Consider the cincture

Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”
Luke 12:35-37

We speculated. How
to translate “fasten
his belt” in mind’s
eye? Service, yes,
to be sure. Battle
metaphor? Apron?
Further searching
yields history, both
social and literary.
Rich in meaning,
a treasure, though
largely different
for the genders. Must
explore the strands
more. Mostly to do
with prowess or
virginity. Somehow
all of this ties, becomes
parabolic.

Cincture is the Latinate
form; girdle, Anglo-Saxon–
think Thor, St. George,
Gawain.

None of us seated,
clergy or laity,
considered the cincture.
Woven cord worn
(and often well-worn),
to yoke the alb, while
we serve at table.
Encompassing belt;
reminder of limits. No
purse nor sword, just
love.

Now
this 
is what
it
means to
gird your loins.

 

Distracted Women

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42 (NRSV)

perispaó: to draw away, from Strong’s Concordance

Is it Martha whose head is being turned?
Cooking, cleaning, what else to worry on?
Drawn away, weighed down, hampered–
oh, yes, laundry in piles. Distractions acting
upon her; Luke actively bestows passivity;
she passively surrenders her will.

The better part. The women here today
retreating, 
writing silently in camaraderie, safe
from the distractions of life–children, cats, media–
unencumbered in these precious hours.

Focused. A corporate man’s word?
Can we be women in this man’s world?
Or will we be driven mental, closeted first wives?

Possessed. Consumed.
Demons. Witches. Fires at the stake.
Conformity at stake.
Electroshock therapy for those
not Martha enough. But Marys
risked the danger, too.

Cumbered, oh most lovely and clunky
word, Shakespearean-sounding verb. Chosen
betimes for King James and all the English world.
Come hither and lend us thy sense.

Can you not see the weights tied
to Martha’s wrists, ankles? An x-ray
would show the cartoon marbles
rolling ’round. They threaten to burst
her brain. Will the Messiah catch them if they do?

Is this solely a woman’s madness? Obsession
(oh, Calvin Klein, oh, Ahab, oh, Augustine)
is Mary’s game, too. But she is drawn forward,
is she not, by the scent of wisdom? No apostasy,
no need for metanoia. No spinning ’round
and ’round, just loving focus in silent contemplation.

Thank goodness Luke didn’t write that Martha talks too much.

Distraction–so dry a word, so
intellectual. So
forbidden.
In her basement carrel, she writes.
Service to others
beckons.
She feels those squirrely marbles;
constantly rolling,
drawing
her out to the world. The better part,
or simply more
squirrels?

Encumbered by love, and probably sibling rivalry,
Mary and Martha are yoked, an easy burden or no?

Jesus knew we’d always be chasing squirrels.
Women are human, too.

 

Artwork: Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, attributed to Johannes Vermeer, from the Google Art Project

Ecce gratia

This is a reflection I wrote last week for the Good Friday Project that St. James Episcopal Church presented on April 19, 2019. It’s an annual program they present, a variety of artists from their community, and from other churches in the area, offer pieces of music, poetry, dance, and more, in a contemplative setting.

Part I: Ecce homo “Behold the man”
“It is finished.”
They long for the final 
exhalation, these lips that still
pucker at the tang of sour wine;
Arid gust swirls a faint muskysweet  po
scent upward from the Mary who
kneels at the foot of my cross.
Ah, I recall the rough silk of her
hair on my feet. Nard for burial
while I breathed and lived. Her gesture 
was for me; she graced my death,
where Peter and the others could not.
There, my mother and my beloved disciple;
no man can sunder such love.
I focus on their loved faces and my pain
subsides. 
Ecce homo, Pilate commanded.
Demanded the city look and see.
He did not ask of me, ecce populus;
no matter, all is Rome’s
Ah, but I love them nonetheless.
They know not how scorn
echoes down the ages.
Father, I will bear the agony
that in the garden began. 

Part II: Ecce tibi “Behold oneself”
Boston in spring 2007. Our heroine, a grad student presenting at a national conference. Pop Culture—easy to get into, true–exciting, nonetheless. Her paper all about quest literature. The lesson: there’s no one in Avalon to save us; we must save ourselves. Medieval studies sessions catch her attention. The grail’s in Boston, she learns—alive and well in the public library. So, on that Friday in glorious spring, she’s skipping out to quest and finds Edwin Abbott’s eerie paintings in the library’s reading room. Perceval’s gaze still haunts her dreams, and the Holy Grail, that sacred cup, is unveiled in sacred, public space. Behold! What a joyous day with still time to quest. Out into the square she steps. Across the way, a well-aged church beckons her; come. No hesitation, off she goes, such pride in all she’s accomplished. “You can’t take pictures, she’s told at the door, “but please come in and be seated in silence.” The usher hands her a bulletin. It’s not until she’s seated and seen the quote straight back on the wall of the nave–He who does not love does not know God, for God is lovedoes she see the words on the top of the pageGood Friday—come in and pray. Our heroine weeps with sudden understanding: salvation and God have been present all along. She’s just finally been opened to God’s call. 

