Curves

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands.
My course skin against yours young;
Yang’s coarse to soft yin,
Yin’s aged bronze to yang’s nascent tin.

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
And I explore the unchartered territory of your eyes;
Wisdom searches among youthful vivacity,
Sorrow and regret met by innocence and tenacity.

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
Look at me: I pray you never know the pain I do;
Energetic eyes bounce back, they sparkle and prance,
The eyes that know too much slow the dance.

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
I know you’ll hide pain deep, away, and aside;
I’ve witnessed other teens who sit at my tables and chairs
Making me false promises of being aloof and without cares.

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
Your face reflects to me what I hope: contentment;
A smile to cover the fear and confusion
Able to create, cause, and confirm the illusion.

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
I never want to let you have your own suffering;
But what is the journey without the dark side of life,
How would wisdom ever be formed without the fire of strife?

I hold the curve of your face in the curve
Of my hands,
One more caressing moment before death pulls me completely in;
Fingers weak and frail, merely bones skin covered,
Recall the first day you they held and tenderly, nimbly mothered.

You hold the curve of her face in the curve
Of your hands,
Your course skin against hers young;
Yang’s coarse to soft yin,
Yin’s aged bronze to yang’s nascent tin.

“Trees Planted by Streams of Water”

Proverbs 31, Mark 9:30-37: True Discipleship #LikeAGirl (Sermon)

Introduction

You either love her or hate her; but all of you are opinionated about her. She’s either revered as the ultimate example of womanhood or she is despised as nothing but oppressive idealism unattainable by human standards. In academic circles she’s rarely if ever the topic of conversation: she’s relegated to an inferior position; that’s just about woman’s work.

Personally, I’m fascinated by her, ever since becoming a Christian I’ve marveled over her. At multiple points in my life, I’ve tried to be her only to fail. I’ve meditated on and prayed through the poem multiple times. It is no surprise to hear that I wrote a 100 page thesis on her. My question leading up to writing my MDiv thesis was: Why? Why is she here?

In and through my intellectual digging, I discovered an answer I wasn’t expecting. Rather than being a checklist for the proper execution of womanhood and wifery or some abstract communication about the people of God, the Church, she is, from head to toe, the manifestation of hope. And not just hope in general, but hope specific. She is the hope of restoration: restoration of woman to God and the restoration of the relationship between men and women. And even more than those two things, she is the manifestation of hope for humanity: what it means to be a good disciple.

It is my contention that she is an expression of the hope for the reversal of the curse of Genesis 3. She is hope for the longed for reversal that is to be completed in the coming Messiah—the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament points. It is my belief that she is the signpost on the way to through the metanarrative of scripture that points to what comes in Christ. She is the embodiment of the hope embedded in the protoevangelium (the first gospel promise) uttered way back when in Gen 3:15 when God cursed the snake: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,/and between your offspring and hers;/he will strike your head,/and you will strike his heel.”

She doesn’t just point to Genesis 3 when everything goes bad; but to Genesis 1 and 2 when everything was very good. The poem draws us back to the cool air of the garden, when woman walked alongside man and they communed together in the presence of God, as co-vice-regents of the earth. The Proverbs 31 Woman is fighting a battle, not just keeping house. The warfare imagery throughout the poem leads us, the reader, to see a woman, to see a person who is fighting against the chaos established by the fall. The Proverbs 31 Woman is pointing back to Eve and Adam, and at the same time pointing forward—through the chaos of the fall—to Christ—who is the very image of God his Father in his divine substance (God of very God) and of Mary his Mother in his humanity. When God walked the earth he carried her face into the world. The woman was not forgotten when God became man. To over emphasize the masculinity of Jesus the Christ at the expense of the femininity of the one whom he looked like, is to devolve into a very bad Christology and a malnourished and weak God-talk (theology). Let us talk rightly, for ourselves and because the children are listening.

V.10: “An excellent wife who can find?/She is far more precious than jewels.” The way this question is phrased in the original language expects a negative answer. Who can find this excellent wife? No one. She is so “rare” that jewels do not compare to her. Even if you could “find” her, you couldn’t afford her anyway! VV.11-12: “The heart of her husband trusts in her,/and he will have no lack of gain./12 She does him good, and not harm,/all the days of her life.” She is mature in age and in spirit. Their relationship has weathered the trials of the passing years; she is not young nor is she a newly wed. She operates in love towards her husband, just as in the New Testament those who are in Christ are encouraged to operate in love towards one another.[1] He knows that she loves him; there is no doubt, no worry, no wonder; he is confident in her love toward her. And in that he knows she loves him, his heart trusts in her. Much like a child trusts his mother.

V.13: “She seeks wool and flax,/and works with willing hands.” She can use a broad spectrum of materials to create things—she is capable, creative and astute. There is nothing wasteful about her handling of materials; everything is put to use in some way or another (v.13). V.14: “She is like the ships of the merchant;/she brings her food from afar.” She provides for her family. She’s not just making meals, she’s enjoying the bounty created by God and deemed enjoyable by Him.[2] She takes pleasure in the world just as God did and does; just as humanity did and should. V.15: “She rises while it is yet night/and provides food for her household/and portions for her maidens.” She is not given to too much sleep; she is not lazy. However, though she is diligent throughout her days, her work is not her lord (work is its proper place, under her dominion). She does not neglect her household—those who depend on her—for her own pleasures. Both men and women are to be active and care for others and not act like disinterested selfish slugabeds.[3] Oh, and by the way, she’s wealthy: she has servant girls! Even if this was about “works,” She does NOT bare that responsibility alone.

V.16: “She considers a field and buys it;/with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” She has investment-like foresight. She re-invests; she does not earn gain for gain’s sake. Her very fruitfulness (prosperity) is evidence that she is sowing righteous seed in righteous soil and continually replants the fruits of her hand.[4] V.17: “She dresses herself with strength/and makes her arms strong.” Strength is one of her foremost qualities. Her arms are strong for the task…she is able to get things done, especially in ‘planting’ a vineyard. She is not afraid of hard work or of labor. [5] Meek and mild? Think again! Think: Princess Xena. Think: Wonder Woman: Think: Amazon. Think: Frontier Woman. Weaker sex, eh?

V.18: “She perceives that her merchandise is profitable./Her lamp does not go out at night.” This is not about having a home-based business. This is creational language reminiscent of Genesis, “And God saw that it was good.”[6] She is a creature that was gifted to use her mind and her hands to make. And she uses this ability to purchase the oil for her lamp and keep a store of oil so that her lamp will not go out. She is, essentially, prepared with enough oil to provide light for a long time; she’s one of the wise virgins with a trimmed wick waiting for the Lord to return.[7] V.19: “She puts her hands to the distaff,/and her hands hold the spindle.” There’s more to the imagery here than sewing. What is the distaff and spindle imagery depicting? A valid definition for the Hebrew word translated as spindle is “district”.[8] She puts her hands to the district; she extends her hands and subdues the earth as the manifestation of one of the commands of God in the Garden (reversal of 3:16ff). [9]

V.20: “She opens her hand to the poor/and reaches out her hands to the needy.” She is caring for the poor and afflicted by “extending her hands” as was required by every Israelite (Deut. 15:11). She is the godly person for whom Micah seeks as he walks around the streets, for her hands stretch out and do “good” (7:1-7). She represents what it means to be truly human: caring for the disenfranchised; she is being used as what it means to love your neighbor as yourself;.[10] V.21-22: “She is not afraid of snow for her household,/for all her household are clothed in scarlet./She makes bed coverings for herself;/her clothing is fine linen and purple.” The poem covers many seasons, winter being one of them. The poem does not just cover this woman’s day, but this woman’s entire life. The reference to her household being clothed in scarlet is synonymous with her wealth; she is a wealthy woman and has clothed her household in good, warm clothing.

