Saturday, December 20, 2014

Make straight the way (Magnificat series)

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.

Last week, I wrote about verse 51, which talked about what God does to pride.

What happens when the core, most central, sin of pride is no more?

The powerful are brought down from their thrones. There is no need for thrones when all are humble and look to God. Do you remember Samuel protesting to God about Saul being made King? (1 Samuel 8 to refresh your memory.)

The lowly are lifted up: without pride, without sin, the playing field is level. There's no superiority in this world.

The hungry are filled with good things: pride is no more, pride that can make us do selfish things, like hoard resources, like grain.

The rich are sent away empty: everyone has enough. Not stuff for the sake of owning stuff, or nicer stuff, or more pretty-shiney stuff than one's neighbor. All are satisfied, because that pesky sin pride is out on its arse. Sorry, I mean, no longer has a place in our hearts.

Can you imagine a world like that? Not ruled but all accomplished from the freedom of the heart, for our hearts will have been freed from pride by God.

Rachel Held Evans's post last week (if you haven't read it already), pointed the way to how this is/shall be achieved. Via the Messiah, through Jesus who showed in his actions how to live a Kingdom Now (or Jubilee) life.

On the very same day, I saw a webinar given by Micah Goodman. (This is because I work at an incredibly cool place that lets me geek out on theology now and then.) It's called "The Memory of Miracles" and it blew me away in several different ways, and not the least because it was a confluence of my study, writing, and reading Rachel's blog the same day.

It's worth listening to the whole thing (with printout in hand because he reads the scripture passages in Hebrew).

He talks about how there are two ways of dealing with miracles: one is passive and relies on God to take care of everything. 

The other way is that of Moses (Moshe in the talks). In Exodus, Moses hands down the 10 commandments and the other laws from God to the Israelites. In Deuteronomy, it is Moses telling the story of Exodus, including the commandments and he adds an interpretation to the law.

The first law after the 10 commandments deals with freeing Hebrew slaves. It's simply stated in Exodus (21:1-2). In Deuteronomy 15:12-15, Moses explains why: just as God liberated we Israelites from slavery in Egypt, so must we also liberate our slaves. We don't let go a slave empty-handed but give them gifts so they can make a life for themselves. Truly free, truly liberated.

As God liberates, so must we. It echoed so strongly what Rachel (and Walter Brueggeman) said about Jesus that I almost fell out of my chair.

God showed Moses that the Israelites should pass on their liberation to others. God, through Jesus, continues Moses' example and shows us how to make the field level for all.

To paraphrase Mary: "Let it be ... according to your word." (Luke 1:38, sorta)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The promise and the call (Magnificat series)

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

Mary speaks as if God has already acted, that all these things in this and the following verses have come to pass, because this is what God has promised through Gabriel, and throughout centuries of scripture.

But you know what? They haven't come to pass. There are still chasms between proud and humble, rich and poor. So what happened?

A Messiah came who wasn't what Mary was expecting either. A Messiah who showed us the way of delivering these hopes of Mary.

Looking at the second verse:

"He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts."

In reading commentaries for today's post, I came across one in Feasting on the Word that said pride is the central sin. From pride comes all other sins and ways of breaking relationships with God and each other.

Like when we know better than God in a certain situation (like that fruit in the Garden of Eden, which yes suggests sin existed before the fall. Which I'll explore another day.) That's pride, that's breaking relationship.

This verse is saying that even in the most secret thoughts of their hearts, pride is scattered, no longer a single piece, no longer whole, no longer a force.

This is a promise and a call. God calls not for destruction of the proud, but the destruction of their pride, an end to sin.

And thus, Mary's and Israel's hopes are fulfilled.

In writing about Isaiah 61, posted today, Rachel Held Evans writes about this also. A highly recommended read, even if it does give away next week's post :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

"... for those who fear ..." (Magnificat series)

50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.


I get hung up on the word fear when I read this line. I'm pretty certain as a faithful God-believer that I'm supposed to be hung up on the word mercy.


I think of the phrase from Frank Herbert's novel Dune that for a while I had memorized: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." (Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear)

Pretty sure I wanted to be a Bene Gesserit when I grew up.  I really need to re-read that series...

In church, I was taught that the word "fear" would be more correctly translated as "great awe". But when angels appear they always start with "Do not be afraid”, you gotta wonder, right?

This one line of the Magnificat is causing me all sorts of trouble. First, the fear thing, and the whole conditional statement. God’s mercy (God’s love, God’s grace) just if you find God frightening (or awe-inspiring). 

Huh. Having written that out, it’s clear that everyone to whom God or an angel appeared would be overwhelmed. We can imagine that, whether we would call it fear or awe. I have felt God’s love, and even unseen, God overwhelms once you’re aware of God’s presence.

God’s mercy/love/grace is thus for all.

Now that we have that little faith dilemma resolved, this verse is a statement of fact. It’s not a future statement, it’s a now statement.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"...All Generations Will Call Me Blessed..." (Magnificat series)

48b Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.

This is God's work, not hers. That Mary will be called blessed is because God is working through her and her status (as a woman at that time) will be the highest because she is Mother of the Messiah.

