Ballast from Bethany-AscensionB

Luke 24:44-53

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The feast of the Ascension brings to a close the forty day season of Easter, which itself is a climax to the forty day preparatory period of Lent. The purpose of the Ascension is to mark the transition of Jesus from Incarnate God back to the original Cosmic Omnipresnt Being. At least that is the theological perspective.

But there is something missing in all of this, for in my lifetime I have seen a steady decline, not merely in the observance of the Ascension feast, but also in the significance of this event in moderna day experience of our salvation history.
In part I suppose this due to the fact that “ascension” works better in a flat earth cosmology where there is only one direction one can ascend in. Knowing we live on a sphere, and then discovering the vast insignificance of that sphere in the Universe makes the ascension almost impossible for twenty-first century minds to process on any cognitive level.

Besides this, asking “Where did he go?” is at once a locational as well as a dimensional conundrum and to go from here to geo-physical explanation becomes a flight of fanciful sophistry.

Simply from these few sentences you can see that it is easy to ascend into such etheric speculation as to begin to feel just a tad trippy. That is why I come to the Ascension looking for an anchor and some ballast. If I, as a global, galactic human am to understand this feast at all I will have to angle into its significance in a way that is relevant to my context.

Let’s see…
The ascension is at its heart the conclusion of the Incarnation. How does one grasp that then without feeling utterly bereft of all the gift and consolation that Emmanuel brought us at the Christ Mass? As I scoured the passage for some sign I noticed that Luke is very specific in telling his readers,”he led them out as far as Bethany”.

Why did he lead them out as far as Bethany?
Bethany is the place of consolation, community and care for Jesus. The home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, was his refuge and at the same time the prototypical church community.

If Jerusalem is the city that “stones the prophets” and which refuses to be “gathered like chicks under the wings” of Jesus; then Bethany is the place where prophets recover and where clucking, caring community is to be found. Jesus, in taking the disciples as far as Bethany, points to where his incarnation will continue after the ascension. Yes, he does tell them to go and wait in Jerusalem for the gift from on high, but they are to go as the Bethany house community, caring for and supporting each other.

Pentecost may mark the birth of the empowered church, but the Ascension marks the gathering of that grieving, wounded and wondering group preparing, through pain, for inspiration.

Here in Bethany,where Lazarus walked out of a tomb that had been sealed for four days, these women and men are experiencing the very human realities of separation, loneliness and agst that we know from our own experience are the portals through which Spirit can blow.

Just say, “Yes. Let it be…”

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to 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 holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by processes. Perhaps it’s the fact that I grew up in gold mining towns where the headgear wheels were spinning, the metalurgical plant was roaring, and the tailings were clattering onto the waste dump. There was always something going on. Gold was coming out of the depths of the earth. Rich ore was graded as containing fourteen milligrams per ton of rock milled. Small returns for a lot of efffort. Yet gold, that elusive beguiling metal, was at one time the backbone of South Africa’s economy.

So I find processes, mining, metallurgical or monetary altogether fascinating.

As I read the Annunciation Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Advent, I discern a process in the unfolding of Mary’s story. For the past two weeks we have contemplated John the Baptizer as that archetype of the Christ follower. This week the other archetypal Christian Mary asks for our attention.

Where John was all barren wildness, Mary is innocence in encounter with the Creative Life of the Universe we call God. Here Incarnation happens and “the dwelling place of God is with people”.
How does it happen?
There is no earth shattering explosions underground, no pounding and grinding of great mills, not even the fiery furnace of the alchemical gold extraction and pouring in the smelt house.
There is only a simple peasant girl saying, “yes” to an outrageous idea from God.

The Annunciation-Incarnation process seems to unfold in five stages for Mary:

  1. Comfort. “Do not be afraid.”
  2. Assurance. “You have found favour with God,”
  3. Annunciation of the plan. “You are going to conceive and birth a God-child”
  4. Questioning doubt. “How can this be?”
  5. Agreement to partnership. “Let it be with me according to your word.”

It strikes me that this process is archetypal for us who are invited into the Divine Domain, the Kingdom of God.

We begin by experiencing the comfort of God when God shows up disguised as our life. In the dark night, the fearful storm, the empty wilderness, God shows up and Consoles us. “Do not be afraid” I suppose it is outrageous of me to ask at what point Mary conceived? Was it before, during or directly after the messenger visited? I wonder if it matters? God showed up.

The next step in our Incarnating of God process is the Assurance that whatever has happened, is happening now, and is going to happen, is all in the presence and providence of God. We all have found favour with God, we know the favour because we sense our part of the plan. The worst hell possible to a human being is not to know that there is a favourable destiny to our lives.

