Thursday, February 06, 2014

Learning from our Grandmothers

I remember the day my Mama (my mothers mom) died, I felt like this incredible hole was left in the world. Rosemary, or Rosie as some called her, did so much for so many people, I felt a calling to stand in that gap, to do everything I could to give and help others as much as I could, and began a life of a servant, sacrificing my needs for the needs of others. Maybe you've felt this compulsion too. We answer Christ's call to pick up our cross and follow in service and self sacrifice.  

This week I've been reading the most vital faith book I've read since Anne Lamotte's book Traveling Mercies, which shook my image about what it meant to receive the grace of God and others. This new book is called Consider the Birds, a Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue. You might not expect it to be a life giving, theologically startling book, but hold on to your seat, it's about to be moved. 

The first chapter points out how the dove is actually no more than a pigeon...and not usually  white. So not only did the Holy Spirit choose the dirty form of a pigeon to dive bomb Jesus at his Baptism, but that same Spirit hovered over creation...possibly more like a delicate fragile pigeon than an enormous and powerful seagull. "What does this say about what it means to be holy?" She asks...without an answer.

Then in the second chapter she throws out a quote by St Francis who likens Jesus to a pelican...yes! a pelican. How might this be, you may ask? Medieval thought somehow induced that pelican mothers pierce their breast to feed their young from their own blood, providing an all too easy correlation for Jesus' sacrifice and the communion chalice. However erroneous this claim was, she recognizes the beauty of looking for beautiful actions in those animals whom we call beasts with disdain, where the medieval theologians called them beasts with an air of dignity.

She raises in place of the pelican covered in its own blood an image of one drenched in oil, covered in the sins of our appetites and disregard for the repurcussions of our actions. Other gods require human sacrifice, but our God, she reminds us, requires mercy not sacrifice.
Time and time again, the great I Am tries to explain this to Israel. I don't want your sacrifice of bulls and oil, I want you to learn mercy and walk beside me.

Mercy not sacrifice.

We crucified Christ, and it shook the foundations of the earth. Christ called us to consider the birds and live in joy, and we choose to only look at ourselves and live in shame. Christ's life and death were given to us not out of sacrifice but of love for us and the hope and joy of sharing a life eternal together. Christ suffered on the cross as a result of humanity holding onto our traditions and ideas so hard that it brought down the one person who could save us, the one who choose to hold on to us for dear life and let go of his own.

This was exactly the way Rosie and Vera lived their lives. They weren't sacrificing their desires and needs to serve others, they were fulfilling their joy by sharing love with the world and doing what was vital for their survival and the survival of their children. They knew what could be let go so that other things could survive, even thrive. How happy would they be to know I can share in this joy?

This is important for our generation of women to understand. 

We have to learn what needs be sacrificed, let go, released with good riddance, and love what needs to be grasped, embraced, and held onto for dear life. Have we made the right distinctions? Or are we holding onto the wrong things? Are we sacrificing that which is vital for our lives...and for the lives of others. 

One thing I sacrifice is my body. I don't place worth on it, and hold onto the many tasks that sometimes turn out to be unnecessary. The new questions for my life are here: What can wait and what is vital to my existence? What can be left undone and what must be done with fervor? These are the questions I have been yearning to ask. These questions are why I cringe when we pray the prayer, "forgive me father for the things I have done and left undone," in the most traditional of confessional prayers. Did Rosie pray this prayer? Did she welcome the forgiveness for the things that may be left undone? What would it look like for me to welcome that forgiveness in my own life? How can I welcome the forgiveness for the things I do which are impeding rather than freeing my soul? What would it look like to embrace that which brings me life? Would my flourishing radiate to the point that others could the catch fire and live in the process? Let us watch and see!