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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Apostola Apostolorum - on the Feast of Mary Magdalen

Just a quick word about one of my favorite saints...

Mary Magdalen gets a bad rap due primarily to a mistake made by Pope Gregory in a homily, where he confuses several Marys with one another (6th c.).But in early days, and with increased vigor in the Middle Ages, she bore the distinctive title "Apostle Apostolorum" - apostle to the apostles. It is she who announces the Resurrection from the deas; she who first speaks with Christ in the garden - an interesting juxtaposition between Eve & the snake in the garden (the downfall of humanity) and Magdalen and Christ in the garden (the announcement of salvation).

A dear friend of mine was recently sharing that she has often been frustrated by the narrow reading of some pastors she knows, who read the exchange between Mary Magdalen and Jesus as as a rebuke. She sees him, realizes it is the Risen Lord, her leader, her friend... and she reaches out to touch him. When she does he tells her she cannot touch him - the time is not right. Some people have interpreted this as a sign of Magdalen's sin or shame - a sign of her unworthiness, and the rejectable nature of her body.

But my friend argues, and I agree... no. That is not the Jesus we know. The Jesus we know int he Gospels embraces sinners, talks and drinks and breaks bread with women. This moment cannot be about rejection of her unworthy body. It seems far more likely that his words bring with them a profound sense of longing, and a tinge of sadness. I would love to let you close to me, Magdalen. Your body is a gift. You are a gift. You are the bearer of Good News to the people of God, the first speaker of the Resurrection. Your womanhood will cause the men to doubt, but it to your womanhood that I reveal myself. But now is not the appointed time. She doesn't leave hurt and rejected, but on fire - eager to proclaim the Truth and the Gospel.

I have a very similar experience often in Eucharistic Adoration. I have joked with my husband that the reason so many monstrances are set with big pointy metal rays all around is to prevent me (yes, me personally..haha) from just running up and hugging Jesus. And sometimes I am really saddened by that. I want to touch him and embrace him, and draw Christ close to my heart and be one with Christ in flesh and blood.

Yet, like Magdalen, I must wait. Like Magdalen, I must not be downcast but rather allow that longing to become a Fire - one that runs in me to proclaim the Truth and the Gospel. And, like Magdalen, I am pretty sure that Christ also longs in return. That he must say to me - I want to be close to you...and, your body is a gift... but now is not the time. I can live with that. I can be close as I can, and be fed by the marvelous love, and feel and breathe and pray the longing to embrace Love in an acceptable time.

This is a small painting I had made for me in collaboration with the artist. I wanted a Jewish woman who wore the traditional art-shorthand red, though darker, more royal than sometimes shown. The cross in her hands is called the "apostles' cross" and the band around her veil bears the symbols of all twelve apostles, settling her firmly in the tradition of Apostola Apostolorum. The lavender field represent the legend that she preached and converted people to Christ on travels to Provence, where she later devoted her life to prayer and fasting in a cave where the angels tended to her and she experienced Eucharistic ecstasy.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Motherhood of Being, Not Lacking

"By your fruits will you be known."

I hate going to Mass on Mothers' Day. And since it falls on Sunday each year, each year I take a deep breath and go, and get out of there as soon as I can. It's not because I wish to take anything away from the joy of the community. You mothers with children are amazing. It's because I struggle in a deep, intense way when the priest does something like he did today. When he calls all the mothers to come up to the altar to be prayed over and blessed. Which is awesome. And during which time, I and about a dozen other women in a church that seats 1000 stand in the pews with all the men. Othered.

When I look at all those women who stand at the altar acknowledging that they have said "yes" to the call to life -they have conceived and nurtured and borne and raised life - they have not taken a coward's way out, or given in to fear, but been generous and proactive - I am awed. When I look at the others scattered around the church I feel a little angry. Again. After all these years. Motherhood is still defined, in a social and practical way, as "not lacking."

It gets really hard because on a good day, my theologically minded self can claim motherhood in all kinds of spiritual ways, can remember my godchildren, can be all about Marian motherhood in its docility and fierceness. On Mother's Day… I can remove my heart from the struggle and be so grateful for my mom and my grandmas and those awesome women with children in my life. But if I put my heart back in, I only feel the ache.

