Not far from Arles, we visited the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. It is an ancient town in the marshes of the Camargue, where the Rhône meets the Mediterranean Sea. I am not sure Gwen wanted to investigate yet another church, but she kindly went to see what was under that collection of bells in that tower with a ship for a weather vane. As we sat in the nave, I finally looked up and saw an opening way up the wall. I could not tell what it was, but I surmised it might be the remains of the three Marys in the town’s name. Sure enough, we later learned three times a year they pull out an ornate box and hoist it down to the altar for vernation.
More in a minute. But, I ask you, if Christianity managed to survive such things, don’t you think it will survive the nonsense we are experiencing right now?
The story goes on to say the Three Marys for which the town is named are, in French, Marie Madeleine, Marie Salomé and Marie de Cléophas, the very women who came to the tomb where Jesus was laid three days after the crucifixion. The medieval tradition, still honored today, began when the three Marys escaped persecution for their faith in Palestine and travelled by sea to Southern France, which makes them “de la Mer” for sure. They set sail from Alexandria, Egypt, with their uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, and landed on the very spot where the town sits. They lived in the Camargue the rest of their lives and helped bring Christianity to France.
Legends are being born every day. The January 6 Commission is about to hold public hearings about the findings of their investigation. Mehmet Oz is going to have to decide if he gets on the bandwagon with Trump’s big lie. 34% of the population is likely to keep believing the last election was stolen. Many of us will wring our hands about the lack of factuality drowning us. Last week Tucker Carlson claimed that Democrat efforts to promote gun safety are not about public health. Instead, he said, Democrats want to disarm the people because they’re afraid of a popular uprising against them because “they know they rule illegitimately.”
I assume Jesus has always cared about lying, but just assessing facts does not always mean we arrive at the truth. What does your legend serve?
The Church of the Saintes Maries de la Mer is known in France for the celebrations it holds for each Mary’s feast day. The week-long events draw 24-40,000 Roma Catholics and others from France and beyond. The high points at each feast include a ritual when the painted reliquary chest, said to contain the bones of the Saintes Maries, is ceremoniously lowered from its high perch to the altar for veneration, and then the statue of another figure, the Roma’s own Saint Sarah, can be honored – she was later added to the story as a servant who arrived with the Marys and Joseph. On successive days, Romas and a large crowd process with statues of Sara and the Saintes Maries from the church to the beach, carrying them right into the sea.
I have to say, had I happened upon this quaint village when the big celebration was in full swing, I probably would have folded in and helped take Sara and the Marys right into the sea. I had already joined a candlelight procession for the Virgin Mary at Lourdes a few days before and quite enjoyed belting out “Kyrie eleison!” (Lord have mercy!) with pilgrims from around the world. I don’t believe 90% of the “facts” I keep seeing represented about Mary on French church buildings. But I do believe in thousands of people crying out for the mercy of the Lord in an era where truth is often stranger than fiction and facts are an inconvenience. Didn’t Louis Gohmert, the Texas congressman, just say last week, when reacting on Newsmax to the arrest of Peter Navarro, “If you’re a Republican, you can’t even lie to Congress or lie to an FBI agent or they’re coming after you.”
I truly believe Jesus has done wonders with whatever the tides of lies and legends have washed up on our shores. He is always glorious in contrast. But I don’t think he needs what we think is true to validate he is the Truth.
On the second Sunday of Advent, Hallowood Institute provided some space for clients and friends to prepare a room for the Lord, to welcome love in. We created space to follow the full arc of Mary’s journey of receiving the angel’s message to entering into the fullness of God’s grace. She moved from doubting her belovedness to confidence in it, from “How can this be?” to the Magnificat. Here is an outline you might like to use to follow her example. I know it can’t really replicate everything that happened, but it might help you stay on the Advent journey.
First movement: Doubts about our belovedness
Mary pays attention to the word coming to her and to the doubts it arouses. She listens to her body and to the thoughts that automatically come to her mind.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” — Luke 1:26-34
When our “angel” comes to us we, like Mary, probably ask, “How can this be?” We doubt God can or would come to us. We doubt we could be important. We doubt we could be worthy. We doubt we could be loved. We need to go through a process to let love in, to become the beloved of God we are.
