Wednesday, April 22, 2020

meditation on the love of Mother God

I found this spiral-bound book at a massive used book sale, the kind where you spend a dollar that might unexpectedly change your life. I really love Virginia Ann Froehle's book "Called Into Her Presence: Praying with Feminine Images of God". It's full of essays, guided meditations and group practices for opening our imaginations to God's expression of self through women.

I adapted one of her meditations on finding ourselves at rest in the womb enclosure of Mother God. I invite you to give it a whirl, it's best done when lying down with no children screaming at you.

"Feel the vibrant maternal power of the One who holds you within Her, fully aware of you, loving you with unending love, and waiting for the time to come when She will be able to embrace you in fullness. Rest in Her. Receive Her love."

Sunday, April 12, 2020

oh the blood (plasma) of Jesus

Our son read to us on Friday evening as we tried to salvage some sense of sacredness from (another) long day together. I want to be actively passing on the faith I've inherited to my children but there seems to be no manual in how to do that well. We passed the "Jesus Storybook Bible" around the table and each took turns reading about the last night of Jesus' life. My son (he's 9) landed on the words describing Jesus' last moments, hanging on a Roman cross, symbol of shame, humiliation and the formidable power of empire. Sally Lloyd-Jones' interpretation of the event read in my son's mostly Australian accent was this:

"The full force of the storm of God's fierce anger at sin was coming down. On his own Son. Instead of his people. It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin. Then Jesus shouted out in a loud voice, "It is finished!" And it was. He had done it. Jesus had rescued the whole world."

A discussion quickly ensued around the table as my daughter (she's 8) interrupted saying she didn't think that was true. God didn't kill Jesus because he was angry with us. We talked about the Roman empire killing Jesus and the religious people handing him over. We talked about how the Jesus Storybook Bible is lovely in many parts and it's an interpretation. There's more than a few ways to think about Jesus' death in the New Testament as attested to in church history and I want my kids to wrestle with all of them. 

Brad Jersak writes in his book "A More Christ-like God: A More Beautiful Gospel" about conflicting understandings of Jesus' death throughout church history. Two examples are God as judge versus God as Great Physician. Referring to a view similar to the one we read in The Jesus Storybook Bible, Brad writes, "This approach imagines the story of Jesus as a courtroom drama, where sin is law-breaking that needs to be punished and God is the judge whose justice must be satisfied." Brad believes there's a more ancient understanding of redemption. "...we have been calling it the restorative theory or healing gospel or even therapeutic version. In this version sin is not law-breaking behaviour, but, rather, a fatal disease. The sin condition is a suffering of our souls that is rooted much deeper than thought or deed...In this analogy, more of a hospital or a hospice than a courtroom, God comes not as a punishing judge, but as the Great Physician who would heal our brokenness and rescue us from the curse of death."

In this Covid-19 world we find ourselves in, more than we need a judge to pardon us, we need a doctor who can heal us.

Doctors around the world are realising that the blood plasma of people who have been infected by the virus but were asymptomatic or recovered well could be a key to treating those who are suffering. "Take the blood of people who’ve recovered, let the red blood cells clot and remove them, and transfuse what’s left—the “serum”—into people in the early stages of the disease. (You have to match their blood types.) Not only does this process ease symptoms and potentially save lives, it accelerates the path to immunity, like something in between a drug and a vaccine. In addition to measles, it was used against polio, mumps, and even the 1918 influenza pandemic." 

Christians this weekend remember our story, of Jesus showing us the clearest picture of God, choosing love all the way to his death. Could this convalescent plasma treatment of covid-19 give us a new understanding of Jesus' work on the cross? I don't believe God needed Jesus' blood as a sacrifice to be able to forgive our collective sins. I do believe that Jesus' life and teachings of nonviolence and love for neighbour are the best the world had ever seen and when applied by groups of people are strangely powerful. 

As much as I believe Jesus' teachings, it’s also not enough for me. I'm too unwell, too afflicted by disease, and I see that. I've been colonised by white supremacy, greed, the myth of redemptive violence and the Myth of the American Dream; I was raised on the stories and symbols of empire. There's something in Jesus' body and blood that my body and blood desperately need so that I can be made well. 

What if Jesus gained the antibodies to greed and violence by fully following the way of God in his context? Jesus faced all the temptations to self-preserve and take up arms and use people for his own gains that we do, and he resisted all the way to his own death. When God raised Jesus from the dead Jesus defeated all the diseases of empire and sin. He fully recovered, firstborn from the dead, leading the way for the rest of us. Maybe in Jesus' blood is the antibody that can heal the world. Jesus' is offering us his blood plasma, just a mustard seed's worth, that can be planted in our bodies and imaginations. Once it starts growing in us, it won't stop. (And I don't think this has much to do with your religion; many people who call themselves "Christian" have rejected the antibodies that Jesus has offered.)