The third step is the Announcing of the Plan. It is only at this third point in the process that we note that Mary has a specific and unique plan. Ours will be different, but the process remains the same. The plan is announced and revealed and we see the possibilities.

The inevitable fourth step of Questioning doubt is essential and inevitable. Any deep encounter with the mystery of God must leave us incredulous and asking, “How can this be?” Beware of any scheme or plan that is announced to you by messengers claiming to be from God and who won’t allow you to ask that question, or any other questions. The church is littered with the wrecks of deluded egos who claimed to be speaking for God, would not allow any doubt or questioning, and were later revealed to be nothing more than manipulators and controllers.

Having got through the fourth and challenging stage of Questioning doubt we then stand with Mary on the edge of mystery and miracle. All that remains is the “Let it be” This is the ultimate wording for an Agreement to partnership with God and Life

Great song it was by John Lennon, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be. Let it be…'” John Lennon was not an obvious Christ follower, but he knew enough to know that Mary would know what to do in “times of trouble”
“Let it be”

It is the moment when Annunciation becomes Incarnation.
It is a process which was Mary’s but which is open to us all.
It is the way that God keeps being born into this world.
Just say ,”Yes. Let it be”

In all the years of my ministry, I have served the Divine Domain best when I have allowed this Annunciation-Incarnation process to flow. “Yes, Let is be…”

There is gold and God in those words.

Every time I have said, “No. The rules say…” I have hurt others and myself and sensed the thwarting of what God might have been wanting to do, if I had only said yes. It is perhaps the greatest curse on ministers in denominations that we are expected to serve both the Incarnating Life of God, and to keep the rules of the church. As if those two were in any way aligned and symbiotic?

Parking under the wrong tree – Christmas Eve


Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

A fellow preacher has likened preaching at Christmas to wringing out laundry in the days before spin dry cycles on washing machines. Two people would grab opposite ends of then sheet and then twist the material to try and squeeze every last drop from it before hanging it on the line. The point is that preaching at Christmas can be as exhausting as wringing out the laundry. You just can’t seem to get the essential and hopefully unique drop! This analogy of Don’s is one I can relate to, and yet it also struck me that the story really finds its power in the simplicity of the narrative.

It is a story of a pregnant couple who have been displaced by socio-political forces completely beyond their control. The difficulty of their journey to comply with the demands of the authorities is of little interest to those who decreed the displacement. Rules are rules and must be obeyed. The universality of this cameo is that it is being playing out in real time in Darfur, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southern Africa and the Mexican border with the USA.

The second scene of this archetypal drama finds our couple unable to be accommodated in the “inn” (In Greek kataluma. This could also mean place reserved for guests or “guest room”). So not only are they displaced but they are now further marginalised by being rendered homeless.

Let’s forget the nativity play with the inn keeper dialogue for a moment and read the text more closely. “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” I find no cosy backlighting here. No cattle lowing, and fresh straw. I find a marginalised and homeless teenage girl, having to give birth, God knows where, and then putting the child in a feed trough presumably so that she can attend to herself and her post natal recovery. Once again any third world disaster area will suffice as a modern day setting for this drama. Who was it who said, “The rich get richer and the poor have babies”?

The third and final scene of our story, is of another group of unsheltered, and by their profession, unclean persons. Shepherds who are under the stars and who receive a message and a manifestation about God’s glory (The Greek “doxa” is the opposite of episte’me’ (epistemology) knowledge and is realised not from reasoning but from realising) The unrighteous subsistence farming shepherds are the ones to whom the revelation of what is really happening is given.

They in turn become the ones who go and explain the mystery to Mary and Joseph and leave Mary with food for thought if not food for her family. “ all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” I would like to speculate that now the message of Gabriel began to have real application. Mary now needed to know, “… the Lord is with Thee” Yes Mary even in the extremity of this moment, “ the Lord is with Thee”

I am not sure we have any clue, any more about the transforming power of this narrative which we ritually repeat year after year. We who have homes, hearths, and heaped plates, what do we know about political displacement, marginalisation, and homelessness?

If we have become jaded by the mall mania, the credit-card crisis spending, and the bloated botulisms of our wasted food; perhaps we need to listen again to the invitation of the shepherds. “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

Let’s go to Bethlehem now in 2010, behind its concrete wall of Zionist and Palestinian isolation and begin to understand what it means for God to be present in the suffering of simple people.