V.23: “Her husband is known in the gates/when he sits among the elders of the land.” Her husband sits among the elders so he is older, thus she is, too. Notice that there have been 12 verses since her husband has been mentioned. This woman is not defined by him and her service to him, but by her own qualities, V.24: “She makes linen garments and sells them;/she delivers sashes to the merchant.” She is aware that her deeds are worthy and, thus, she does not hesitate to capitalize on them. She is wise and can bring in her own income, which she uses to the benefit of her household.[11] V.25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing,/and she laughs at the time to come.” It is through her relationship with God, it is in her fear of the Lord (v.30) where these characteristics of strength and dignity are sourced. These characteristics are evident to everyone who meets her. V.26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom,/and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” And her words back this up; they are described as wise. Her outward appearance and inward manner are one in the same; she is not a white-washed tomb. The state and orientation of her heart is righteous for what flows out of her is righteous. In Mark 7, Jesus explains it is what comes out of and not what goes into that defiles a person; our Proverbs 31 woman speaks wisdom and thus is wise and you can only be wise if you know God (according to the Hebrew and our own tradition). She knows Torah (rare); she knows and is known by God.

V.27: “She looks well to the ways of her household/and does not eat the bread of idleness.” V.28-29: “Her children rise up and call her blessed;/her husband also, and he praises her:/“Many women have done excellently,/but you surpass them all.” “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” is akin to the statement of the husband in the poem in Proverbs 31, “Many women have done well, But you surpass them all.”[12] V.30-31: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,/but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised./Give her of the fruit of her hands,/and let her works praise her in the gates.” This is the key to the whole poem! It is her inner-beauty, her fear of the Lord that has been the eye-catching aspect of this woman from v.11 to v.30. Her strength and dignity come from her relationship with God; her wisdom, too, is of God (Prov. 1:7).

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

The proverbs 31 woman is a glimpse of a restored Eve and a restored relationship of Eve to God; thus, a glimpse of the restoration of the relationship of woman to man.[13] But it’s not only about that. If we take the creation myth of Genesis 2 seriously, and see it primarily as a story about the creation of (thus the necessity of) community in likeness and difference (which is the extinguishing of loneliness), then what we see here, too, is the restoration of Humanity. The Proverbs 31 woman is clearly the embodiment of the ideal humanity yanked out of the chaos and myths of the world–a world broken by oppressive and deleterious systems of abuse in manifold forms–and placed into the Reign of God. Located in the reign of God in the event-encounter with God by faith in Christ alone. And this Reign of God is marked by love and kindness, by mercy and divine justice in restoration and reconciliation, in freedom for all or freedom for none, in the solidarity in suffering and pain and grief and sorrow, in the equality and mutuality in community that lives the very thing believed: that the dividing wall has been torn down, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female (Gal 3:28). To be truly human, to be the faithful disciple in the world, is to act as the Reign of God is; to act like the Proverbs 31 woman.

The remarkable thing about our readings today is not just the fact that we read the Proverbs 31 poem and that you happen to have in your midst a self-proclaimed P. 31 scholar (*wink), but that our Gospel passage, from Mark, works with the Proverbs reading. Jesus spends time explaining to his disciples what it means to be a good disciple (and the Gospel of Mark is directed at such a specific message): If anyone wishes to be first, he must be last and servant of all people (9:35, translation mine). He then (immediately) snags a small child and places that child in the midst of his cadre of disciples. Jesus lowers himself, puts his arms around the child and says this, Whoever receives one such as this child on the basis of my name, that person receives me; and whoever receives me, does not receive (only) me, but the one who sent me (v37, translation mine). Whoever receives into their arms, intimately, one such as this child receives me. Receives one such as this child. And I am relocated to when I reached for and held my first born son, just born; receive one such as this child. According to Jesus, to be and do the will of God is to love like a mother.

Even Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians uses mothering imagery to explain what agape love (divine love) looks like to the men/husbands in Ephesus. In a discussion about what mutual submission looks like, Paul shorthands a quick statement to the wives: each to their own husbands as unto the Lord. (Full Stop.) He then turns to the husbands: y’all best sit down for this…Paul begins. What do I mean by love and mutual submission the women get, but you don’t because you’ve never brought a child into the world. The washing imagery of 5:25-28 is less to do with “baptism” and everything to do with the washing of a child by the mother.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

A regular practice of mothers in the ancient Greco-Roman society was to forgo their own cleanliness in order to wash their child. Just like our own bodies betray us in gestation, so to do our brains in consistently choosing the well being of our child over our own. It’s why mothers do weird things (because they’re tired and they’re in love). The men would’ve washed themselves first, but the mother would’ve washed the baby first. This Paul uses as an example for the men, they would’ve seen it practiced in their own homes and boy would that message had been radical. Paul knew that women understood “mutual submission”; not only because they had to endure it socially and politically but also because they couldn’t deny it relationally (as a mom). They knew instinctively what that agape love was.

If you’ve ever wondered why the women are always getting “it” in the gospels, if you’ve ever wondered why the women seem to understand what and why Jesus came, you now have your answer: the activity of God for the world has not only paternal but also significant maternal power. And if you know agape love you recognize agape love.

Mark 15, the women watch Jesus die; they knew. Mark 7, the Syrophoenician woman; she knew. Mark 14, the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany; she knew. Mark 5, the woman suffering from perpetual bleeding; she knew. John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well; she knew. Luke 10, Mary at Jesus’s feet; she knew. They all knew in the core of their being; they knew.

We see Jesus the man in his strong masculine form and forget that he’s God who is both male and female and thus embodies also the strength and dignity of the paradoxical gentleness and fierceness of the feminine. Both men and women, in Christ, justified by faith, are to receive and love all people unto the least, like a mother. It’s not reception as in tolerance; it’s life laying down neighbor love, the way a mother loves her child. Believe me, Jesus loves the whole world. He loves in the way that he bore the sins of the world just like a woman bears a child into it. In the same way she holds that child to her breast as she nurtures and sustains that child. In the same way a mother will lay her life down for her child no matter what the threat or possible destruction she herself will undergo.

Both men and women are encountered by God in the event of faith. Both men and women are called to be disciples of Christ marked by laying down of their lives and in bearing their crosses. Both men and women are brought unto death and into new life in Christ. Together.  Good news has come to the world in Christ Jesus this man who is God. And no longer bound to the systems and stories and lies of the world, believers are the ones who live into the world in a radical way; the one’s who know God and live as if they do. Today through the words of the poem of Proverbs 31 and in Jesus’s embracing a child, we are called to be the faithful witnesses of Christ in the world, to proclaim Christ crucified to the world in all that we say and in all that we do, and to love (radically) all people and the world as we have been loved (radically and unconditionally) by God. Let us love, let us love like a mother loves her child, love like the Proverbs 31 Woman, love like the women who knew, love #likeagirl.