Our brains and the rest of our bodies are accustomed to patterns that have defended us from not getting the love we crave and defended many of us from further abuse and disrespect. Our brains are rutted with programs of self-protection that don’t meet our needs and don’t protect us any longer. Our bodies have memories of trauma and fear that cause us to keep reacting in certain ways.
Mary was afraid when God came to her in the angel and doubted she could be part of the wonderful future he promised.
During our retreat we worked a little on getting our left and right brain to integrate. We found a place in ourselves of safety where we could return when we felt afraid. We created a container in our imagination where we could store intrusive thoughts that invaded our meditation.
Then we tried to welcome our doubting parts — the voices that tell us we are not loved. Maybe you would like to try it. Picture a time when you doubted you were loved or even lovable. What makes you doubt you are loved? Is there an event from your past (distant or near past) that captures the feelings of this doubt? Put it into words. Then, if you can, float back to being 14 years old with Mary. Picture yourself at about that age. Identify the negative beliefs about yourself that go with this doubting picture. Write them out.
Second Movement: Mary lets love in to talk back to her view of self
Mary turns from her former view of self and attends to the new life she is being given.
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:35-38
The various depictions of the annunciation tell different stories. The one above shows the second movement we are exploring as Mary shies away from this angel. Is she saying, “Don’t bother me I am trying to read the Bible?” Or is it, more likely “What do you mean ‘nothing is impossible with God?’ I feel quite impossible myself?” The process of moving from doubts about “For nothing will be impossible with God” to “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” is what we were exploring. It takes a process to see ourselves as the beloved of God, to turn away from other views of ourselves and turn into that one.
From Henri Nouwen in Life of the Beloved:
I am putting this so directly and so simply because, though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness. It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: “Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.” Meanwhile, the soft, gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart remained unheard or, at least, unconvincing….
Try this exercise to name those different “voices” competing to speak the loudest to you. Find a negative view of self that comes up in you. Do not collect all the views you can think of, just one. It might be as simple as when you look in the mirror and you go right to the body part you don’t like like: “too fat” or “bad hair.” But the voices can come from a deeper place: “I don’t deserve to feel good. Someone will discover what I am really like. You are all alone” — even “No one loves you or wants you.” Once we start listening, these often become quite clear as voices competing for our attention. Naming them does not feel good, but it begins to loosen their power on us.
Turn into a positive view of self: “I am the kind of person who tries to grow” or “I have a very good grandmother” or “I see how I have good choices I can make.” The big one is, “I am the beloved of God.” Nouwen talks about Listening to the gentle voice of God with great inner attentiveness. That attention makes the “angelic” voice surer and our true selves more obvious. Depriving the other voices of attention makes them weaker, fainter — “I can’t hear you!”
Third Movement: Mary receives validation from Elizabeth
Mary welcomes support to face her fears and enter into her context with confidence.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” — Luke 1:39-45
Recent scholarship on healing from identity wounds based in trauma says, “Radical healing involves being or becoming whole in the face of identity-based ‘wounds,’ which are the injuries sustained because of our membership in an oppressed racial or ethnic group.”
We acknowledged how our spiritual journeys differ because of our racist and sexist culture. For some of us, the wisdom of our communities has been deeply damaged by racist practices. Some of us have experiences of both healing and trauma from our interactions with our communities, in our neighborhoods and families, in our interactions with systemic violence, in our churches.
Mary experienced isolation and rejection as her story became known. She and her young family had to flee oppression and slaughter based in part on race. In this part of Mary’s story, she seeks much needed validation — even though she has spoken with an angel and knows she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The encounter with Elizabeth validates what she knows inside, what her body is certainly telling her.
Take some time to consider your own journeys and where such validation may emerge for you. Note a few aggressions you have experienced recently. Gwen’s was “The invisibility I often feel as a woman in leadership positions, or when I am left out, like when my husband got an email that should have also been addressed to me.”
Now consider how you responded to these aggressions. In your childhood were there any practices that you found comforting when faced with hurts — cultural practices or personal practices? What current social networks/systems are offering you support? Where do you feel empowered as Elizabeth empowered Mary? Are there ways you might help create further spaces where you can find this social support? Notice what’s coming up in your body right now as you consider aggression. Deep breath and long exhale.
