a quiet sending of thoughts and prayers. This a heart-wrenching pouring out of anger, fear, sadness, love, respect, desire for change. ‘Trust’ here isn’t a platitude for doing nothing, for waiting and hoping for some older white straight man to change his mind about his years of patriarchal privilege. For me the ‘trust’ here is related to the pouring out and the refuge.

Can I trust in God at all times even as I speak out against Christian betrayal and wrongdoing and misguidedness? Can I trust enough to put myself in the firing line, like Held-Evans and others? Can I take my refuge in God alone, knowing that I will be reviled and trolled and sermonised to by those who think they have the sole truth? Can I then return to a place of stillness and silence to recover, to wait for results, to gather myself for the next incident?

I think the answer is getting closer to “Yes, Lord”. What about you?

Kelly Dombroski is an academic and writer who also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com

God With A Body

Some years ago I discovered some beautiful Christas (female forms on a cross).  Discovering these images was a moving experience for me and one that helped me connect more fully with Jesus as painbearer and as revealing God to me.

 

Christ Jesus,  who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man.

Philippians 2:6-8. New King James Version

To reveal his love for the world,
God became incarnate as fully man
as man.
His body crucified, broken – for them.

A painting of Jesus on the Cross
Jesus Crucified by Van Dyck

I feel my body sagging, fattening.
My body has failed, is limiting and limited
my body is female, it makes me other.
I feel my body as a barrier resulting in separation, disconnection,
my body as a place of disunity.

A bronze sculputre of a bare-breasted female form on the cross
Christa by Edwina Sandys

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
 did not regard equality with God
 as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
 being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form.

Philippians 2:6-8 NRSV

To reveal his love for women, men, and all he created.
God incarnate as human
as human.
A body crucified broken for and with me.

The Crucified Woman by Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey. On display at Emmanuel College, Toronto. Photo by Jay Bawar

I feel resonance, connection.
I know that my shame has been taken to the cross.
My pain is born by one in human form
the brutal knife of endometriosis – on the cross
the heart wrenching loss of infertility – on the cross.
My body is no longer other.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:27

 

Christina Baird lives in Auckland, NZ and nurtures creative wisdom by providing coaching, professional supervision and by blogging  at bread and pomegranates

Pure WHAT?

Purity seemed, at times, more an absence than anything

~ Purity (noun): The condition or quality of being pure; freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes.~

They wanted me without sin, without fault,

and emptied

They wanted me without thought, without desire,

Without myself;

a chalice, a vault.

… against this I could only revolt

But over time my focus changed: pure WHAT?

  • Pure love (without fear) …. 1 John 4:18
  • Pure courage (without fear) … Deut 6:1
  • Pure faith (power without conceit) … Eph 3:16-17
  • Pure grace (full, complete)… 2 Cor 12:9

~Pure (adjective): not mixed with anything; complete, absolute.~

This kind of purity I will seek and sow, guard and grow,

Forging and filling

this body with purpose and kindness,

this soul with strength and goodness,

with

~purity: the freedom to overflow.~

SCULPTURE: ‘Water of life’ (Christ and the Samaritan Woman). Chester Cathedral. Artist: Stephen Broadbent. Photo source: http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Let it rage

Our society sets out two boxes before us. One is labelled ‘good’ and the other is labelled ‘bad’. We are asked to place each emotion we feel into one or another box, and celebrate or censor it accordingly.

Anger is usually firmly in the ‘bad’ box.  Particularly for women. Particularly for Christians. So here’s my dilemma; I am a Christian woman, and I am angry.

Anger is a difficult thing to hold. At very least, it is uncomfortable. At worst, it is dangerous. Divisive. Corrosive. It explodes into violence, it decays into bitterness. I am wary of this. Yet not being allowed to feel it, hold it, or speak it…. It can still become those things. And the transformative force behind it, is cut off at the root.   

I know that I am not alone in anger. Recently many women have been voicing anger, publicly, on the streets of the world. And everyone has an opinion on it.

But I do wonder if when people police our tone (too angry), criticise our choice of words (too vulgar), debate when and where we have chosen to speak (too public) … it is because they cannot refute what we are actually speaking about? (Too painful? Too inconvenient? Too challenging? Too true?)  

After all, in an unreasonable, unjust world, responding with anger seems, in fact, quite reasonable. Isn’t the quiet acceptance of injustice more symptomatic than the raging against it?

“It’s time for women to stop being politely angry” – Leymah Gbowee, Nobel peace prize winner

I agree with Leymah; I don’t have energy to waste worrying about how to be more politely angry. But I do believe that we shouldn’t abandon the fruits of the spirit, even in our anger. So what does it mean to be lovingly angry? Joyfully angry? Gently angry? I am living in this question. I am asking God to show me what anger might look like for followers of a man who took up a whip in the temple… but also laid down his life quietly on a hill. A God who, scripture shows us, is angered by injustice, exploitation, and the mistreatment of the vulnerable. A picture emerges, of something amazing called ‘righteous anger’… and it clearly goes in the ‘good’ box.

But sometimes it is so hard to tell when anger is ‘right’. To keep it holy.

“Be angry; and yet do not sin” – Ephesians 4:26a.

This is the challenge, and I have no trite answers; just big feelings, and a prayer for myself and others:

May our anger be seen and heard. May it be holy and tempered.

May it drive us back again, and again, and ever again to the feet of our Lord; with frustrations and petitions, and to lay our selves down in service of the good fight.

May our anger spill from love, and be drenched in grace; may it rage, and hold, and heal, and transform, and may God call it good.

  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.