[1] (1 Cor. 13; Eph. 5, Love your neighbor as yourself)

[2](DBI 297) “God not only provides, and provides abundantly for his creatures, but he also provides an immense variety of pleasurable flavors, textures, colors, shapes and smells, all of which indicate the joy and delight of the creator with his creation”

[3] (Prov. 6:6, 9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30)

[4] (v. 16; Gen. 1:28; Mt. 25:14-30).

[5] “Both the arm and the hand are biblical images of power….[and] can represent power in action, either good or evil” (DBI 43)

[6] (Gen. 1:10b, 12c, 18c, 20e, 25c, 31b)

[7] (Mt. 25:1-13)

[8] (Moore 25-30; BDB 813; cf. Nehemiah)

[9] (Gen. 1:24, Gen. 2:18)

[10] (Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22;39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14)

[11] (Gen. 1:24, 28)

[12] “In order to understand what follows, we must turn at once to the final goal: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,’ is the cry of man when God brings him the woman. This exclamation, the expression of a recognition, the proclamation of a choice and decision made by man—the first saying of man expressly recorded in the saga—is not just a kind of epilogue to the creation of the woman, and therefore the completion of man’s creation, but it is with this express saying of man that the latter reaches its goal…The whole story aims at this exclamation by man. In this, and this alone, the creative work of God reaches its goal, for only now has man really been given the necessary help designed by God” (CD III I.41.3 291).

[13] Erika Moore’s Exegesis paper, “The Domestic Warrior: An Exegesis of Proverbs 31:10-31”. 1994. (14).

Crisis Desideratus

Mark 4:35-41 (Sermon)

And then he woke up, rebuked the wind and then he said to the sea, ‘Silence! Shut up!” and then the wind abated and then there was a great calm. And then he said to [his disciples], ‘Why are you timid? Do you not yet have faith?’ And then they became frightened with a great fear and then they were saying to one another, ‘Who is this that both the wind and the sea obey him?’ [1]

It was Mother’s day, 2015. My husband and I decided that going for a family hike would be a great idea. The five of us drove out to “Potato Rock” or otherwise known as “Miracle Rock” (it’s located in the Colorado National Monument). While we were there, we hiked around and then met up with my husband’s brother and his wife (and their two dogs). Once we were all together, we proceeded up the ½ mile hike to see Potato Rock.

Here’s the description of the setting from the website:

“Once you get to Miracle Rock the view changes rather dramatically. The rock itself is perched precariously on a one foot pedestal on the edge of a rather high cliff. This is definitely a place to keep a close eye on the youngsters. The view of the surrounding valley and distant mountains is very pretty. Miracle Rock itself is only about 1/2 mile from the picnic area.”[2]

MiracleHike5

The description doesn’t lie. The rock is precariously balanced; one could say, “miraculously” balanced. Apart from some sort of abstract theory pertaining to a physics that only God knows, there’s no reason for the rock to be standing on its potatoey end.

Also, the description doesn’t lie about the precarious landscape surrounding Potato rock. It’s dangerous. Very. There’s no gradual descent from the minuscule plateau housing potato rock; it’s all cliffs and deadly, dastardly drops. For someone who has a fear–a great fear–of heights, these landscape predicaments force me to stay a good, healthy distance from the edges. The view is very pretty, and I was fine admiring it from the shade cast by the large upright rock.

I stood there with my sister-in-law, and we chatted. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that my daughter (2 at this time) had been let down from her hiking backpack. She remained close to her father and meandered a reasonable bit away. The next thing I saw was Liza running toward the edge. I heard Daniel hollering her name, and my voice joined his. No response. She kept running. My heart was in my throat; my mind raced: what do I do? I knew I couldn’t run for she’d find it to be a game. I had one chance to stop her before she reached the edge. So I did the only thing my maternal mind, body, and soul could think to do: I gathered up every single ounce of energy and strength I had in my 145 pound body, and I hollered her name so loud and so deep that the force caused every muscle in my body to tense and shake, and I was physically pushed backwards. I put everything I had into that maternal yawp; I had to: my child was running straight into danger, into death.

Liza didn’t just stop running when that sound emanated from my mouth. She collapsed mid stride, melted to the ground, and started to weep. Essentially, I had frightened her into stillness. Feet from the edge, she was a weeping, sobbing, mommy-wanting mess of a two year-old toddler. Feet from the edge, she was safe and alive. Moments later my sister-in-law looked at me, her eyes as big as half-dollars. I had frightened her, too, when I hollered (she was right next to me). “Where did that come from?” She asked. “I’ve never heard such a sound.” The look she gave me was as if she was coming to terms with the fact that she didn’t know fully who I was.

Moms, we have a way about us, don’t we? One look can solicit all the deeply held secrets of our children, remind them swiftly that maybe they should very much rethink what they are about to do or say, or assure them that you’re there with them and that they are safe. One note of our voice can stop our children dead in their tracks or bring comforting and soothing notes to anxious and fearful little ears. The tragedy when children cannot hear their mother’s voice when they need it most.

But what does this have to do with our Gospel passage?

In my opinion: everything.

And then, on that (same) day, when evening came, he said to them, “Let us go to the other side.” And then, after leaving the crowd, they (the disciples) took him along with them in the boat, and other boats (were) with him. And then a great hurricane wind came about and then the waves were (continually) beating into the boat, so that the boat was already filled. And he, he was in the stern, sleeping upon a pillow. And then they (the disciples) raised him and then they said to him, “Teacher, does it not concern you that we are perishing?”

Jesus’s popularity and extensive teaching drive him to seek refuge away from lakeside Galilee; taking to a fishing boat with his disciples and rowing out into the expanse of water heading toward the “other side” would be this refuge. [3] Or so was the plan. But the disciples are there and Jesus is exhausted so surely this is going to become a teaching event. Jesus isn’t going to get the reprieve and rest he desires, and Mark’s story telling style here is so quick and rapid-fire like that the reader is made aware that something is coming.

And that which is coming is a sudden massive storm. The disciples would have been aware of and accustomed to the sudden, violent storms that rage on the lake of Galilee; and this particular storm was so strong and so violent that the boat, a low sided fishing boat, was about to sink, it was that filled with water from the relentlessly beating waves stirred up by the hurricane like winds.[4] But this storm isn’t the point or goal of the story because it was a common place storm, and Mark moves his reader quickly to the point: the disciples launch into a full blown freak-out while Jesus sleeps, and this sleeping Jesus is the main character in this scene. [5]

The disciples are in a panic in a major way. The reader can tell by how the disciples not only wake Jesus up, but also how they question him.[6] There’s nothing cool and collected about their question to Jesus, “Teacher, is it no concern to you that we are perishing?” (Our English translation comes across too calm and collected.) In other words, “How the *firetruck*are you sleeping?! And why the *firetruck* are you not doing anything?!” And they knew enough about Jesus to know that he, as their Rabbi, as their teacher, would have a solution.[7] In the face of this great storm, these called and elected men, are stripped of everything they know and forced into a crisis where death is not merely possible but imminent. In the face of this great storm, the disciples have been thrust upon their own seamanship, and they have been made painfully aware that those skills and that knowledge are completely useless in this moment. Unless there is some sort of intervention, they’re left for dead.[8] Karl Barth describes the situation better than I can,