We need to meet our Elizabeths. To listen to them and receive their love and encouragement, even though we already know that the life of Christ is growing in us.
Fourth Movement: Mary takes her place as the beloved with her “Magnificat”
We created a final space to follow the full arc of Mary’s journey in Belovedness. She moves from doubting her belovedness to confidence in it, from “How can this be?” to the Magnificat. In her prayer, Mary owns her belovedness and acts out of it.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. — Luke 1:46-56
I was inspired to own my belovedness by Osheta Moore’s Dear White Peacemakers earlier this year. Both Mary and Osheta Moore show their beloved selves in their context, in their families, and in their societies. And they both speak out of this belovedness, claiming their birthright to be the beloved of God, sent with reconciliation into their own space. I actually got in a little trouble with my some people when I quoted Moore teaching that being beloved is where the Lord starts when he calls for truth and justice. It’s a radical and important principle. As beloved is how we should see ourselves and others, even those nazi-like guys who paraded through the Lincoln Memorial the night before our retreat. Even in the battle against white supremacy and the scrourge of racism, we lose our cause if we lose our souls by not seeing ourselves as beloved of God and not insisting that everyone is a potential member of the beloved community.
Osheta Moore is keeping it radical and I am with her. Here is a bit of what she says in Dear White Peacemakers
Jesus says that in this world we will have trouble, but to take heart, for he has overcome the world. He did this by first owning his Belovedness and then proclaiming it to every single person he met. His Belovedness empowered him to challenge societal hierarchies based on fear of the other, offer relief to those who have been oppressed, and eventually to sacrificially love on the cross. When you are grounded in something other than your work or results, when you are grounded in a truer, deeper, soul-healing confidence, you can continue to press on—even if it means death to all your comforts and control. This is your calling when trouble comes as you practice anti-racism….[O]wn your Belovedness so that you can proclaim mine. Belovedness is like a flowing river of renewal and justice. It allows us to challenge systems and have difficult conversations. It moves us from individualism into community.
Many of us wrote moving, personal “magnificats” of our own, to take a stand as the beloved of God, to affirm we are letting love in — and out.
Mary’s prayer is called “the magnificat” because the first line of it in Latin is “Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum” — in English, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Familiar prayers have often been known by their first word.
Try writing a prayer of your own. Write it for God, not for anyone else. You could use Mary’s prayer as a model. Better, use the spirit of what she is doing as a guide. She is pulling together the most meaningful thoughts she has into a song of belonging to the Beloved, graced with wonderful things going on inside her. She sees amazing opportunities to offer love to the world.
Our own magnificats sum up the whole process of letting love in. When it is time for you to speak yours, what have you overcome? what are you standing up against? When you say, “This is who I am, this is how God sees me, this is what I am for, this is what I intend to do, this is what I hope, this is what my truth in Christ is,” etc., what competes for that view of yourself? It could be your own family, government systems, or oil companies; the list goes on.
What do you say? If it is just: “I am the beloved of God, there’s nothing you can do about it. It is what it is.” That is good enough. That’s a short magnificat I am using this Advent as Jesus is newly born in me in this new era of the world being born.
“I feel the pressure. I receive your promise” is a prayer like Mary’s “magnificat.”
Magnificat is the first word of the Latin translation of Mary’s song, recorded in Luke. Great musicians have been putting it to music for centuries. Try listening to this one by Estonian composer Arvo Part, who manages to evoke Gregorian chant and be postmodern at the same time.
In her prayer, Mary rejoices that she has the privilege of giving birth to the promised Messiah. She praises God’s power, holiness, and mercy. She looks forward to God transforming the world through her son. She prophecies how the proud will be brought low, and the humble will be lifted up; the hungry will be fed, and the rich will go without. She exalts God’s faithfulness to His promise to Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3).