It's not just  Jesus' blood that heals us, it's the new way of living together that he inaugurated, a new ethic of justice, forgiveness and mercy, a world without border walls, a world full of neighbours and friends. I need help to stay on this narrow, rocky path because there's so much gravitational pull in me towards the wide road of empire. That's why I gather with our little church multiple times a month, breaking bread with a few sips of wine, letting ourselves be nourished again (and again, and again) by the body and blood of Jesus. 

"Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore. 
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power. 
He is able, He is able, 
He is willing, doubt no more.”

- 1759, Joseph Hart

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday (we who survive)

I spoke to my dad on FaceTime today, which we’ve been doing much more frequently than we normally would. It’s a thread of connection from a global lockdown crisscrossing time zones and national borders - in central Pennsylvania and the east coast of New South Wales my dad and I are in this together, at home, baking bread. My dad has been baking bread for about twenty years, ever since his 80 year old friend Vera started mentoring him. I started baking last week on my 38th birthday because there was honestly not much else to do and a friend offered to teach me, virtually. I’ve been ringing my dad to show my starter and leaven, my rising dough and scored loaves coming out of the oven. I’m not perfectionist enough to be a great baker but I am enjoying shaping dusty dough. My dad’s been in ministry my whole life, a small church pastor and more recently training as a chaplain, working shifts at a large hospital emergency room. He’s usually busy visiting people, running errands and working, even in his late 60s, so it’s rare that we would talk regularly on the phone. But now he’s home and so am I. 

My dad mentioned that my great-grandmother had died in the Spanish flu pandemic over a hundred years ago. Her name was Kathryn and she was 26, buried with an infant, leaving her husband and 3 year old daughter - Jeanette -  my grandma. She was pregnant during World War I, birthing my grandma at the end of 1917. What world did she imagine for her baby girl, who would live to be 95 years old? She gave birth to her second child while the flu ravaged the world. How many more children would she have raised had she not been infected, how many more great-grandchildren would there be like me? Kathryn died in one of the very last waves of the pandemic, in 1921.

I hadn’t known that my dad’s mum had lost her own mother as a small child. My dad’s father, her husband of 65 years, had lost his mum tragically as well. How did their stories grow up in my dad as he grew, how did their pain shape him, how has their resilience brought colour to his eyes? Trauma and loss is often left unnamed but we carry it still, we wrap our own babies in it and it feels safe; it’s all they ever know. Science has recently uncovered epigenetic inheritance, we carry the past generations’ trauma in our DNA. What of my great grandmother’s death is whispered when I inhale quickly and my body feels alert and on edge? What of her hope settles me when I exhale slowly, counting, allowing my body to be held by the ground and divine love. She birthed two children through a pandemic, she was courageous and also afraid. When I was pregnant my fears were acute - catastrophic thoughts of dying when my children were too small to remember me, of leaving my husband to care for a toddler alone. Was my body grieving the loss it tenderly carried in genetic code?

I’m becoming more aware of the layers of trauma in which the seeds of my life have been planted and grown. This isn’t blaming others for my problems; I’m learning my story so I can keep doing the hard and gentle work of breaking cycles that have tangled us up for generations.  I move my body, take my meds, forgive myself and show up to therapy for my great-grandma Kathryn who died longing for the best possible future for her babies, and their babies as well.

Theologian Shelley Rambo writes of how in Jesus’ farewell message to his followers recorded in the gospel of John he invites them to “remain in me.” To remain is to be what’s left after everything else has fallen away. A better translation of this Greek word, menein, is to survive. Survive in me. Survive in my love. Jesus anticipated the trauma his execution would inflict on those who loved him and would be close by. Today is Good Friday, when Christians remember Jesus’ last breath handed over, paradidonai, to those who were left behind. Even in the presence of terrible death, a breath of life remained, inhaled and carried on by those who survived. 

Every human has generations of hurt and ache in their bones and blood. Most people on the planet have suffered extreme brutality from colonisation, white supremacy and war. And yet, we are born of survivors. As much as their torment has shaped us, so has their fire and their expectancy. Even in death, their life breath is handed over to those who of us who remain.

Thank you great grandmother Kathryn. I carry you now, in hope, just as you carried me.