“But lo! their apostolic office, their episcopal habits their experience, their tradition even the living but sleeping Jesus among them, all appear to be useless. The storm is too violent. The pillar and ground of truth totters. The gates of hell are menacingly open to engulf them. They are terrified that the ship and they themselves and Jesus will all perish, that it will be all up to with them…”[9]

The disciples are in a serious and immediate existential crisis: we’re helpless to do anything…we don’t know what to do! And while crisis is a four-letter word in our vocabulary, when it comes to the divine word economy it is a good word, it is good news because crisis is the fertile soil of the encounter with God in the event of faith. The disciples are about to become more like disciples in this moment than in preceding ones. And we, along with them as participants in their story, are made to be more the church than we were moments ago. [10]

And then when Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and he said to the sea, “Silence! Shut up!” And then the wind abated and then there was a great calm. And then he said to his disciples, “Why are you timid? Do you not yet have faith?” And then they became frightened with a great fear and then they were saying to one another, “Who is this that both the wind and the sea obey him?

Jesus rises and rebukes the wind and commands the sea to shut up! and be silent. And the elements obey. Like unruly children[11] rebuked and corrected sternly and seriously by the voice of their mother, the elements sit down and shut up. And when Jesus halts the great hurricane winds and the overbearing tumultuous waves of the sea, I am pulled into the story at a gut level. I get it. And while I understand the miraculousness that stands behind the encounter between the dingy, the raging sea,[12] and Jesus, on some level it seems exceptionally acceptable. Why wouldn’t the divine creative yawp from Jesus cause the winds and the waves (the very things he called into existence[13]) to stop dead in their tracks? Why wouldn’t the elements obey his rebuke and command? That which has and those who have been created by and in the comfort of a voice, know that voice. And when we hear it, we respond…immediately.[14] There is an immediate response when Jesus hollers at the wind and sea; immediately a great calm that replaces the great storm. On a deep and visceral level, this makes sense to me.

Why wouldn’t love sound so ferocious in order to protect that which it loves? And this is why the disciples are rebuked; it’s not that they didn’t believe Jesus could do something, in fact they knew that he could do something. They are not in doubt of that fact. Rather, look are their question to him, “…are you not concerned…” In other words, do you love us? Do you care? That’s what their question to Jesus reveals: they are doubting his love for them because he’s not doing something tangible. His sleeping indicates to them his lack of concern, a lack of care, a lack of love. God’s love for God’s people drives God to miraculous and powerful activity: floods, parting seas, bread from heaven and water from rocks, death and resurrection (to name a few). God is an impassioned God and the disciples know this but this is what they doubt in Christ in this moment. [15] Do you care? Do you love us to respond to our cries?

And be sure: what happens here in the rebuking of the wind and the waves is about love, even Jesus’s seeming interrogation of the extent and status of the disciples’ faith is an expression of love. Why wouldn’t God reckon with and dominate the sea, the long used metaphor of chaos and destruction, where humans are the most out of control?[16] To gaze upon the ocean and the sea is marvelous and human; to control it, divine.[17] In rebuking and commanding the elements and their subsequent and immediate obedience to his voice, he reveals to the disciples who he is…not who they think he is, but who he is. They are stripped of their messianic assumptions about Jesus; Jesus reveals himself to them. In this moment, the disciples are brought face to face with God in God’s self-disclosure in the great reveal of divine power, divine love.[18] The disciples doubted because the did not know the one whom was in the boat with them; this one had to be revealed to them.

Divine power is the power of love for the beloved. We are encountered by the word of God, thus encountered by divine love in those moments when disaster seems certain, where we are brought to the end of ourselves and forced into the desperate confession: What do I do? Where the answer isn’t needed because the silence is deafening. Where doubt isn’t the antithesis of faith, but specifically in times of crisis doubt is the substance of faith. It is in this crisis where we encounter God in the word of God in the event of faith. In that crisis we are lassoed by God’s voice, reoriented and centered rightly on God, pulled tightly to God, and anchored and secured in God’s self, like a newborn baby who turns her head in the direction of the soothing voice of her mother and fixes her foggy gaze on her mother’s face. (Because as much as God is paternal, God is also maternal, and while we learn the voice of our Father, we know the voice of our Mother.) In the mother’s gentle, “shh, shh, shh, it’s okay sweet one” or her primal maternal yawp that stops us suddenly in our tracks, all is well here in this encounter.

We are forced outside of ourselves; we are forced in this encounter in this crisis to drop everything we’ve grown accustomed to relying on, every tradition, every doctrine held dear, everything that we put our faith in that isn’t God. We are forced into such a position where faith actually finds its target: God. God who is for us, who will speak into and rebuke and silence the storms and the turbulent waves of our “plight,” in whom we see that no one is alone neither we nor the disciples nor the other many boats out on that lake.[19] This is the God we encounter in the Gospel proclamation; this is the God the disciples encountered that stormy evening.

The fear of the disciples in response to the work and divine power of Christ is appropriate,[20] and this fear should be our response when encountering God in the event of faith. However, it is often over-emphasized that it eclipses the disciples’ incessant questioning and discussion about “Who is this…?” Who is this that both the wind and the sea obey him? This is the question that we should always be asking. This is the question that makes the church. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29). When we are encountered by God in the event of faith, the fear (the faith, the reverence) that produces itself is the product of this question. “Who is this…” is the right question, and it is this question that is both our existential dilemma and also our existential solution. Jesus, God of very God, is the “sure foundation” of our existence and of the church’s existence. And throughout the many centuries since he death and resurrection of Christ, we still don’ fully know the extent to which he is our sure foundation, and so we ask, “Who is this…”[21]

We come here every Sunday to hear the gospel proclaimed so we can once again be brought into encounter with God in Christ who is our “sure foundation”. We come here to hear, not my voice or Reverend Montgomery’s, but the voice of God who calls to us, who whispers our names. We come here to hear the powerful love-filled voice that can still the wind and silence the waves. We come eager and reticent to hear the voice that can (and will) stop us dead in our tracks, protecting us from hurling ourselves off deadly cliffs. We come here lost and swamped by what seems to make sense and what seems to be reasonable to us, to the status-quo, and in hearing the word of God we are re-centered and reoriented on God, on God’s wisdom, on God’s mercy, love, and justice; thus (hopefully), when we leave, we become forces to be reckoned with in the world. We come here to hear God’s voice so deeply that we are undone completely and remade entirely by the power of the proclamation of the word of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Psalm 46: 1-11

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

[1] R.T. France, 222.The Gospel of Mark NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.) Mark has a “…vivid narrative style gives added emphasis to the danger and panic of the disciples…” Also per Dr. Jim West, Mark’s style here is more like the “Dude, Where’s My Car” scene at the Chinese restaurant, “AND THEN!…AND THEN!” All translations of Mark 4:35-41 in this sermon are mine.

[2] http://www.coloradowestoutdoors.com/home/hiking/bangs-canyonglade-park/miracle-rock/

[3] France, 222. Jesus is more supernatural than ever with these miracles (coupling this one with 6:45-52).

[4] Ibid, 223.