Mary’s radical prayer is another reason her life is worthy of our meditation in the middle of the Christmastime anesthesia. Like I was saying the other night at Frankford Ave., Advent is is our discipline season when we remember Mary’s story and also collect our own spiritual histories. Just like her, we feel the pressure and welcome the birth of Jesus into our own lives and our own time. Advent is full of stories about how the Holy Spirit gets into human hearts and into the heart of humanity in Jesus. Somehow, stone-hard places in us, maybe places so hard we didn’t know they were places, are impregnated for the first time or for a surprising umpteenth time, and newness begins to pulse in us. Sometimes, even in spite of ourselves, we end up pregnant with some new life that is pressing to be born.
My home congregation’s pastor, Rachel, wrote to her leaders about some new things popping out in the Sunday meeting two weeks ago. She said, “There was a long-awaited moment of forgiveness and reconciliation between two friends. Someone else joined a Sunday meeting team because they realized that they need to serve in order to make themselves show up every week. Someone else risked some dialogue even though they feel different from “everybody” else, and learned that they actually belong! Someone else gave us all permission and encouragement to village parent because the kids need us all. Someone else risked coming to our meeting for the first time even though they feel burned by religion and are still angry.” Sometimes our rocky center cracks and shafts of light pour through like the sun after a storm. We have moments that become stories about these times we will never forget.
Some of you may hear stories like Rachel listed and feel pressured to have an experience your pastor could put in her little note. You might even be upset that something long-expected is not happening to you right now. Advent may depress you a little. That’s good. Move with that pressure.
I suppose, in this day, I was supposed to say, “No pressure. No problem. It’s all good.” I think some of us still say, “Whatever.” But I’d betray Jesus if I did that! Of course you feel pressured by the story of Mary and stories about the advent of Jesus in the lives of your friends. I think we all feel some kind of resistance to whatever is trying to get out of us and be born. I don’t know this first hand, but I’ve heard many times that pushing a baby out for the first time is especially hard. There is a LOT of resistance. Likewise, blessings are not easily born every time. Of course we feel pressure!
We are into something real here as we remember Mary’s story and our own. They are stories about birthing a child, and birthing a new you, and bringing newness into the world. All those things are hard. Jesus goes through death to give birth to new life! So I will NOT say “No pressure.” Much the opposite. I say we all need to welcome that pressure like a mother giving birth in Yemen right now, where her children are starving and her husband is out scavenging, and the house is half ruined from bombs, and yet the birth must happen. Even though she must wonder how she could possibly bring a new child into her ruined world, she has the hope that convinced her to carry that child and she has the love to welcome who is being born. Like a Middle Eastern mother giving birth to the hope of the world — that is how Advent keeps showing us how the life we were created to enjoy works.
Mary welcomed the surprising reality that she was a slave to hope in the most elevated sense of the word handmaid. The other day someone put a job description on the share board. The real estate company was looking for a person who has (quote): “A no job is too small attitude. We want a team player in the office, candidates who have a “that’s not my job” attitude are not welcome.” Mary qualifies. She shows us that the advent of Jesus is all about recognizing a much deeper calling than our usual job description. When Jesus comes to us, things change and we change things. Mary took on the identity of slave (or “handmaid” in the KJV) like a badge of honor, the same way her son would. They turn the powerless word doule (Greek for slave) into the word doula as they aid the birth of new lives in a redeemed creation.
I’ve been practicing Mary’s example by making this my Advent prayer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” The repetition helps me remember that I, too, can turn slavery into birth. We don’t need to say it in King James English! I’ve made that my breath prayer, but I also say things like:
I am your slave. Guide me.
I serve you. I am listening for what is next.
I have no one to trust but you. I will.
I feel the pressure, I receive your promise.
Wow! Help! Thanks!
However we say it, the goal is to face our fear of letting it out. We are moving with the pressure, not resisting it. We let God hear us when we pray and learn to feel heard and known and accepted. We let others hear who we are now so they can keep up with us. We let the world know by how we bring life to birth however we are given to serve.
You’ve been called and gifted too. That pressure we feel usually signifies that something needs to be welcomed into the world. That stranger you fear just might be you becoming your true self. That new little movement cracking your hard heart, even irritating you, is probably the best thing happening in your life right now. Jesus is being born.
It is almost 2017. Last night in our meetings we were talking about Mary and her miraculous Child, born under the domination of the Roman Empire, even more, born of sinful parents and destined to take on their sin — and ours too. Advent contains an amazing, hopeful story. But do we have any hope left, this year? Really, is there a circle where hope is alive?
