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.

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

"Peace on Earth Begins at Birth"

“Peace on earth begins at birth.”

I heard this quote somewhere years ago. It is a fairly popular refrain among female activists and birth-givers. I thought it referred to “calm,” “soothing,” or “natural” birth practices, or, I don’t know, trying not to make the baby cry. I thought it was about the baby’s experience.

However, my experience of finishing Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth on Good Friday and then going to services—all during peak ovulation and its brave hope—brought out a different and deeper meaning that extends and encompasses the baby’s experience, the mother’s, and, indeed, the whole human community.

If we truly respected women (or “womben”), life-making, and life-giving, there could be peace on earth. If we truly recognized and honored the sacred nature of the birthing process, the holy passage of it all, how could anyone move to diminish or destroy creation, that which came through such a sacred course? If we understood and honored all of the hope and tears and spiritual labor that went into one child—how could we ever take that person from this world, either with one bullet or hundreds of denied opportunities? How could anyone destroy a mother’s child? Someone who has come though the sacred gates?

For my dog's Good Samaritan - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 54

For my dog's Good Samaritan - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 54

This week I am grateful…

1

For my Dallas-dwelling, dog-loving Good Samaritan.

Last Friday afternoon our Barkley-boy went missing. I had let him out into our fenced backyard to play for a while in the sunshine. Just under an hour went by before I went to let him back into the house…and he was. not. there.

Heart in my throat and absolute shock in my brain, I started calling for him, looking for him, and checking all of his favorite spots. No Barkley, but I did find a side-gate standing wide open. A gate I did not even know we had. The church yardmen had accidently left it open that morning.

In panic and despair I darted down the street—in loungewear and socked-feet!—calling for my buddy. I texted the neighbors I knew. One neighbor I did not know came out of his house willing to help.

And then the phone rang, an unknown number, which I answered promptly not with “Hello” but “Is this about my dog? Are you calling about my dog?”

“Yes, ma’am—I have a Good Samaritan on the line who has found your dog!”

Barkley has an identification chip, thanks to the Humane Society. Our Good Samaritan found Barks in the shopping center across one of the busiest streets in Dallas (makes me queasy just thinking about it). The man had stopped at the pet store there to buy treats for his own dogs when he saw Barkley weaving around cars with his nose toward Boston Market. He quickly made friends with Barks, had his chip read at the vet nearby, and ended up on the phone with me minutes later.

Dave was his name.

Dave said he would drive Barkley right over to my house, so I quickly got dressed (somehow still missing my shoes!) while a neighbor kept vigil in the yard.

When Dave’s truck came to a stop Barkley bounded happily back to me, looking like he had just had the most amazing adventure ever. Our Good Samaritan gave Barkley a treat, told me I had a very special dog, and said he could tell Barkley was very well loved.

I hugged the man, took Barkley inside, and did not stop vibrating with gratitude, fear, and relief for hours.

Thankful for the utter kindness of that man Dave. Y’all, he did not have to do one bit of what he did. He could have just turned his head and crossed to the other side.

But something invited him to go out of his way for our beloved critter.

Humbled by this stranger’s acquaintance with Love.

Seven Gratitudes--continues!

Seven Gratitudes--continues!

Such deliberation has been going on in my mind today on this 12th day of Christmas! Should this weekly gratitude roundup continue this year, or no? Has its time come and gone? Is it finished with me, or is that a call I hear to the keyboard? Hmmm...Seems like there is just no way to stop a gratitude practice, so #SevenGratitudes continues! I hope to dabble in many topics here at For the Birds in the year ahead, but the gratitudes really have to keep on rolling. I see no way around it.

Grateful for each of you who stop by every week. Thankful for your texts, messages, and comments. I appreciate your presence and participation--such support and nourishment to my heart! 

Thanks for being here, beloveds!

Seven Gratitudes, vol. 52

Seven Gratitudes, vol. 52

This week I am grateful…

1

For tortilla soup on Christmas Eve.