[5] Ibid, 223. “Like Jonah’s equally remarkable sleep in the storm (Jon. 1:5-6) it serves to highlight the crucial role of the key figure in the story where the other actors are helpless…”

[6] Ibid, 224. The ου μελει σοι indicates panic on the part of the disciples and is “blunt” language and not “respectful address”.

[7] France, 224. “But clearly they have already been with Jesus long enough to take it for granted that he will have the solution to a problem beyond their control.”

[8] Karl Barth CD IV.3.2.72 p. 733. Church Dogmatics: The Doctrine of Reconciliation ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrence (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 2010). “And when the great storm arose, and ‘the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full,’ these, men who were elect and called, who had already received so many promises and consolations in respect of their own existence as His people, who had indeed the consolations in respect of their own existence as His people, who had indeed the assurance of His own presence, seemed to be cast back upon their own faith and in the last resort upon its bold action in exercise of the seamanship.”

[9] Ibid, CD IV.3.2.72 p. 733

[10]Ibid, CD IV.3.2.72 p. 733. “Inevitably the New Testament εκκλησιαι find their own story here.”

[11] France, 224. “His authority is asserted in strikingly anthropomorphic commands, in that he ‘rebukes’ the wind as if it were an animate being, and addresses the lake as if it were an unruly heckler, ‘Be quiet! Shut up!’”

[12]Ibid, P. 221

[13] John 1:1-4, “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.”

[14] France, 225. The aorist tense indicates an immediate result and “…the γαληνη μεγαλη (replaces the λαιλαψ μεγαλη) emphasizes the total transformation achieved by Jesus’ intervention.”

[15] Ibid, 225. “Those to whom the secret of the kingdom of God has been entrusted nonetheless apparently lack faith…what they lack here is not so much understanding as πιστις, which here as elsewhere in Mark…is a practical confidence in supernatural power, the correlative to miracles. So lack of faith makes disciples δειλοι, unable to respond to a crisis with the confidence in God (or, more pertinently, in Jesus) which is the mark of the true disciple.”

[16] Ibid, 221 fn39 Referring to PJ Achtemeier. “God’s battle against the sea, as a hostile primeval force”?

[17] Ibid, p. 221. “Control of the elements is even more extraordinary and inexplicable than the restoration of suffering human beings, and is in the OT a frequently noted attribute of God in distinction from human beings who find themselves helpless before the forces of nature.”

[18] Barth CD IV.3.2.72 p. 733-4. “‘There was a great calm,’ for in the living presence of Jesus there was revealed His living action, His self-declaration in deeds. He not only was what He was for them their Lord and Deliverer; He made Himself known to them as such. He made peace for them. No doubt His people could and should have clung simply to the fact that through Him alone, but genuinely through him, it had peace and would be and was sustained.”

[19] W. Travis McMaken. Our God Loves Justice: An Introduction to Helmut Gollwitzer (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2017). Quoting Gollwitzer, “…‘the core of the gospel is the message that this world and every person is not alone, ha they do no live out of themselves’ but ‘ are instead borne by the love of God…who stands against humanity’s plight and promises to over it.’” p.145

[20] France, 225. The reaction of the disciples describe as φοβος μεγας is appropriate and is in opposition to the cowardice of v.40, “…appropriate response of humans faced with a display of divine power or glory…”

[21] Barth CD IV.3.2.72 p.734. “What was this fear? It was the great and necessary and legitimate fear of the Lord which, as the beginning of wisdom, began with the end of the little and unnecessary fear which could only lead the community to despair of itself, its apostolate, its faith and indeed its Lord. And the end of the little fear came with the fact that Jesus not only was its Saviour but manifested Himself as such and therefore as the sure foundation of its existence as His people, of its apostolate and of its faith.”

 

This Him in Her Arms

It is dark in the room,

She closes her eyes.

Not to block out light;

There is none.

It is dark in the room.

 

She closes her eyes

And lets herself be pulled away

By the rhythmic rocking

Of the rocking chair.

She closes her eyes.

 

…and lets herself be pulled away.

The sensation of her feet pressing

Against and releasing from the ground

…press and release…

And lets herself be pulled away.

 

The sensation of her feet pressing

And she is reminded that she is

Still here and still connected;

She breathes and lives.

…the sensation of her feet pressing.

 

And she is reminded that she is…

She is not alone when he squirms

Against her breast and settles.

He is here with her.

And she is reminded that she is.

 

She is not alone when he squirms

And her heart against the pressing darkness

Beats and thumps, flaunting its truculent posture.

She loves him.

She is not alone when he squirms.

 

And her heart against the pressing darkness…

It willfully ignores the prior years of pain

That caused her to shut down and push

Them all away,

And her heart against the pressing darkness…

 

It willfully ignores the prior years of pain,

Each beat and thump pushes aside

The fears she has always feared and the

Rejection that threatened.

It willfully ignores the prior years of pain.

 

Each beat and thump pushes aside

Herself for this one, this him in her arms.

She pulls him closer to her; her head bows.

She kisses him.

…Each beat and thump pushes aside.

 

Herself for this one, this him in her arms…

As in labor, she vows now again: mine for this one.

For the first time she knows what it feels like

To love.

Herself for this one, this him in her arms.

Prepare the Cabin for Landing

In little over a month, I’ll step in to a new role: religious educator. To be honest, it’s not a particularly new role for me, considering my participation in the church–the very reason I’m am being ordained to the priesthood is based on my calling and gifting to teach, which I’ve demonstrated. So, the newness of the role is more about it being an official, paid, vocation/occupation. I’m excited about this new role and this opportunity to use my gifts in a professional way and, well, receive some perks apart from internal satisfaction.

But in the midst of this excitement and affirmation (for truly I see to have received a call as an affirmation), there lies a hiccup. Every part of me wants to embrace, arms open wide, the level of excitement I want to have, but I wrestle with the ever persistent shadow of the accusation: selfish. To take the call, I’ve asked (demanded?) my family to uproot and move to another state, to another job, to another school, to another life. And this request is contrary to how I’ve lived my life for the past little-more-than-a-decade as a stay-at-home-parent. For these people, my family, I’ve pushed myself aside giving them spots one through four. Even when I was working so hard on the very training that allowed me this very opportunity, they came first; I wove my education and exercise of my gifts into the cracks of my days as not to disturb the ebb and flow of our family life.

It doesn’t help that the mama bear in me is active; I’d do anything to protect my kids from pain and discomfort. However, the very pain and discomfort I wish to always protect them from and that they are currently experiencing comes from me.  This is the internal war being waged in my mind. No matter how hard I shake, no matter how fast I run, I can’t seem to escape the accusation: you’re selfish. Yet, I can neither shake nor run from the reality that this new job is a real good, a good I need to (and want to) grasp with both hands, a good I’ve been training for for over a decade.

It’s here, in the midst of this struggle in my mind, I need to rest fully on the grace of God. And I don’t mean the trite: let go and let God. (Though, I’ll admit that probably colloquialism does apply to some degree here.) What I means is the grace of God that is the rod and staff of comfort that walks us through the shadow of the valley of death (Ps 23:4). The type of grace of God that holds us up as we descend into the darkness that is faith. As I navigate this delicate walk between accusations of selfish and affirmations of good, I am reminded that just as my life has been (for both good and for bad) in God’s hands, my children’s lives are there, too. God’s providence is not for me alone, but also for them and my fear shouldn’t cause such shortsightedness: (once again) this isn’t solely about me.

