An old post:
It’s the fourth Sunday of Advent.
My mind is spinning. Is Christmas really this week? As in, 4 days from now. As in, somehow a whole month has flown by. As in, this year is almost over.
Howhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhowhow is this possible…?
Ok. Breathe. I need to come to terms with this reality. And, it’s fine. It’s really fine. Seriously.
We paused for a moment that night, Andy and I. We watched Blackfish – story of killer whales and how they are exploited. Maybe an odd choice for this season. First movie in a while so we’re a little rusty at choosing movies. Kids were all down. I was folding laundry – willingly – because there was an unusual but welcome peace in the house. The movie was really compelling and informative, but still…Good God. I mean, please, Jesus help us. I posted on Facebook:
Just finished watching Blackfish. I’m so incredibly depressed. I hate everyone and everything. #humanssuck #allgodscreatures
What felt really the most horrible was watching orca calves be stripped from their mothers. These are creatures that are highly social and have complex family systems – their “languages” are even different for each clan. When the main killer whale in the documentary, Tilikum, was taken from his mother in the Northwestern wild oceans the female orcas stayed nearby wailing their protestation and helplessness. Likewise when calves (remember Shamu?) were taken from their mothers in captivity (like for Seaworld) they recorded the sounds of the mother orca in the pool for 24 hours. The caretakers had never heard that particular sound before and brought in analysts who explained they were doing long range vocals that were truly unique. One of the trainers explained pretty pointedly: “It makes sense. They were grieving.” These orcas were trying to make their voices heard so that the calves would know how to get back to the mothers. But, even in their persistent song, I wonder if they despaired knowing it was futile.
A song of mourning.
I can’t get those orca sounds out of my head.
Today’s text in church was from Isaiah again but this time with the explicit words about a young woman bearing a child called Immanuel. God-With-Us. Even if it might be exegetically off to totally tie these words to Jesus (a hard lesson in OT101) one can’t help but think of Mary the virgin, and God’s radical proximity to us in that little bundle – the precious bun in the oven. Andy’s sermon was really lovely, and all about what I needed to hear in terms of paying attention – how children and babies demand our attention constantly, whether there’s a pressing need (food, water/milk, dirty diaper, sleep) or simply for cuddles and skin-to-skin contact.
Of course, there’s mention of the virgin birth, and I can’t help but stumble over it again. But, Andy read this great Frederick Buechner quote:
The earliest of the four Gospels makes no reference to it, and neither does Paul, who wrote earlier still. On later evidence, however, many Christians have made it an article of faith that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph who got Mary pregnant. If you believe God was somehow in Christ, it shouldn’t make much difference to you how he got there. If you don’t believe, it should make less difference still. In either case, life is complicated enough without confusing theology and gynecology.
In one sense anyway the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is demonstrably true. Whereas the villains of history can always be seen as the products of heredity and environment, the saints always seem to arrive under their own steam. Evil evolves. Holiness happens.
Man. Buechner both kills me (in terms of humor…for some reason I laughed out loud – it felt loud since I was the only one in the pews around me – after hearing the words “theology and gynecology”) and wrecks me (in terms of feeling something that’s buried so deep come rushing to the surface like a whale that breaches the ocean waves and with a splash disappears beneath leaving a little frothiness behind).
And I thought I’d want to write something about how much we’ve confused theology and gynecology in terms of limiting women, silencing women, oppressing women throughout the ages, and how this meant the emphasis on the virginity of Mary was more important than her courage or obedience, and how if we really think about it and parse it out it would mean the Holy Spirit – who is God – had sex with Mary – and she somehow gave birth to Jesus, who is also God and one with the Holy Spirit, so God gave birth to God…? It doesn’t make much sense to go there, and it really doesn’t help either way. Whatever. The emphasis on something that is pretty moot in my book takes away from the point of it all – that God came into this world and joined us. And for what reason…? It blows my mind. Because seriously, the human race pretty much sucks, and documentaries like Blackfish remind me just how much.
And then, my son, Desmond. He strikes again! is what I’m thinking as I watch him trip slow motion backwards into the stand holding the blue pitcher of water for the baptismal font. I gasp and mouth the word Nooooooooooooooooo dramatically as it topples off into the lap of an unsuspecting girl. I flinch like I got hit with a water balloon even though it doesn’t come near me. Somehow this girl manages to keep it from hitting the chancel stairs too hard, so it doesn’t break – Thank. God. – but the water spills everywhere.
Lord Jesus, why??? Pastor Rachel says something to lighten the tension but I just want to crawl under the pews until the service is over and everyone has gone home. What am I doing wrong??? As I hold him squirming in my lap and then pass him off to his dad so that I can grab Ozzie who is power crawling towards that same font I watch Maddie, another little girl older than the twins but whose mother and I share knowing glances all throughout the service. We often commiserate after service about whose children were worse. Maddie goes up to the baptismal font and…sticks her whole hand in there. And drinks the water in her hand. While Pastor Rachel is still doing her children’s sermon. She’s unfazed by it. Maddie even licks her fingers. I’m thinking, “Oh God!” kind of gross – surely that ain’t no holy water – but kind of wondrous and I’m laughing to myself.
I forget sometimes that the baptismal font is not just symbolic of cleansing but also for quenching that eternal thirst. I loved seeing Maddie do it so blatantly and … joyously.
Right on, Maddie! You drink from the font, girl. Drink it to the dregs. Drink it up, drink up the love of God, the promise of God’s seal upon our lives, the water that never ceases to flow, drink it all up.
It all seems so bleak and futile – our small lives – and all the destruction and ugliness feels like it is constantly winning. But it’s not.
It is a baby once again that reminds me of God, baby Eli being baptized today, reminded me of God on high drawing near to us, and always in the most unexpected places, holiness happens.
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!