But let’s not stop there, now that global travel is so much easier, let us also go to Indonesia, Iran and Ethiopia and look into the earthquake rubble, let’s go to the flood ravaged Ukraine and Panama.

Let’s go where God seems to be found incarnated and present. Not in our tinsel decked trees but in the trauma ravaged suffering of the poor and the powerless around the world. Let us go there, and see these things that the Lord has made known to us. I don’t feel that I have to wring some new cute angle from this ageless story. I think the story speaks for itself. If we can’t find God this Christ Mass, maybe we are parking under the wrong tree.

Learning from our children – Christmas 1C

Luke 2:41-52 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.
Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

I have often been heard to say that being a parent for the past 25 years has taught me more about God’s relationship with humankind, than all the theology books I have read. So when I have the privilege of this Lukan window into the world of Mary and Joseph’s parenting of Jesus, I am delighted to see that they had to learn similar lessons to mine.

It was the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet, who first alerted me to the fact that, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Over the past twenty five years I have learnt the truth of this saying as I have not tried to be my sons’, controller, dictator, policeman, moralist, publicist nor garbage disposal unit.
In fact learning to be, not the perfect parent, just the Good Enough Parent, is what taught me so much about God’s parenting.

Mary and Joseph begin their school of Good Enough parenting, by learning the following lessons.

  • Children are never really lost.
  • Children find their true home despite us.

Children are never really lost, they are just on their own path.

There is a parable for me in the way that Mary and Joseph set off back home and travel a whole day with the assumption that Jesus is tagging along.

I feel their discovery of his absence viscerally, for as a parent I know how it is to wake up to the fact that my children are under no obligation to follow the path that I have chosen for myself. I remember the awakening to how I simply assumed that they, and every other rational being on the planet should emulate my path, my values and my way of looking at the world.
I also resonate with the shame, blame,game that Mary tries to lay on Jesus when he is found in the temple. Even down to the way she tries to triangulate Joseph onto her side of the power play!
Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.

Such a familiar scene. Or is my family the only one who played those games?
Remember the old relationship training adage, “Never assume. It only makes an ASS of U and ME!”

Please don’t hear me suggesting that parenting does not involve the formation of young lives. Of course it does! What I am suggesting from the lesson of Mary and Joseph, however, is that this formation must be done with deep respect and discernment for the destiny that our children’s Heavenly Parent has for them.

Chances are, that their destiny will be different from our own and may even be radically different from the plans that we may have made for our children.

I have had too many counselling conversations with distraught, damaged and depressed adults and adolescents who have been made to feel less than adequate for having “let their parents down“.

To any of us who may feel that way, let me remind us that in this passage Jesus also “let his parents down“, and not too gently either.

Can we begin to pray to be “let down” from our lofty delusions of how perfect and conforming our children should be?

They may not need to follow us back to Nazareth. It doesn’t mean they are lost. They are simply finding their own destined home, often closer to God’s heart than we are!

Which is really the core of the second lesson the Holy Family learnt.

Children find their true home despite us.

I have never been able to get my head around the notion of predestination. The idea that God has it all planned and determined from before our birth is offensive and mechanistic for me. Parenting has taught me the impossibility of predestination.

The amazing grace of a relationship with children who are not forced nor manipulated into loving one as the parent, and who do it nonetheless is one of the most profound human experiences. I hope I am never in a relationship where I feel I have to love someone simply because I was told, or required or determined to do so. Such a relationship would be an experience of deep oppression.

Yet, having said that I also know that despite the twists and vagaries of this precious human existence, there is a deep perfection at the heart of the created order. I know it sounds contradictory to human freedom and self determination. I also know that I cannot say it to another human being.

For example to say to my friend who is getting divorced as I write this, or to a congregation member who is grieving deeply years after their child was killed in an accident; “It’s all perfect”, would be scandalous and rude.
Yet somehow when I look at my own life, the past, the present, the pain the joy, the mistakes the success. In all of these I can say, in faith and with reference to my own life alone, “It’s all perfect”

It’s a faith response. It’s a chosen way of viewing my reality. It gives me deep peace.
Is it predestination?

Dear Lord, No!

It is integration.

Mary and Joseph, despite their mistaken assumptions, errors of judgement and anxiety, could also come away from the temple encounter with Jesus with a sense of deep peace, knowing that it was all perfect.
Parenting has taught me to trust the universal and unconditional providence of God, even when terrible and traumatic events tear at my sanity.

It’s all comes home to God.

Didn’t I know that we all need to be in our Father’s house?

I think to myself, “What a wonderful Word” – Christmas Eve/Day

Word becoming flesh

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

So how does word become flesh?