The accusation is silenced in this grace of God that as I am lead by the hand through this dark valley because it is God leading me into this new phase of my life so are my children being lead; it is God who is the author of this new chapter in my life and in theirs.  I am reminded that this opportunity benefits my children and does not take from them in the ways that I imagine it does/will. I will be stepping out of one way of providing comfort into a whole different version of providing comfort. This job allows my children a new way of viewing their mother and thus women in general. This job allows me to take steps to the side, giving them a clearer view of their own path. This job allows me to start to untie these apron-strings and assure them that I’m fine and that, when the time comes for them to leave–and it will and quick–they not only will but can.

In this job rests the beginning of what I’ve truly been training for this past decade-plus: landing this plan.  Taking this job and making these requests that I have, is me beginning the initial descent. And while this flight has been great–not without  major turbulence–a plane can’t stay in the air forever. So, I flip the switch that illuminates the directive: “fasten your seat-belt.” And my voice sounds out in breaks and crackles over the loudspeaker: Please prepare the cabin for landing.

 

Not So For You: A Mother’s Day Post.

“To bring children into the world and slowly to birth one’s death and to accept it rather than to get it over with, quickly and if possible without awareness of it–as our shabbiest fantasies would have it–are acts of participation in creation. They refuse to fall in love with the alien reality of money and violence that has laid hold of life. The pain of birth encourages and convinces us of life. Just as a piece of bread can convince us of God, so this pain is a sacrament, a sign of God’s presence. How could we ever have lost it?” – Dorothee Sölle – Against the Wind: Memoir of a Radical Christian

 

During a conversation about summer break awhile back, my second son casually offered, “Well, mommy’s always on summer break.” The statement was like a needle scratching across a record; the party went silent. My eldest son sat up straight and gave his brother the look of, “Dude, you’re on your own now…” as he scooted down the bench at our dinner table, creating a healthy distance for/from the wrath he expected to land in his brother’s lap. My husband was in the kitchen slicing something; the slicing stopped as his eyes–filled with what I would call a healthy (and proper) dose of panic–darted from my second son to me, back to my second son, back to me. The toddler babbled about something; she saw the whole thing as an opportunity to shove the remainder of her dinner on to the floor… “oooops…fressert pweeze?”… <<giggle>>.

 

The one who uttered the statement looked around; everything about the tension in the air told him he’d just said something wrong. Very wrong. He realized it. His head slowly turned, and his blue eyes slowly met mine.  I was calm–let’s be more honest about that–I was as calm as I could be on the outside. In a cool and very controlled tone–the tone that my children know as the tone of sit-still-say-nothing-nod-amply–“Summer break?…Really?” I asked him. He nodded. I knew why he’d assumed that and even why he said it…out loud. “Just because I don’t leave to go to a job or go to work, doesn’t mean I’m not working at a job. If you really want the truth, Mommy doesn’t get summer break and she barely gets a vacation. Not even my sleep is mine. Mommies are at work every hour of every day, every day of every week, every week of ever year… Summer break?” I chuckled, and shook my head slightly. I poked around my dinner plate with my fork. “Not even close, buddy.”

 

No this isn’t a post about the unsung heroism of the stay-at-home-mother’s work day. Though, these works should be praised. The myriad of things I do every day from the hours of 4am to 9pm (when I practically fall into bed) to keep this house running, to keep #TheLarkinThree alive, and to maintain the barely existing heartbeat of my own professional work is worthy of applause. But I don’t want applause. I hate applause. (Anyone who knows me well enough knows just how much I hate applause and praise.) So, I’m not writing to be told I’m doing a good job or to be told that being a stay-at-home-mom is a noble choice…if I hear that one more time when I meet someone from my husband’s office, I’ll lose it.

 

I told the story above because what dawned on me (much, much later) is that if my son thinks I’m always on summer break, then maybe I’m doing my job right and well.  That he doesn’t see me as working hard or that I’m always burdened by them, is indicative of a daily aspect of motherhood most don’t see in operation until death.

 

You can look upon my body and see the scars of having become a mother. From the moment a plastic stick tells me I’m “with child” my body starts to change.* My brain chemistry will alter (forever); I’ll be hardwired from here on out to put an other before myself. When he cries, I’ll come. When he stumbles and falls, I’ll scoop him up. When he’s troubled, I’ll comfort. When he runs away, I’ll run after. During pregnancy my body will betray me. My own body will choose him over me. My nutrients course through my body first to him and whatever is left, I’ll get. My mind and my body sacrifice me for his life; way before holding him in my arms, I’ll go through a multitude of deaths to bring forth life.

 

Not least of which is laboring to deliver. In labor I am confronting death to bring forth life; no small task. And I’ll confront death alone. No one takes my hand and guides me through it. It is here where the ferocity that is woman comes to the fore; I will come close to and growl at death, bring it, Death! I’ll stare it down. My life for his! I’ll cry. And I’ll bear the wound of this battle in my physical body.  (Wounds that will later allow men to judge me as unattractive and unappealing, judgments I’ll absorb and utter against myself as I look over my body reflected back to me by the bathroom mirror).

 

I could bring up the continued wounding of my physical body–how my breasts are now oddly shaped because of years of nursing, expanding and contracting; how my weight fluctuates depending on the time I have to take care of myself; how the nutritional values of my meals is skimpy because I’m gleaning from left overs remaining on little plates by little people. But the reality is that it’s not merely my physical body that incurs the wound, pain, and suffering, of being a mom. As I said, you can look upon my  body and see the scars and disfiguring of being a mom, but there’s more you can’t see unless you not just look but also listen.  For the suffering and pain of being a mom isn’t merely restricted to my body, but also to my mind and my soul. My body–inside and out–is continually broken for these children of mine.**

 

“The real question the pain of birth gives us would be how we might come to understand pain as birthing pain, labor pain as doors opening, groaning as ‘the onset of the glory of the freedom of God’s children.’ How do we approach our pains so that they do not torment us like pointless kidney stones, but, as pains of labor, prepare the new being?…We need a different theology of pain that finally feminizes the questions and relates our pain to the pain of God. The question then will be: How does our pain become the pain of God? How do we become part of the messianic pain of liberation, part of the groaning of a creation that is in travail. How do we come to suffer so that our suffering becomes the pain of birth?” – Sölle***

 

But there’s more beyond the inner and outer breaking of my body. There is something you can’t see or hear, because this war that wages is one that is mine alone. This battle is between me and the age that has come before me on behalf of the age to come. And it wages everyday I walk the earth; it’s the battle I’ll take with me into the grave. (And, truly, if I fight well, you’ll rarely see the effects or feel the impact of this war.) It’s more than just a my-life-for-his: it’s: his-life-will-be-free. Free from all of the generational shit that has been repeatedly passed down over and over and over again. Free from pain and suffering that should’ve never have happened…ever. Free from anxiety, stress, fear where there should’ve been peace, tranquility, and comfort. The battle is one that is not about a body breaking but the very opposite; it’s about a body strong, resilient, being a stronghold in the time of disaster. Like a dam holding back tons of water threatening to wash out and drown what lives peacefully in its shadow and protection, my body will hold back what has come crashing into it from the repetition of history to protect those who live and depend on my protection. Everyday I will awake and make intentional choices, decisions, and actions that repeat my motherhood-mantra: it will not be so for you. And, this shit ends with me; I’ll wrestle it into the grave it so deserves. Everyday, I will utter the divine “no more” that has infiltrated my language because of my encounter with Christ who defined love as suffering, love as a body broken, love as freedom where there was oppression, love as comfort where there was fear, love as tender embrace where there was abuse, love as acceptance where there was rejection, love as new life as a gift to us out of/because of Christ’s death and resurrection.