Between the 5 and 11 o’clock Christmas Eve services on Sunday Pastor Mark and Alison had a whole gaggle of folks over for soup and stories, making much out of that window of time. Even the memory of it now warms my heart. It was simple, really, but good. It felt special, but also quite normal.

It was the beginning of Christmas. 

For being home, Sleigh Ride, & an end to waiting - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 51

For being home, Sleigh Ride, & an end to waiting - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 51

This week I am grateful…

1

To be home.

After our 16-and-a-half hour journey last Friday, Mama and I arrived in Dallas just before 10 p.m. Every light in the house was on, the Sufjan Stevens’ Holiday channel was blaring, and there were candles galore. The house glimmered and shined with welcome.

Nothing will ever compare, though, to my husband’s smiling eyes and the way it felt to fly into his arms. I am home. Thank you, Jesus.

For an epic week and a roadtrip tomorrow! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 50

For an epic week and a roadtrip tomorrow! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 50

Beloveds, I’m writing this #SevenGratitudes to you quickly from atop my bed at Grandma’s house this Thursday night because tomorrow I am driving home to my husband. Mama and I are roadtripping. It is going to be epic.

This week has been epic. Here are a few snippets of gratitude, the ones I dare touch on the tails of such a momentously big week.

Thanks for being here.

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.

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

For Advent's approach, our anniversary, & completed drafts - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 48

This week I am grateful...

1

For communion, contemplation, and contemplating communion.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal welcomed me to the table on Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday. The meal warmed my belly and buzzed my mind. How overwhelming is God’s grace sometimes! It often is a gentle hand on the shoulder or the faintest whisper of fond greetings. But Sunday it was a radiating pulse of re-orientating love. It was a welcome home. Again.

The next day I sat to do some major work on my school capstone project, musing for hours on the topic of cosmic communion and praying with the nature of matter (which is a story I hope to tell soon!). Several things became clear, and I will share two of those things here.

First, I love, love, love communion. The more I think about the practice and experience it in my body with the gathered community of faith, the deeper the thing becomes, the more encompassing and transformative, the more the truth of it dwells in me, making me a citizen of God’s reality.

Second, contemplating the ways God dwells deeply in and with the ever-unfolding creation gives me life—it makes me alive.

I love God, I love creation, and I love to think. It is grace—an unexpected and utterly free gift—when God meets me in the communion of it all. 

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

For feasting, Lucky, & Christ the King! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 47

This week I am grateful…

1

For community lessons in real time.

I have only three more weeks with my Winston-Salem roommates, but I am already counting the lessons they have taught me about living life in community. Last Saturday we had a roomie check-in date at our local Chikfila where we talked through our household expectations, etc.

Which is much harder to do than one would think.

It is a blessing to dwell with folks who want to live well together, not just get by. I am thankful for these three and the ways each of them have helped me see Reality from different perspectives.

For Thor Ragnarok, Morning Voices, & Dogs in the Classroom - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 46

For Thor Ragnarok, Morning Voices, & Dogs in the Classroom - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 46

This week I am grateful…

1

For my Thor Ragnarok experience.

Three great things: Thor was funny, my friends were there, and the Coke ICEE situation was, you know, SELF-SERVE & FREE REFILLS.

I still might be rattling from the sugar and caffeine, but, gracious, I had a good time at the movies last Friday. Thor’s my favorite male superhero—though he better watch his footing when the new Black Panther stuff comes out in a few months!—and I have been anticipating the fresh tone of Ragnarok since its first trailer dropped.

Definitely did not disappoint.

I heard on NPR that in Norse mythology Ragnarok means, basically, apocalypse. It is the death of the universe that cannot be avoided, but it also is never the end of the universe. Ragnarok is only one part of the rhythmic, never-ending cycle of ultimate reality.

The Marvel film played with Ragnarok’s meaning. There were some chilly moments when Death looked like imperial colonialism and unchecked ambition. Other times she looked like a duped daughter. While I watched I wondered, since death and life are necessary to one another in our world, if Thor would somehow learn to redirect Death’s misunderstood or misinterpreted purposes in order to live and reign alongside his sister, the goddess of death.