It would have been a discouraging year even if Donald Trump and the Russians had not won the election, as it appears they will. It was a year full of arguing about whether black Iives matter and a year when people put “blue lives matter” signs on their lawns to talk back — in neighborhoods minutes from our meeting place in South Jersey. People of privilege scolded us that “all lives matter,” even as it became more and more obvious that such a thought is just a good idea, not a reality. Among us, we passed around great books and films that told us the horrible truth again: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration, Drew Hart’s book Trouble I’ve Seen about racism in the church, Netflix’s 13th about the amendment that is perpetually subverted, and I finally just finished Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.
Bryan Stevenson’s great book
I would love to write a lengthy reviewof Stevenson’s book,if only to solidify everything I learned from him about the prison system, about a corrupt and broken justice system, about unjust incarceration, about sentencing juveniles and the mentally ill and about the slow eradication of the death penalty. But I won’t. I know you feel too busy or beaten down to even read this blog post, much less read a long review or even more, a book, so I won’t go there.
Let me give you just one quote in honor of Mary, whose son would be unjustly condemned and receive the death penalty. Let me give you one quote that speaks into our time and tries to encourage people who want to make a difference but who just get tired or cynical and who often end up in despair with few places to look for encouragement.
Stevenson is talking about a case he worked on for years in which a man was serving time on death row for a crime he did not commit. He says,
“I was developing a maturing recognition of the importance of hopefulness in creating justice.
I’d started addressing the subject of hopefulness in talks to small groups. I’d grown fond of quoting Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader who had said that ‘hope’ was the one thing that people struggling in Eastern Europe needed during the era of Soviet domination.
Havel had said that people struggling for independence wanted more money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather ‘an orientation of the spirit.’ The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.
Havel prescribed exactly what our work seemed to require….Together we hoped.”
We certainly have our work cut out for us as followers of Jesus right now, don’t we? Stevenson and Havel are great examples of what Jesus followers do when they are called to give their gifts in the cause of truth justice and mercy. Mary is a prime example of a less brilliant person, Iike most of us — too young, too poor, too powerless to do anything, who gives herself to God’s calling. We need an orientation of spirit that makes us individual witnesses, and we need to live in a circle that gives a larger witness than our individual capacities. In the face of abusive power we need to hope in a future promised and won by God-with-us, God-continuing-with-us.
Let’s be strong, not in our own capacity or even our mutuality, but in our hope — hope clutched Iike the lifeline it is, hope in Jesus who has blazed our way through the fearsome and relentlessly evil circumstances we face. We are a circle where hope is alive; but it is a flame that needs air and fuel; it needs tending and, like Mary knew when hope was recognized in her womb, magnifying.
What is a better term for “multidenominational?” The other night at our quarterly Doing Theology a few of us searched for a good word to describe how we identify with the genius of every stream in the broad river of Christianity, even the Catholics.
My journey into Christianity made me very fond of Catholics. For instance, I think of Francis of Assisi (who we celebratedyesterday) as one of my first mentors. I was a history major in college. While I was exploring history I ran into Francis. It was great to find him. He cut through the nonsense of the Church and lived with Jesus. He was just what I needed, since I almost left Jesus because of the Church’s nonsense, especially the Catholic part. I was so poor in college, I never missed the free movies they showed. One night, someone showed Brother Sun Sister Moon, which is all about Francis of Assisi and his friends. Watching his rebellion against war and self-serving authority and seeing his utter obedience to joy and Jesus helped seal my deal with God. I almost became a Franciscan and have been an almost-Franciscan ever since.
As a result, I am a Francis-kind of Catholic. Even through I think the rules say I don’t qualify, whenever the priest offers me communion, I take it like I am a member of the tribe. I figure I am more of a Catholic than a catechized fifth grader and, besides, I don’t care about most of the laws any more than most of the Catholics I know. So I’ve done a lot of travelling with the Catholic Church over the years. I even went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella, which is one of the most Catholic things a person can do.
So why aren’t I and why aren’t we Catholics?