And so I am forced once again to reflect on what motherhood is in the deepest, broadest terms. To consider what the saints (Edith Stein, Gianna Molla…) brilliant women who spoke about the motherhood of every woman must mean.

There is a lot to say about our dear Body of Christ and our lack of compassion, our lack of thoughtfulness when it comes to infertility, undesired singleness, miscarriage, and even the ways we have reasoned through loss of the unborn. I gently, respectfully, put this at the feet of the men who have second-and third-handedly handled these conversations in our theological history. I still feel slightly shocked when the sweet-natured, baby boomer, dance-in-the-lilies pastor is the one leaving women on the sidelines at Mass. There is much work to be done. There is much work to recognize the pain of unfulfilled desire for the good.

And there is much work to realize something far deeper and greater. That is the fruit of the labor of the ache. That is the longing for and loving anyway, the hoping for and not attaining, the seeking and not finding, the knock at a door that won't open. It is the unfilled space and the empty womb.

And yet.

Motherhood, when Edith Stein or John Paul II talk about it, must be more. It must, like DeLubac's Fatherhood of God which in no way models earthly fatherhood be greater - a Motherhood that is not modeled on biology. And yet, a certain biology informs it, because the body cannot be severed from the soul except in death.

Perhaps motherhood is not actually something added to a woman. Perhaps motherhood is a kind of grace, available and accessible. Perhaps motherhood is, after all, a sacrament of the fruitfulness of Trinitarian love - a self giving that manifests itself in the joy and hope, the love and kindness, the assurance and courage it instills in others. Perhaps motherhood is ultimately away of being fruitful. A grace made manifest in the Fiat to the Holy Spirit, that is imaged in biological birth, but transcends it as a fruit of the transformative and lavish love of God.

Perhaps when we see "mother" and read "mommy" we do ourselves a great injustice, because we fail to recognize the brilliant breadth of the gift.

So today, still wounded from Mass, still awesomely grateful for life, still abundantly supportive of my sisters who are mommies, I accept that motherhood may just be -in fact- a grace for us all and a way of encountering the Trinitarian God and saying my Fiat to bearing forth the fruit of the Gospel of Life.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Thanks for Curls

Today I am writing in thanks for curls.

Yes, I know Dove has some new launch of products that keep curls from being "tamed" and let them run wild, in the oh-so-sixties-uber-feminist-rant that is pro-wildness. But that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about a sixteen year old young woman whose trademark as a tiny roly poly two year old was thick, dark, beautiful, unruly curls. I'm talking about the head shaking that occurs for moms all over the world (and dads too, I bet) when they are trying to tame those curls… And I am guessing that all the taming in the world has a lot less to do with some kind of current social standard than the very practical issue of what happens when curls entrench themselves in one another, especially in thick hair. My mom used to refer to this as a "rat's nest" (and to be fair, my sister and I had straight, though not pin-straight locks). Yup. It's practical. It keeps hair healthy. It keeps random acts of chopping off rat's nests at bay.

And today, when our dear friend had her hair cut, the curls sprang forth in joy!

Maybe you think this doesn't matter. Maybe it doesn't compared to some really big issues in the world. But the curls had gone away. And the curls came back after ten years of fighting neurofibromatosis. The curls came back after a miraculous 22 months chemo-free because of acceptable MRI scans. The curls came back because they are a gift. And a sign of hope. And a miracle.

Those curls made me pause not just because of the mightiness of this young woman and her struggle, or the impossible tenacity of her mother or the love of her family or even the goodness of the good God.
They made me pause because of the Dove commercial.

What are my curls?
What are those things about my body that are me? I mean, the things that maybe have been disciplined into some kind of healthy order - or the things that have not? The parts of myself that make me sigh and wonder why I wasn't born with different genes? The things that scream to others about the woman I am, and the things that have made me the woman I am? My features, strengths, beauty, pudge, nearsightedness, illness, lips, voice, sparkle….