It is a quirky kind of question, don’t you think?
It sounds like those silly riddles I grew up with. When is a tree not a tree?

Words seem so insubstantial. We talk, we shout, we scream, we sing, we pray. where I host my blog, tells me that 50,419,875 words were written into its blogs on Thursday.
Flesh on the other hand is very substantial. And after today’s Christmas dinner, chances are your and my flesh will be even more substantial!
On December 19th, there were estimated to be 6,791,048,312 human flesh bodies on the planet according to the US Census service website

So how does word become flesh? And if that is at all possible, how does one such enfleshment change anything amongst so many people on the planet?

One would have to begin with words that can create something.
Words like ‘You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’.
These are words which we have come to associate with dialogue between lovers, yet if we can tune out the very strong Hollywood, and now Bollywood, overlay we may find that these are words which are at the core of all human longing.
We long for unity and union at almost every level of our lives.

How would the words:’You are special’, ‘I love you unconditionally’, ‘I want to be with you and share my life with you’; have changed us if we had heard them from:

  • Our parents?
  • Our mentors?
  • Our partners?
  • Our children?

We long to be acknowledged. To have someone say, ‘You have significance to me’, ‘What happens to you matters to me’
It is these words that unlock in human nature the almost unlimited potential for the good, the true and the beautiful that we long for and pursue with our lives.
It is these words that lie at the heart of the Incarnation of God into our lives as Jesus.

John’s gospel picks up a Greek philosophical concept namely “The Word”, the divine Logos, that which the Philosophers regarded as the first principle that lies at the heart of all that is good, true and beautiful in the Universe. It is the Word that encapsulates all the integrating words I have been speaking about.

This Word says John, took flesh and pitched its tent among us.

It began with Mary hearing.
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…”Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:29-30 NRSV)
Mary is incredulous.
“But she was much perplexed by his words (logo-Gk) and pondered(or dialogued with herself) what sort of greeting this might be” Luke 1:29 NRSV
Is it not part of our conditioning by oppressive religious structures that we have been told that we can never hope to find favour with God?
No wonder Mary was puzzled. Raised in a shame blame culture that was particularly hard on women, she would never have hoped to have found favour with God.

In almost thirty years of pastoral ministry I still feel the jolt when someone comes to see me for counsel and begins the conversation, ‘Peter, I know I am not a good Christian, but…‘ In moments like these, and they are all too frequent, I ask myself, what kind of message have we, as the church, been proclaiming?

If you find all the other theological reasons for the Incarnation too esoteric, then this simple moment in a young girl’s life should be enough for you to understand what the theologians try so hard to explain.

God wanted us all to know that we have found favour with God.
That we are blessed amongst people. Not because we are better than them but simply because we have stumbled onto this truth! The Word of God’s love is here for us all to see.

Our Roman Catholic friends have maintained a beautiful prayer, that has largely been lost to Protestantism. It is based on this message of the angel.
I am sure you know it…

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

The prayer then goes on into high octane doctrines of the nature of Mary that will only confuse our discussion, so I am going to stop there.

I am sure you agree this prayer is biblical and beautiful
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus.

This is the message of the Incarnation.
This is how the Word becomes flesh.

What is only slowly dawning on me however, as I live with this prayer, is that it is a prayer that I can pray for myself, that you can pray for yourself.
I could pray it like this…

Greetings, Peter, full of grace,
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you amongst people,
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus.

‘Whoa, just a minute!’, I hear you protest.

Let me unpack this a bit
I am suggesting we can pray the “Hail Mary” and insert our names in Mary’s place, because this is the essential meaning of Word becoming flesh.

So if I can commentate line by line:
Greetings, Peter, full of grace (where would I be without Amazing Grace?)
The Lord is with you. (always, till the end of the age)
Blessed are you amongst people (because, somehow, this Good News found me!)
and blessed is the fruit of your life, Jesus. (All that is good about me is His Spirit’s fruiting in me)

The Incarnation is not only a moment in history, it is the start of an ongoing process, beginning with Jesus and fruiting in every follower.

I hang out with people of other faiths as often as I can. How else can one hope to build a trust relationship in which to share Jesus?
I really love learning about their notions of what is precious and blessed about their faith path.
Of course when some trust has been built in those friendships, the questions come more easily, and inevitably, this one from my friends on Eastern paths, pops up.
‘Do you believe in reincarnation?’

They of course think they know what my answer is going to be, so what I say surprises them.
‘Yes, I do believe in reincarnation, but maybe not quite as you may think?’