Well, in a way, we are Catholics. But the other night we explored seven main reasons we have to start with the radical Anabaptists rather than stand on what became the Roman Catholic Church. Here they are:
Maria Gorrettiwas on the block. –- Venerating relics of remarkable people might be respectful and aspirational but it is more likely superstitious.
The Pope’s titles don’t make him our leader. — Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God — only the last one sounds remotely like Jesus to me.All the power-grabbing by the Pope got started in the 300’s when Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official church of the Roman Empire. Over time the leaders of the church became state officials. By the 1200’s the Donation of Constantinewas used to validate that Emperor Constantine had transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. To be generous, the church was often trying to do good in a troubled world by ruling it, but the leaders ended up being just like all the other powerful people.
Canon Law is a new Mosaic Law. A woman was quoted in the Inquirer not liking Pope Francis because he “does not follow the law.” But many women do not like Pope Francis because he does follow the laws of the Catholic Church that make women second class citizens. Part of Canon Law is the ancient takeover of Roman law, which was needed if you are ruling, but too much of it is edicts by a supposedly infallible pope with absolute power.
Their doctrine of original sin goes extrabiblical. The influential Augustine (400’s) insisted that the guilt of the first sin is transmitted, through sexual intercourse, to all generations. The consequence of Augustine’s view is that every act of sexual intercourse is somehow tainted, and therefore needs legitimation–which is achieved primarily by procreation. He won the argument which made women despised members of the church and imposed celibacy on priests. We don’t need a science for sin. It happens.
Mary was a real person. Perhaps the development of Mary into a member of the Trinity is the antidote to male dominance, but even more she has become a model for virginal holiness that has no relation to actual history and little to do with normal women. The mother of Jesus is a great example, but the “Theotokos” is hard to defend. Add the “immaculate conception,” and her “assumption” and she is even harder to defend.
Purgatory is not needed to purify us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven,” which is experienced by those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified” (CCC 1030). Selling indulgences to “buy down” years in purgatory sped up the advent of the Protestant Reformation.
The Mass should not be a continual sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The teaching is:“Christ… commanded that his bloody sacrifice on the Cross should be daily renewed by an unbloody sacrifice of his body and blood in the Mass under the simple elements of bread and wine” (Catholic Encyclopedia). In his book The Faith of Millions, John O’Brien, a Catholic priest, explains the procedure of the mass: “When the priest pronounces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of monarchs and emperors: it is greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim. Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary.” The scripture clearly says the sacrifice happened once for all. The repetition of the drama might welcome us into the ever-present nature of God’s grace, but that is a very generous reinterpretation of clear teaching by the RCC.
So why am I and why are we catholic?
Given all these problems, why are we so multidenominational that we would like to think of ourselves as Catholic enough to feel like family?
We like Franciscans and other teachers. Actually, we love them like brothers and sisters. Before all the modern arguments after the Enlightenment that divided the world (and our discourse) into this or that, one identity or the other, there was one church. The divisions of postmodern Christianity are worth talking about, maybe even worth getting emotional about, but they are not worth dividing up about.
The RCC is a big tent and a lot of Catholics don’t know or follow all their laws and untenable beliefs, either. The Pope even has a novel veneration of Mary the Undoer of Knots that makes her more palatable. One of my spiritual directors was a Catholic priest; we did fine. Besides, the Anabaptists had and have some weird ideas and excesses, too. We have to work things out together, not get presumptuous about how right we are or cut people off because they seem whacked.
The RCC cannot claim universality under the pope; we are under Jesus. Catholic means “universal.” I am part of that church too — even the catechism grudgingly affirms that. That’s why we are trying out the idea of being multi/trans/ uberdenominational rather than just negatively acting nondenominational.
The nuns in our region are really helping us out with our spiritual development. We have been so well taken care of by the sisters at Cranaleith and the Franciscan Spirituality Center that we have to respect their faith.
One of the people who was doing theology with us last Monday went to Catholic school for his whole youth and knew almost nothing about the doctrines we were exploring. I get the feeling that many of you who got this far also did not know or care much about what I just enumerated. So why bother? Well, one of the other people at the meeting said they were going to pay attention to our “transhistorical” blog more because they realized that there is a lot of stuff influencing what the present church is like. Not knowing stuff, or pretending that history begins right now isn’t truthful enough. Finding a little pod of like-minded people and becoming impermeable with them is not loving enough.