Today -in my womanhood - I want to take my body seriously. Our bodies have been used and minimized and leered at and ignored. But women need to own our bodies, and encounter one another in the body precisely because of that. I want to rejoice even in the things that I have not noticed or acknowledged. Because my "curls" are also signs of hope, and cause for thanksgiving… because my "curls" allow me to be compassionate and sensitive… because my "curls" keep me from putting God in a five foot eleven 130 pound long blonde hair, straight feet, white teeth kind of a box.

I am so thrilled for you, dear mighty girl whose curls have come back.

Thank you for being a sacrament. A sign of God who is our hope. A reminder of the body as the image of hope - love- joy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Active Waiting - Advent by Candlelight audio

Last year I was honored to be asked to give a talk for a women's Advent night at Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville (Chicago) IL.

While my blog is pretty much dormant these days, because I have other demands on my writing energies (many demands!) I will re-post in case it's the kind of thing you might like to listen to - in case it will offer you any kind of encouragement and hope.

You can link to the talk
Here: Active Waiting, and I'd love to hear your thoughts if you find it helpful...

Wishing you a blessed Advent!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Sweet Smell of Generosity

Today I expected to get work done. And I didn't. Let's just say it was a Mary moment, because the Martha dedication had time to wait. I faced a choice - to excuse myself and work, or to be open and generous with myself, even if it means a lot more to do tomorrow.

Generosity seems like an easy thing, in a way. You have two apples, you give one away to the kid who has none, right? You sign up to put together a basket for your local church raffle, or you bring a couple of toys to a Christmas drive.

These are good starts, sure. And they make other people's lives a little brighter. But I think generosity is something that is a habit: a deep giving of self that is done in such a way that the giver never runs out, and the recipient always feels blessed - gifted. Generosity has to do with the primordial call to be gift to one another, and to find ourselves in that self-gift even as Christ revealed Himself to humanity in the ultimate gift of self.

I have a friend who responds to his personal struggles of self-doubt and injured worth with generosity, a way to acknowledge his own value, giving what only he can give. One way I know when this friend is being generous is when he seems happier, more self-assured, complete.

But still. I find it very difficult to accept others' generosity in my own life. I mean, sure there are the amazing and humbling gifts of generosity like the ones that got me into this doctoral program. There is the generosity of the people who helped me get to Germany all those years ago and those who let me stay. The big gifts. The help I got to go to Rutgers. The financial support I have received. All these gifts came from need or desire and others' desire to see those things fulfilled for me.

Having said that, I am deeply humbled, Every Time, when someone gives me their time, their ear, a voice, and encouragement. While it is not always common, I find this over and over in the world I am now in, and yet it still stops me in my tracks. This kind of generosity has a sweet, sweet smell, like a bright incense that lingers. It is a kind of sweet smoky offering that honors God in me, despite me… because of me. It has been the late night emails of a former mentor, the conversation at a conference with an old friend, the impromptu discussion with the professor who never met me, but graciously makes time and space to hear me. In this world I am in it is mostly teachers of theology, because those are the ones I seek. They are the ones who know how much it means to be told "I want to hear what you have to say," or "I can't wait to read what you're writing," or "We need you" and they are generous enough to say that to others, and to me.

I have a colleague who has absolutely no reason at all to be anything but nice, or maybe even civil. And yet she will answer all questions I throw her way, and never seems exasperated. She will share anything and everything she has, from her work to her books to her time. I am always surprised.

Why am I always surprised?

But thankfully, my response doesn't stop at surprise. It continues on in like kind. I try to listen. I try to encourage. I try to give. I try to share. Even to those people who will not be long in my life. To those with whom my relationship is basic. To those who are in my life showing me in their need, in their eyes, in their longing, in their bodies that they bear Christ in them.

Sometimes I can be generous with what I have.
But I think that real generosity starts with who we are.
It starts with that being… that self-gift as a Way of Being a person, as a Way of Being Christ.

I know the proper response to the human person is love. I know the brightness in my heart when I receive that love in someone's gift of self. And I am sure I will continue to have many opportunities to share that love with others. I only hope I can do it with the generosity of those who have inspired me.