All generations have and do call her blessed, for having that sure confidence and trust to say yes to God, and for being the God-Bearer (Theotokos).

And yet it all circles back to God. God is important here, not Mary’s blessedness. This isn’t a puffed up moment for her. She’s been thinking about this remember and she knows this for she praises God as mighty and that his name is holy.

The way ahead is scary: Joseph is in his rights to abandon her; her reputation would be shattered; she could end up on the very edges of society.

And yet this is a great thing God has done for her because it means the Messiah has come.

And so Mary praises God, she gives thanks. She trusts God to stay by her side, to never desert her in the rough times which are ahead.

(This is part of the Magnificat series during Advent...)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Behind the Art of the Advent Choral Celebration flyer

I've been designing the flyers for the Advent Choral Celebration, since I worked at Good Samaritan and with the music director we changed it up last year. This year, instead of finding artwork on Wikimedia Commons, I felt confident enough to try myself.

I wanted something rich in color and to symbolize the energy of the music we're singing this year.

The first attempt turned out wooden, like I was trying too hard to color in between the lines and ummm ...

Can you spot E.T. Jesus? Yeah, so that. One day I will be able to do what was in my head.

I went about the second attempt differently. I had just bought some new (to me) spray Inks xxx and pulled a couple of those and some glimmer mists.

I set up the canvas panel on my easel, centered myself in prayer, and turned on the music. I had created a playlist of music I was supposed to be practicing by plus a bunch of Vespers of the Virgin Mary.

And it all became organic from there: I sprayed, listened to some music, sprayed again. I dabbed and mopped and tried to undo what I just did... Until I was satisfied with the background.

I drew a very simple shape -- and this is going to sound weird -- channeling the feeling of dancing as light as air through my arm. It's a simple drawing.

I oohed and ahhed at how the canvas resisted the inks making it look like stars, and that those stars were positioned with in the figure.

I wrote over the Faber Castell gelato pen with a grey FB brush pen and added ink to make a shadow around the figure.

And there you have it.

If you're local, please come along to the Advent Choral Celebration. We're doing many different styles of music from Classical to Contemporary and stopping off at gospel and jazz along the way.

It's going to be awesome.

(Also please note these images are copyrighted, so don't use them, okay?)

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Being Proclaims...

Here’s how I started thinking seriously again about writing about the Magnificat. One of the songs we’re singing at the Advent Choral Celebration this Saturday is called Mary’s Canticle by Leon C. Roberts. It’s a gospel piece that has grandeur and solidity and sureness and guts.

It got me thinking. So here we are.

The Magnificat opens with:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant." (Luke 1:46-48 NIV)

For some reason when I think of Mary singing this (ok, the NIV says “said” but it’s a song), I think of it happening right after the angel's visit but it doesn't. She ponders things quietly in her heart. This song, known as the Magnificat from the Latin version, has been marinating for a while. As she readies and then makes the journey to her relative Elizabeth (about 80 to 100 miles) which takes about a week on foot according Logos, she has plenty of time to consider.

This scene could also be called "when two prophets (and one unborn one) meet". Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit on hearing Mary's voice; she knows Mary is carrying the Messiah.

Mary's song is a response to this, as well as to the angel Gabriel's visit and how she said yes to a radically transformed life.

She's unmarried, pregnant, and very young and should be freaking out, but she begins her song in joy and confidence.

She begins as Hannah began in 1 Samuel 2:1 and where Hannah sings in relief for a longed for child that will increase her status (instead of being belittled), Mary sings in relief that the longed for Messiah is come, that God has answered her prayers and the prayers of her people for a restored Israel.

I keep coming back to how she said yes to God, even though she surely prayed for the restoration of Israel, did she expect to play such a key part in it?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lectio Divina ... for December

OK, I know this is not particularly cool to post twice in one day, but tough.

I managed to Pin God First (led by Jennifer Dukes Lee) every day this month (of November) except one day when I had an early business meeting.

How did it go? Well, even though I light candles at my home altar and pray ... my mind managed to whirl and drift and for the most part it was pretty frustrating. I thought my brain would be more quiet, somehow, that I'd hear God more or at least sense the Divine. I was thinking that maybe what I need to do is a month of Anglican rosarying (I'm sure that isn't a word) first thing in the morning to empty out my brain but instead, today, I put together a schedule for myself to continue the lectio divina practice through December. I thought it'd be neat to share it here in case, you know, you wanted to too.

The names in parentheses are for audio meditations. Todd shares audio lectio divina meditations at Lectio Divina (When in Doubt). I haven't actually listened to them before, so this month will be a test drive for me and which is why I have one marked "new Todd lectio divina". He seems to post at least twice a week, and the readings are based on the Sunday lectionary, so if I like them, then hopefully ...

Christianne is over at Still Forming, and I really enjoy her guided lectio divina meditations and yet I am somehow behind. The recordings came from being signed up on her mailing list. I can't find them on her website and she isn't currently including them in her emails. Finally, Any Otto at God in All Things shared a couple of examen audio exercises on his blog and I still haven't listened to them, so while they're not actually lectio divina, I scheduled one of those.

If you'd like to learn more about how to lectio divina, this article by Fr. Luke Dysinger covers it very well, including in group settings.