The Christian message clearly speaks of the path of the disciple, being a path of dying to self so that Christ can be born in the follower.
That is Christian reincarnation.
Jesus being re-incarnated in every Christ follower as his word of love, compassion, forgiveness, healing, peace; all of it comes and takes flesh in your life and mine.

The Incarnation of the Word of God into human flesh happens first in Jesus and that is what we are celebrating this Christmas day. The Incarnation doesn’t end there though. It is the ongoing fruit of transformation of my life and yours, by the fruiting Word incarnate in us.

May your life and mine be transformed by God’s word, Jesus and may we all become just like him.

“O holy child of Bethlehem, be born in us today”

Incarnation is an inside job. Advent 4C

The fecund feminine

Allow me a quick recap of the map that we have been following through these weeks of Advent.

Week one: the outer chaos of external events such as the destruction of the temple, and their modern day equivalents in multiple contexts around the world lead one to “lift up your eyes for our redemption is at hand”

Week two: the preparation of the outer ground with the end of “Access control” with the leveling of religious mountains of exclusion, the filling in of valleys of suffering and the straightening of crooked paths, so that a level pathway of equal opportunity can lead to God.

Week three: moves us inward into the heartspace, where the people who come to see John the Baptizer, Priests, Tax Collectors and Soldiers, are not told to give up their tasks when they repent/change, but rather to stay with those tasks bringing to them Compassion, Ethics and Non-abuse of power respectively.

Week four: finds us with Mary having recently conceived by the overpowering of God’s Spirit, going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, where the two women celebrate the fecundity that comes as the consequence of inner journeying.

And so to the Gospel for Sunday

Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 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 powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

This prayer of Mary is not dissimilar to Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel and it raises a question.

Why do women who are touched by God have their prayers recorded by a patriarchal religion that viewed women as possessions and not people?

Why would these words find a place in the hearts of the men who made the decisions of what to include and what to leave out of their Sacred Texts that they regarded as God’s Word?

Could it be because the Holy Spirit is female energy? A nurturing fruiting energy that even hardened religious men find indispensable on their journey to wisdom?

The Hebrew word for Spirit is in the feminine case.The spirit that overpowered Mary was a feminine Spirit. This was not rape, this was a fecund embrace.

I am a man. A man who has spent my life being taught and told to take charge. To lead, to decide, to dominate.

I keep hearing of, and being invited to mighty men conferences, and I am sure that the intention of developing a wholesome masculine spirituality is important in a world where so many men seem to have lost their way and their sense of identity.

I never accept the invitations.

What concerns me is that very few of the men who go off to the mighty men conferences seem to return having made that essential journey which Richard Rohr calls “From Wild man to Wise man”

Mighty men, in fact, seem to return more determined to dominate and govern their families in ways that sees no decrease in the South African statistics of domestic violence and the abuse of women and children.

So I wonder if mighty men are any wiser?

It would seem from the Gospel this Sunday and from the readings of scripture that wisdom requires female fecundity to fruit.

“Say that Wisdom is thy sister” (Proverbs 7:4)

“Wisdom is known by her children” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35)

Could it be that the fruiting of God’s working in human life cannot be understood apart from the fecundity of the womb.

When I look back at the map I have discerned in Advent this all begins to make sense. There is a journey from the chaos of the time, wars and rumours of wars, through the ground leveling preparation for God, the entry inside to the heartscape of compassion, ethics, and non-violence, finally to feminine fruiting.

There is in the journey from wild to wise, from outer to inner. A very necessary move from spear to womb.

From force to fecundity.

It is the eternal feminine that brings the truly redemptive processes for humankind to birth

Whether you speak of economics, politics or ecology, it is the nurturing, holding energy of the feminine spirit of God that is at work in what is holding and healing our lives on the planet. Of course I am not denying the need for testosterone.

Where would we be without the Sea Shepherd ramming whalers in protest against their killing of those beautiful behemoths?

I am, however, convinced that we are most likely to build something whole and lasting when we “enwomb” rather than “impale”

For some years now I have meditated on that leap of John the Baptizer in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. This desert dwelling, camel haired, locust eater, (as opposed to lotus eater) responded en utero to the gentle arrival of feminine spirit when Mary came to visit.

Was it this sensitivity which stayed with John and fruited into the profound discernment that knew when it was time to hand over to Jesus and step out of the way, and into history?

Of course I will never know. The speculation is helpful for me though as I come to this final week of preparation to receive Immanuel.

Would that I will find enough feminine spirit moving in my life that something may leap in me, when the yet unborn Christ child comes to visit this Sunday.

I have done with being Wild. Holy Mother help me to become wise.