Part III: Ecce ipsi “Behold ourselves
Have you heard the prophet C. S. Lewis’ words? 
“No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city.”  

Part IV: Ecce familia 
Today, we stand outside of time and watch and pray.
Behold thy family, graciously, O Lord.
Love again begins. 

 

 

Credits: The C. S. Lewis quote is from Till We Have Faces. The featured image is What Our Lord Saw From the Cross, by James Tissot, painted between 1886 and 1894.

Making Space for God’s Daily Visits

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Collect of the Day for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C, Revised Common Lectionary

One of my paid jobs is working as a bookseller at the largest independent bookstore in Texas. We’re open for a few hours on Christmas Day, and I volunteered to be one of those who work that day.

Yesterday, a regular customer (who might have dementia) approached me to ask if we were open on Christmas Day. “Yes, we are; noon to six pm.” “That’s a sin,” she says, no hint of humor in her voice, no skip of a beat.

Today, when asked what I’m doing for the holidays: “I’m working at the store.” Friend says, “They’re open on Christmas? I don’t know how I feel about that.”

I do know how I feel about that. I don’t feel it’s a sin.

Yes, the store isn’t doing this for purely altruistic reasons, and to be honest, neither am I (double-time pay and lunch courtesy of the store).

But. . .

We will have people come in to the store who have nowhere else to go, especially when the libraries are closed for the holiday–homeless people, in other words.
We will have people who’ve come in to sit at the cafe to have space with friends and open gifts.
We will have lonely people who are just glad that we’re open and welcoming. They can come in and feel connected.
Yes, we’ll have the people who are happy we’re open because they want to return a gift or may need to still buy one and don’t need anything further than that.
We will have people who aren’t celebrating the birth of Christ, for whatever reason, and those who are, like myself.

On Tuesday, I’ll strive to be present to the people who come in to the bookstore for the reasons listed above and more, smiling and answering questions, getting frustrated with some of them, I’m sure. I’ll have a good day with my co-workers, whose reasons for being there are similar and different than my own. I’ll be out in the world, doing something I love, in a place I love, for agape’s sake.

Christmas is a celebration of a birth that took place in a lowly, to become holy, place to a couple who couldn’t find anywhere else to be. Care for our neighbors happens anywhere and everywhere, no matter what day it is, and should happen in the most unlikely places, especially at times when it seems that capitalism and consumerism are holding the most sway over our lives.

I don’t feel conflicted about sharing the gospel in any space I can. Where do you find yourself making space?

 

Art: Visitation, 20th century?, Church of Saint Elizabeth, El Sitio, El Salvador, http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56718.

 

Gotta love that brood of vipers

John’s passion, will it ever find satisfaction?

Met a parishioner today who wanted to volunteer
to help our homeless neighbors.
“I can do something that doesn’t require physical contact?”
Touch them, seriously, do I have to?
But her cash is indeed welcome
to provide creature comforts–
bus passes, restaurant gift cards, socks.
That counts as touching, right?

John’s passion, will it ever find satisfaction?

And what about you, aghast that anyone
would ask that question
with such revulsion.
Your own repulsion, as if a snake had reared its hood.
Well, that’s a bad metaphor, because you love snakes;
maybe not love, but they’re God’s creatures, too,
oft maligned, oft destroyed (that saint made his reputation by
clearing them out of Ireland).

Your soul recoils
Isn’t she a viper because her desire
to give prophylactic help,
to remain untainted,
doesn’t that make her sterile?
Doesn’t that make her blind, and render,
yet again, 
the homeless invisible
“There are homeless in this hygenic place?” 
Yes, here. And here. And here.

John’s passion, you brood of vipers, when will it gain satisfaction?

Are you worth more just because,
regardless of your unfitness, 
you would yet be in the trenches?
Would not hesitate (unlike that dear rock
on which the church is founded)
to untie the thongs of his sandals,
enduring dung-tinged dirt that would sting
any viper’s scent-seeking tongue,
you would welcome and wash.
Be a foundation of hospitality.

When will your passion find its satisfaction?
Or are you looking for self sanctification?

Open your heart to all,
forego judgment,
yield to compassion.
God can raise stones in your place, too.

Should My Next Tattoo Be a Blue Night Light?

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

         —from Canticle 16, The Song of Zechariah, Luke 1:78-79

A few years ago now, a friend referred to me as “a blue night light.” A group of us were walking back to our seminary housing after a gathering. I was wearing a blue shirt (blue is my favorite color) at the time; my friend simply used the words to let me know that I was a comforting presence. It was a seemingly fluffy compliment that held no lasting meaning for him. However, I hold on to the image as a part of my identity, especially as I consider what my next tattoo should be.