I will just say that, in the end, Ragnarok was costly, but, somehow, good.

Reconciling. Unifying. A call for renewed hope.

It was also just fun.

Thanks be to God for interesting stories and Marvel-ous modern-day mythologies. 

For My Womenfolk, Vocational Duty, & Hot Soup - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 45

For My Womenfolk, Vocational Duty, & Hot Soup - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 45

This week I am grateful…

1

For my womenfolk.

In this photo are women on my mother’s side. From left to right: me, Grandma, Aunt Monica, Mama, and Granny.

Leanna, Doris, Monica, Michelle, and Earlene.

We took the photo after Granny and Poppy bought us all breakfast Saturday morning.

Mom and I were down for the weekend with Aunt Monica in her forest home. I am not sure if we knew it going in, but it was definitely a YaYa kind of weekend for the three of us.

A weekend for sharing and receiving stories, daring to be present to one another and to see one another as the women we are. It was a weekend for falling asleep as we talked Friday night because we can relax together and rummaging through antiques Saturday morning because we can be honest about what inspires us and what doesn’t. It was a weekend for tears, laughter, and trust, trust, trust.

It was a weekend for my women, the ones whose blood runs through my veins, whose stories echo deep within me.

And it was—

For Original Blessing, Halloween Hospitality, & the Wild - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 44

For Original Blessing, Halloween Hospitality, & the Wild - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 44

This week I am grateful…

1

For original blessing, for little Watson’s dedication.

My nephew was brought before his faith community this week. My brother and sister-in-law held him before the people and promised to raise him in full view of God’s love and promise. It was a gift to experience the outpouring of love from my brother’s community. It was a gift to witness my brother and sister-in-law express their faith and hope in such a public way—such vulnerability, such courage!—in the name of Christ and for the love of their son.

It was also a gift to hold my nephew for the very first time.

When my brother placed his son in my arms, Watson looked at me, into me.

I saw the whole world in his eyes.

Blessing.

For Thrift Stores and Everything - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 43

For Thrift Stores and Everything - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 43

After a wonderful long weekend at home with my husband in Dallas, TX, I return to the rhythmic trudge toward completing my work at Wake Forest School of Divinity. This is the beginning of the final push, I think, which makes me feel nervous and excited all at once. There is much to do. Much to do. And yet, herein seeps quiet moments for gratitude, for reflection, for mourning a season’s near close, and for celebrating new hopes for what comes after.

Thank you for being with me in this particular space, for entwining your journey with mine.

This week I am grateful…

For Janky Cars, Flight Attendants, & The Red Tent - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 42

For Janky Cars, Flight Attendants, & The Red Tent - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 42

This week I am grateful…

1

For good conversations with both of my parents this week.

I thank God for the very different folks who raised me. I am grateful for the chance to hear these people as the individuals that they are, to release expectations and receive, instead, the authenticity of their stories.

It is a wonder to realize that one’s parents are not and cannot be the salve and savor of life. They get to be people, then, instead of demi-gods. And people are marvelous, dynamic creatures. Fun to get to know.

Parental love comes to mean something new when it is not taken for granted, or when it is not taken as an elixir for the holes in your heart.

It becomes a gift.

I am thankful to be growing older in the full-spectrum light of my parents.

For Genograms, Leftovers, and Leslie Knope - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 41

For Genograms, Leftovers, and Leslie Knope - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 41

This week I am grateful...

1

For genograms.

This past weekend I had a Family Systems class at WakeDiv (yep, I spent about 15 hours in a classroom over Friday and Saturday—at midterm; let’s not talk about that part). We talked about many things, but the most meaningful aspect of the weekend was the genogram exercise. A genogram is a glorified family tree, really; it is a tool by which one attempts to illustrate family dynamics. It is a way to chart out—as far as one understands from one’s position in the system/family—how different relationships function. The insight available through this exercise is invaluable. It is a practice in objectivity, which, surprisingly and blessedly, often leads to a deeper capacity for compassion.