 

 

 

 

*In rather imperfect terms (needing some renovating and updating) I’ve written more about the process of death to life as it relates to the very beginning of motherhood here: https://laurenrelarkin.com/2016/08/12/death-to-life-in-fertility-to-birth/

 

**I’ve written here about the inner body breaking: https://laurenrelarkin.com/2016/06/22/my-body-broken/

 

***Thank you to David W. Congdon who supplied me with the quotations from Dorothee Sölle.  You can follow him on twitter @dwcongdon; I’d recommend it. 🙂

The Art of Law and Gospel in Back to School

This morning I walked my boys to their first day of school for the 2016/17 school year. I all but skipped the whole way; my step was full of spring, theirs was a bit more shuffled. Yes, I am glad that school is back in session. But before you cast me that oh-great-another-ungrateful-mom-is-happy-that-she’s-rid-of-her-kids side-ways glare or mumble under your breath that I should be more grateful for the miracles and blessings that are my children, let me assure you: I am in fact very grateful for their lives and do see them as the blessings they are, so much so that I’ve set my occupational aspirations to super slo-mo to serve them to the best I can.

So, if I’m not happy that school is in session because I’m ungrateful or lack an understanding about my children being blessings, then why am I happy to have two-thirds of my children out of the house? Is it because having just one kid to care for all day is easier than all three? Yes, but that’s not the ultimate answer. Is it because I get more stuff done with the dearth of bodies lying about? Sure; but, again, that’s not the ultimate reason.

So what is the ultimate reason why?

Because, I get to be the voice of the Gospel.

Let me explain. Parenting requires parents to be both the voice of the law and of the gospel.  In terms of the law, parents uphold the rule of the household and teach general expectations of civil respect (following Luther: the Civic Use of the law); however, when these laws and structures are broken, there is a requirement to deliver consequences. These consequences–without fail, in my experience, no matter how tenderly I deliver them–are oft interpreted by the child in the Theological Use of the law (again, following Luther).  There is often weeping, gnashing of teeth, and the rending of garments at which point they are sent to their outer-darkness (aka: their bedroom). Into this real feeling of condemnation, we enter into their outer-darkness with them, embrace them, and speak those words that bring life to their young hearts and alleviate the condemnation in their young minds: I love you so much and nothing you do will ever, ever, ever stop me from loving you; this is the voice of the gospel.

Prior to being school-age, parents are often the sole voice distributing law and gospel equally (on a good day; on a bad day the scales tip, and for me it’s always in the direction of too much Law). Being the primary care giver, the stay-at-home-mom that I am, I’m often the primary disciplinarian and the source of comfort, specifically when my boys were too young for school and now during summer break. And this brings me to why I’m happy that the boys are back in school: there’s another outlet for the law to be spoken, and I get to (I’m honored to) take the helm as the word of comfort. And, by the time summer break has run it’s course, I’m exhausted from shouldering the weight of upholding the law and distributing consequences; good Lord, I’m crushed, too.

The oldest enters 4th grade and the younger enters 3rd this year. No longer in preschool where everyone laughs when you mistake a “d” for a “b” or you wear your shirt inside-out and backwards, the demands and expectations come roaring in, like a tsunami, out of nowhere. Whether from peers, teachers, and other school officials, my boys spend eight hours a day under pressure to perform, to do well, to hold their tongue, to act right, to play well, and when they don’t there’s consequences (rightly so). When that eight hour day ends, they come home exhausted, bad day and all, to me, and I get down eye level with them and say, “Boy, am I glad you’re home; I really missed you all day” and give them that unconditional embrace. When my oldest got in trouble for dropping the F-word (yes…THAT one) in school, and I was notified by email, I had all the fixings for root-beer floats ready when he got home. When the youngest got in trouble for tying his shoelaces to his desk during a reading lesson, and I was notified by email, I asked him what knot he was practicing. And I did those things not because I don’t think that they need consequences for their bad behavior, because they certainly do; it’s because I know full well that those necessary consequences were already delivered and adding more to their little shoulders will only prove to crush them beyond recognition. The voice of the law has sounded (sometimes all day), and when they come home, it’s time for the voice of the gospel, and, man, do I love being that voice.

And sometimes being that voice of the gospel is creating the space they need: space to be alone, “It’s fine, take your time walking home; I’ll be waiting for you with a snack”; space to be free to cry or to be angry, “You’ve kept that in all day…feel free to let it out”;  or, on the good days, “Yes, I would love to hear about the test you rocked…again.” Space is created by the word of the gospel for them to be heard and for them to be silent, to run about and to rest and watch TV, to throw something across their bedroom and to squeal with delight as loud as they can.

None of this occurs in a vacuum; none of this happens because somehow I’m just that well adjusted (because I’m not). All of this happens because this has been the encounter I’ve had with God Himself through Jesus Christ, our Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard (repeatedly) that Jesus Christ died for my sins and was raised for my justification, that by faith in this man Christ Jesus–who is God–I am fully justified and accounted righteous in Him, that God so love the world–that includes us–He sent His only Son to be the perfect propitiation for sins and to redeem us. And in hearing this gospel proclamation I have been impacted by an immeasurable, insurmountable unconditional love that has the power not only to undo me (because it certainly does do that) but also to move me toward others, my neighbors, specifically my children. And in this movement towards them, I get to be the voice of proclamation, I get to be a tangible experience–a mere taste–of that great, great Love of God for them. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

School is back in session; Glory be to God.

 

 

 

My Body Broken

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is become a mother, specifically a stay-at-home-mom. When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I knew that I wanted to be the one to stay home. My husband had a wonderful full-time job that provided for me to do just that–plus, I wasn’t pulling in anything substantial being a seminarian with a part-time job working with the Doctor of Ministry Department. I have to tell you now, still holding that positive pregnancy test and knowing I would stay home with my future baby, I was naive, a bit taken with the rose-colored glasses of new, budding motherhood. It would take just a few days to realize that this entire endeavor would be hard.

Between battling morning sickness, hoping that my fellow classmates wouldn’t notice my new diet of seltzer and jolly ranchers, and suppressing fear that my body was (again) rejecting because I was spotting over half-way through the first trimester, I was tossed back and forth on the waves of reality setting in: I was not my own, my body was not my own, I was being broken.

As I grew bigger and more uncomfortable, as I pressed through exhaustion and discomfort to finish up my second to last semester of seminary, and this finally giving way to going into labor on the morning of the 5th of December. My son was born at 9:42pm on the 6th of December; yes, that’s about two days of trying to give birth to my son. I couldn’t do it. The unique thing my body was gifted to do, I couldn’t do. I was rushed to the ER after a contraction left my son’s heart rate too low. A week later I sat on the floor of our bathroom holding my just bathed 9lbs of baby boy in my lap. My husband looked at me, “Why are you crying?” he asked. “Because…I’m a failure,” I was able to articulate while crying. “How can you call yourself a failure while holding our son?” I didn’t have a good answer. What I knew was that a reality was being hammered home: I was not my own, my body was not my own, I was being broken.

