Liturgical Living

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Ascended, But Not Far Away

Well, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus is coming up, folks. Observance start tomorrow and in some places happens all day on Sunday.

It’s got me thinking.

To be completely honest, Jesus’ Ascension has always stirred up feelings of abandonment in me. Why did he have to go? What did it feel like to stand there on that mountain and watch your friend and savior disappear before your eyes, especially after the ultimate miracle of his resurrection? And why did he have to go so far away, all the way up to the “the right hand of God?”

The whole thing reminds me of that moment right after the goodbye while your love’s car rounds the corner out of sight.

And it doesn’t feel good. There’s an ache to it. It’s fine in the long run, really. Life goes on and there is work to be done. But, still. It hurts me to think of it--maybe especially because the separation my spouse and I had to endure so that I could finish seminary is still very fresh in my body.

I am bringing this to Christ’s Ascension; it’s all tied up.

The scripture today (find the whole list of daily lectionary readings here), however, upsets my despair. It disturbs this notion of an abandoning, far-away Jesus.

Ordinary Mary

Ordinary Mary

The very first sermon I ever preached was called “Ordinary Mary.” It explored the Annunciation of Mary, when God asked an ordinary girl to play an extraordinary part in healing the world (Luke 1:26-56). As a fourteen-year-old young woman, I was fascinated with this God who would invite people like me into such plans.

It was and is still important to me today to emphasize the human-ness of Mary, her ordinariness. Her story bears much hope and power, but only if she is not immaculately conceived, “born [especially] pure,” or whatever else nonsense folks have put on her over the centuries of church argument.

Put plainly, they have been trying to figure out what to do with a woman so intimately involved in the redemption of the world.

Mary being a woman is not enough for some theologies. Their deficient doctrines of original sin gets in the way; Mary has to be immaculately conceived in order to be holy enough to get pregnant with God. But not only does this not have to be true, it misses the point of the incarnation. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The scripture does not say God became “perfected flesh” or “oddly pure” flesh. The Word became flesh, period, of a woman who just so happened to get one every month.

Mary’s story bears its intriguing and liberating lesson if Mary is just Mary—a human female chosen to be the mother of God, chosen to birth Jesus into the world.

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

For loose holds and the last day of class - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 49

This week I am grateful…

1

For Christmas trees in Advent.

Embracing the liturgical year is a beautiful thing, but it is also a conflicting thing. The Year has cost me some expectations and traditions I grew up enjoying because the Year invites me to dwell deeply within the dynamic story of God’s love for the whole world. This means good news, but it also means I sometimes have to give up the kinda good for the better.

I have come to know that knowing God means holding things loosely because God is always better than I hope, more benevolent than I imagine, and wilder than I can fathom. Trusting God, therefore, is a risk. The symbols and traditions I come to love so much can all of a sudden and drastically not fit the grace I experience, the glimpse of the divine that She gives. Love confounds and breaks the handholds I contrive.

Let them be signs, beloved, reminders and pointers—temporary shelters, not permanent dwellings. Go where I go, hold onto Me. There will be more signs and wonders…

Practically speaking, holding on loosely has looked like an assessment of personal practice and traditions. Aaron and I have been intentionally trying traditions together as a family. It is both fun and frustrating. We have enjoyed listening and learning from the multitude of signs the Body of Christ has recognized over the centuries—form the silly and superstitious, to the sanguine and sacred. But I have also at times gotten stuck in my deliberations with questions like, for instance, when in the WORLD should the Christmas tree go up?

I know some folks put theirs up at the beginning of Advent. Others do a progressive tree dressing: they set up the tree on Advent 1 and add to it every week, with the lights coming on St. Lucy’s feast day and the star on Christmas Eve. Still others save the whole shebang for a solely Christmas Eve tradition, the tree staying up ‘til Epiphany. I have been conflicted about the entire question—I mean, what even IS a Christmas tree anyway?

And then a gift unfolds in the doing. A sign emerges.

My roommates and I put up our tree last Sunday because Holly wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it before we go our separate ways. We gathered. We untangled lights and unwrapped ornaments. We argued tree placement—here or there? This angle or that? And it was perfect.

Meagan pulled out these adorable magi and held them just so, and, just like that, I saw the sign of the Christmas tree for this Year.

I saw pilgrimage and anticipation. I felt the Advent, Christ’s coming, but not yet. I felt my own place on the road, in step with the wise ones from the east on their journey toward a Star they knew meant something wonderful.

The tree became a symbol of Advent. It became a guide for the mystical liminality of this season.

As the magic magi travel up the psychedelic spiral of our colorful Christmas tree, they are leading me onward towards Home.

Thanks be to God for simple signs and wonders.

Lent: How It's Keeping Us this Year

Lent: How It's Keeping Us this Year

Just shy of two weeks ago some dear colleagues and I were sitting at the community lunch table. Between tidbits from class and the day-to-day came, of course, a discussion of Lent. It was, after all, the week before Ash Wednesday: the beginning of many folks’ favorite time of Year.

Lent's popularity crosses all the major Christian traditions. Even evangelicals and capital “P” Protestants are doing it. My family kept Lent when I was a girl—and we were Southern Baptist!

There is something about this season of preparation, this invitation to turn and walk lighter in the shadow of the cross. It moves many of us in a deep way, like the gradual pull of an ocean current or the flirty come-hither dance of a fire’s flame.

Perhaps we know in our bodies—centers of integral discernment our brains oft ignore—that something important will be said and asked of us at Easter. We’ll need to prepare for that. It does a body good to prepare for the holy. I feel that need. All the ions in my body point toward that laden cross and empty grave.

Like the rest of the Year, Lent is something that happens--whether we “do” anything about it or not. Our “doing,” though, can help us become more aware of God’s wooing ways, of God’s invitation to the way of the cross.

Valentine's Resistance

Valentine's Resistance

I heart Valentine’s Day.

I mean, what is there not to dig about a day in which it is socially acceptable to just freakin’ love on everybody? Because that is really what Valentine’s Day is about, even in the secular sense. In kindergarten we swapped hearts with EVERYONE, don’t you remember? There’s a reason for that. Valentine’s Day is for lovers—that is, for people who love, period.

This is especially true for Christians.

Meet brother Valentine, beloveds…