Clarity about the way one views one’s family and place in it opens the door for honest curiosity, too. I find that every time I draw a genogram I walk away with questions to help me get to know these incredibly different people with whom I am related.

Family suddenly becomes not a web of group-think, but a network of persons who form layers of meaning that shape and inform one another (with different degrees of awareness). I, then, abruptly find that my own personhood has choice and autonomy in that meaning-making process. Instead of being taken for a ride, I find that I have a part to play.

I am thankful for practices that open me to relational understanding. I am thankful today especially for the genogram because it has challenged me to grow in empowering self-awareness and curiosity-inspiring compassion.

For midterms (really), vulnerability, and easy recycling - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 40

For midterms (really), vulnerability, and easy recycling - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 40

This week I am grateful…

1

For all this work.

It is that time of the semester: midterm! I have assignments due, papers progressing, a weekend class, and one monster of an exam coming up. It is just that time—and it truly makes me glad. Seeing all of these assignments and responsibilities met means I am that much closer to my goal of graduation, integration, and going home!

Lift a prayer for students, if you would. This is when stuff starts getting real.

On going home, good theater, & Michaelmas! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 29

On going home, good theater, & Michaelmas! - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 29

Happy feast of St. Michael and All Angels!

Today’s a day especially set aside to remember how messengers of God come into our midst—slaying the monsters of our nightmares and the dragons of doom upon the earth.

It is a great day to recall Gabriel’s visit to Mary, the mysterious Three’s visit to Abraham and Sarah, or even the heavenly showdown in Revelation between the Woman Clothed with the Sun and St. Michael against the Seven-Headed Dragon of Revelation 12 (you have GOT to read that tale if you’ve never)!

It is a wild holy day, y’all, and it is the first major liturgical holiday Aaron and I celebrated outside Christmas and Easter.

The first year we had paper crowns, fiery chili, and a fierce dragon piñata.

Last year we added homemade blackberry pies!

And tonight my dear friends are planning to welcome a small host for brats, pumpkin beer, and, I am sure, a bit of storytelling—for Michaelmas is good for that.

I am thankful for this weird holiday and the way it stirs me toward mystery. I find myself remembering and recognizing the angelic messengers in my life, those people that bear good news at just the right moment.

I hope you have yourself some fun today, slaying dragons, telling stories, and looking for ways to move on mission with God’s message of peace and good will to all—

For Saints, Sabbath, and the First Day of Fall - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 38

For Saints, Sabbath, and the First Day of Fall - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 38

This week I am grateful...

1

For sister Hildegard.

It was the feast of Hildegard von Bingen this past Sunday. I did not even know until Monday and so enjoyed remembering her then. I stumbled upon an exhibit the Brooklyn Museum has on the German mystic, and a few quotes, too.

I have GOT to learn more about our girl Hilde. 

For honest professors, Life Around the Table, and Practical Magic - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 37

For honest professors, Life Around the Table, and Practical Magic - Seven Gratitudes, vol. 37

This week I am grateful…

1

For my new laundry rack, that it fits and works well in my little sun room.

Y’all know we purchased an umbrella clothesline posthaste when we moved to Texas. Well, after a few weeks of hanging laundry with the birds and the breeze and my Barkley-boy, I had to ship myself off to Winston-Salem for school, sans clothesline.

Which I really did not consider would be a thing.

Why should a clothesline, of all things at present, be a thing? Furthermore, why would I miss the time and energy it takes to hang clothes on a line when an electric dryer is directly available?

I did two loads of laundry in my first weeks back here in NC. Both times I felt…icky? Stumped? Stuck? Answer: All of the above.

The dryer felt loud, obnoxious, and unnecessary. It felt like a huge amount of energy for the simple task of getting my clothes dry. Recent experience has taught me they THEY DO THAT ON THEIR OWN. Rather quickly, too.

Of course I am not in a position where I am responsible for washing cloth diapers for a young one or my entire household’s week of clothes in this apartment. I think those would be reasonable uses for a dryer in an apartment.

As for my needs, though, I remembered a drying rack I had in college, and, thusly, moseyed myself over to Amazon for a price check.

Two days later...