One tattoo already wraps around my left wrist—seven stars and one crescent moon, all blue—as a reminder of my love of the night sky and how connected I feel to God when out under it. Given his words, and similar ones from others, a blue night light seems fitting, convenient. But why another person’s compliment? my friend asked when told.

Why indeed?

I began attending church ten years ago, after largely resisting formal religion for most of my life, because all I could see was the darkness I associated with dogma–exclusion, bitterness, ignorance. When I read the phrase being Jesus’s hands and feet in the world” as part of the mission statement in the bulletin of the church I went to, a great light bloomed in my heart. Finding a community that looked to serve those in
need–a deeper understanding of what it meant to follow Christ began to dawn on me. Belonging took on new meaning as did serving others.

On this second Sunday of Advent, with the words of John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah–harbinger of a harbinger of the Messiah’s arrival–to give us hope, I can think of no greater compliment than to be called a light in someone else’s darkness.

 

 

Photo from Inhabitots, Eco-night light Moon Jar

Why I’m Soul Sister to a Dog: The Canaanite Woman & Me

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Matthew 15:25-27 NRSV

I am a dog.

One of my closest soul sisters is my friend’s dog. We connect because I understand myself to be a dog in so many ways, in various connotations of the word. I want to claim both those negative and positive aspects, so that I can be whole, as the Canaanite woman is wholly herself, owning the name that Jesus throws at her, which she fetches right back and drops it at his feet.

As a freshman, “you dog!” was hurled at me across the school library, by boys who felt entitled to degrade me because I didn’t meet their standard of beauty. To be honest, I didn’t—straight-haired brunette. Thick eyebrows. Yes, facial hair. No make-up. No interest in fashion. Very much a Spock-loving, Elvish-speaking, poetry-writing nerd of a girl and mostly proud of it. To do any less than own it, to be the dog, felt fake, untrue. So I was ugly, not fit to date—I owned myself.

As a non-desired young woman, I came to identify, later in high school, with Helena, from my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This intensified during my marriage to an emotionally-abusive man who constantly cheated on me. Isn’t that the true place of a “saved” woman?  Fawning over her knight, whom she loved, content to be owned, to have the crumbs from the other women who he’s rescued. In Act 2, Scene 1, while she’s chasing him, Helena tells Demetrius, the man who could heal her: “What worser place can I beg in your love— / And yet a place of high respect with me— / Than to be usèd as you use your dog?”

I can own that I let myself play well into this role over the last twenty-some years. “I am your spaniel. And, Demetrius, / The more you beat me, I will fawn on you.” Yelps–“like me, like me, like me”–chorus in my background. “Bitch” is the pejorative metaphor I never wanted to hear from anyone’s lips.

Did the Canaanite woman expect to hear that insult from Jesus? To be called a “dog” or a “bitch”? Some commentators describe Jesus as smiling in his reply to the woman who dares to implore him for help (Women’s Bible Commentary, 474). He uses the word as a kindness, sort of like when one of my male co-workers greets me with a friendly “what’s up, dawg?” Meant in a friendly way, I know—one cool person to another. Not quite feeling that vibe in the exchange between our savior and the woman, though. Perhaps a little more tension between them—Jesus is focused on his mission. And that reading of a smiling Jesus makes him sound so patronizing. “Nice doggy, go lie down”—pat, pat, pat.

Yet, all along, there’s been another canine shadow pacing quietly alongside these cynical images. For as long as I can recall, when considering my wandering and wondering nature, especially in matters of faith and theology, I’ve described this journey as God letting me out on a very long lead. While exploring other ways of faith-ing, my fidelity has always been given to Christ, despite hackles bristling at rigid dogma or rabid fundamentalism.

Recently, a new friend gave more shape to this numinous form. He noticed that I didn’t just call myself a dog, but very specifically named myself “hound” without any forethought. A new consideration of myself—after all, I didn’t say any breed considered a toy or a lapdog. Hounds, Jeff observed, are independent and given to tracking by scent or sight their quarry. Leave out of your minds right now the masculine sexual connotations
–I definitely ain’t nothin’ like that hound dog!

Do I imagine myself the noble bloodhound, the elegant saluki, the swift greyhound? Maybe. I can claim certain of their aspects. In all honesty, though, I’m most like my Grandpa John’s basset hound, kindred spirit of my childhood—built low to the ground, chasing rabbits (going down rabbit holes), checking out fascinating scents, and generally going my own way around town. Lovingly indulged.

I’ve done with being the fawning spaniel (with all due respect to my soul sister), waiting to be spurned or beaten, or worse yet, beating myself. The Canaanite woman said “yes, that’s me” to Jesus (great improv!). Her “yes” woke him, reminding him that faith and salvation come in unexpected forms. Her “yes” rouses me, too.

Yes, I am a dog; a hound as faithful and true as the Canaanite woman. And very grateful that God has never once taken God’s hand from the lead.