Two and a half years ago I wrote a blog piece that came to my mind again this week. It centered around the word intimacity. At first, I thought I had coined a word; then I Googled it. Google says it means “the condition of being near.” It is basically a synonym for “intimacy.” So forgive me for improving the definition. We already have the word intimacy. I need this word: “intimacity” – that is, is our capacity for being intimate.
We long for intimacy, but most of us don’t have enough capacity to enter into it, even if we are offered it. The small group I was in one time during an Advent retreat experienced this lack. When I was sent off on a prayer walk as part of the same retreat, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I and the others in my small group were all struggling with getting to the place where we could connect. Most of us told stories that demonstrated that we were relatively obsessed with connecting – clinging to life rafts of intimacy (even if they gave us splinters), chafing under the bits of our loneliness, restlessly scanning our horizons looking for moments when we might feel together, touched, or at least relevant. But one of the missing factors in our equations of connection was our own intimacity.
We need the intimacy, but it is exactly what is broken between us — and we never seem to know why. At least I am often a bit foggy on just how I operate. I think we all have a tendency to think all our relationships just mysteriously happened. We might be a bit in denial about what we bring to the situation – namely our capacity for intimacy, or intimacity. Our ability (or usually lack of same) needs to be named. We need to develop. So let’s do that a bit, right now.
If we ever try to figure out what’s wrong or undeveloped with our intimacity, we often spend a lot of time and energy starting at the wrong place: with other people. We lay awake at night wondering why someone broke up with us. We minutely (and often wrongly) list what someone thinks is wrong with us, based on their off-hand comment or body language. We dissect the lacks of our parents and how we adapted to them detrimentally. We flood our therapists with stories (thank God for Circle Counseling!) about how we are stuck and stumbling, or how someone has stuck us or made us stumble.
But our broken relationships with other people are often symptoms of a core issue: our intimacity in relation to God. That’s where we need to start. During Advent every year (and any time we open the Bible, or seek God at all), we get another chance to see God’s great intimacity. It is a good example for us. God, who is so totally other than us, becomes so totally one with us – choosing to be like us in body, sharing our sorrow and sickness, identifying with our unforgiveness and death! All the tender feelings we feel when we see Mary holding the baby should seem as amazing as they are – God just came out of her womb, vulnerable, open to the mother/father love he IS.
The beginning of my own intimacity starts with reconnecting with the Source of it. Trying to get there through endless attempts at human relationship repair is kind of backwards. But I, and probably you, do quite a few things backwards. Just in our small group during the Advent retreat (which was actually rather intimate, even though we’d mostly just met), we all demonstrated our fear of being vulnerable. I know that the whole experience made me ponder how easy it is for me to resist the impending experience of lack of connection rather than resist what I do to help create that experience. I am working on seeing my withdrawals and avoidances as sins against the call of the baby Jesus to be trustingly vulnerable with him.
Blessedly, we can share the Lord’s ability. Once he was born of the flesh. But what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Post-resurrection, our intimacity with God is as amazing as His is with us. The more we open ourselves to that Spirit-to-spirit relationship, discipline ourselves to receive the love, repent of the sin that has tangled up our relationship with God, so far (mainly the sin of not being open and receiving), the more we have a chance to relax enough to explore how we can connect with all the people we would love to love, and would love to love us.
2) Get a therapist. You probably need one. Psychotherapy is great for people who are having true difficulty living day-by-day. But it is also great for anyone who is exploring the unconscious ways we all relate that need to be more conscious. We don’t need to spend our whole lives protecting ourselves from disappointing or destructive intimacy.
3) Worship when it is organized for you. If we don’t merely sit through public worship and watch it, sometimes singing songs, our hearts can be softened and love unleashed. It is an easy connecting point that repeatedly gives us a chance to loosen up.
4) Make a plan for how to relate in your cell; don’t just attend it, waiting for something to happen. The cell is a weekly discipline that includes developing our intimacity. I hope it is a safe place for you to move beyond what is typical for you, to be born again in further ways, to have Spirit capacitized in your flesh.
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