This reality would be made more clear, in a physical way, as I embarked on nursing and raising not just this new born baby boy, but his little brother 21 months later, and their little sister born just about three years ago.

But looking back and looking at my current situation (a stay-at-home-mom to a toddler), I realize that it’s not merely my physical body that has been broken, time and time again. For the past decade I’ve sat on the academic and occupational side-lines. I’ve watched class-mates and peers graduate years after me in seminary, get ordained, get doctorates, move to other countries and back to the states and (in one case) back to another country. I’m here. In deciding to be embark on the parenting that I wanted for my children, I had to push all my other dreams and desires aside. My research is painfully slow, my writing interrupted, my attention divided. I wrestle internally with envy of my friends who have far surpassed me academically; I struggle with frustration with myself for being unable to do everything in the pace I want to do everything. As I wrangle my toddler into her room to finish her i’m-gonna-scream-so-loud-so-every-neighbor-in-the-neighborhood-hears tantrum, another peer wrestles with an editor/publisher over another book. In the fullness that is my mind and soul: I am not my own, my body is not my own, I am being broken.

I’m not saying any of this to garner sympathy or pity; I willingly volunteered my whole person to this vocation, to this process of being broken over and over and over again. I gave myself–body, mind, strength, soul–to be broken; to be broken for these children of mine. IMG_20160621_113610055 For these, my children, I lay aside myself, my dreams, my desires, daily, and give them as much of me as I can. For these, my children, I close Luther and open the screen door to go outside and blow bubbles for my daughter because she asked me to. I can’t do anything else, because I love them.

And in this I understand God’s love for us, his beloved children. In this, I understand why Mark records in his Gospel that when all the men ran when Jesus was crucified, the women who followed him looked on from a distance (Mk 15:40-41). I know they didn’t run because they were of low stature and had nothing to lose; but I also think that love that drives to the breaking of one’s own body made innate sense  to them. To look upon the crucified Christ, to see the blood shed because of love made sense on a visceral level to a bunch of women whose whole life was devoted to bearing and raising children through the breaking of their own bodies. It makes sense to me and it blows me away: He gave himself fully and completely for us in ways that I’ll never understand or be able to do because of my frail and faulty human flesh. His “I love you, my beloved child” is more heartfelt than mine to my own children.

And as they were eating, [Jesus] took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’ (Mark 14:22-24)

More than a mother loves her very own Children does God love us.

And I am undone, I am broken.

 

On this day…: An Open Letter to My Son

(the following is an altered version of the letter to my son last year; i’m reposting it because today is his birthday and, once again, it’s one of the ways I can say “I do love you so much” and I really want to shout it to the world!)

To My Dearest Son,

On this day, 8 years ago, you were born. You were not the first child and, as time would demonstrate, you were not the last one either. You hold the middle, sandwiched between an older brother who is always doing everything first and a younger sister who is doing everything last. Without a doubt, I’m sure you’ve felt ignored or bypassed or skipped, assuming that our attention is too split between first and last to be observant of you, the steadfast middle.

But we see you. see you.

And, today, I celebrate you.  Because you need to know you are celebrated. And we’re going big! Like mountain peak big…Like Get Air big!

You are my strong vibrant young man that burst into our lives on an hot August evening.  Though, you tried your best to come earlier that day, my body failed to bring you forth naturally. I remember walking to the OR, so that we could finally have you in our arms. I remember that the feeling of my body’s failure was eclipsed by the love I had for you. My failure faded to the background, and my love for you–my then pterodactyl sounding ball of flesh– came surging forward, sending failure and weakness, and fear for the hills. You, my dear son, showed me that love trumps failure, strengthens the weak, and silences fear.

You still teach me those things every day these past eight wonderful years.

I see the way you get up again: whether it’s physically falling off of your bike or pogo-stick or failing to do something right for school; love trumps failure. I see the way you boldly go beyond your comfort level being confident when you’d rather slink away: telling the truth when you’d rather lie; love strengthens the weak. I see the way you face head on things that you are terrified of: speaking in front of your class when you’d rather just sit in the back, entering a new class room with new students when you’d rather just have your old friends back; love silences fear.

You are my compassionate little guy who has shed tears over not only his own sorrow and loss, but over others’. You are that brave little guy who boldly marched over to our neighbor’s house and gave her one of the heart Valentines’ day magnets you had made in preschool; the heart read: love your neighbor, and on that day, Jackson, you did. I love the way your eyes light up when I suggest bringing cookies to neighbors or meals to people who need one; and I love how your brow furrows when we talk about injustice in the world; and how your eyes tear up when we talk about Christ’s resurrection as surety of our resurrection, that death isn’t the final word. I love the way you care for younger kids and stand by some amazing there-since-the-day-you-were-born principle that you won’t stand for someone being picked on or bullied. I love the way nearly everything around you has untapped possibility.

Everyday you’ve occupied my life, you’ve encourage me to be more compassionate and loving.

You amaze me by your thoughts and statements. You are my wandering and wondering sage. Bouncing on the couch a couple of years ago, you had a thought; you stopped bouncing, sat down, and looked at me with all seriousness, “Mama, everything about war is just wrong.” You burst with questions and brim with ideas and hypotheses even if it means you get out of bed way past your bedtime to ask, “What was before God was?” You love the abstract and the absurd. You, at the young age of 8, are not afraid of being in metaphorical darkness. You are in touch with the brokenness and sadness of humanity’s plight, you are unafraid to be with those who are sad.  You question the rules and grab the law by it’s horns; you are my budding rebel and radical but not as an end for yourself but for others. You are skeptical of the “flow” Why are we all going in the same direction here? You challenge existing structures and the status quo; you have no room for “the box.” What box?

Everyday since you were born you’ve shown me that life is breathtaking, brilliant, and beyond anything that we can comprehend. You remind me that the status quo is often unacceptable and you rekindle my own rebel affinities when I’ve become too complacent with the way things are.

You, my dearest child, are adored, are loved, and are celebrated today this day of your birth. You are seen and not just on this day, but every day…every day that has gone before and everyday that will come.

Happy Birthday, Jackson.

A View of the Image of God from Motherhood (musings) Part II

This past Sunday was Mother’s day. I love Mother’s day. I love it even though I know how much of a “Hallmark” holiday it is. I just love it. I love the way my children bounce into our bed, bearing their school-made gifts. I (expletive + ing) LOVE gifts, especially from my boys. I love seeing what they have to say, and at 8 and 6, they say crazy awesome stuff. This year I got a Pokemon card from my 8 year old, and from my 6 year old, a laminated picture and written paragraph about the things he loves about me.

My 6 year old writes some pretty amazing and fairly deep statements; no surprise really, since he’s always been that deep thinker. By 2, we dubbed him the “Wandering Sage” because he would randomly spout off wise advice or deep thoughts. One day he woke up and while rubbing his eyes, said, “No one should run with scissors.” One day he was doing his gymnastic stunts off a big, over-stuffed chair, stopped mid tumble, sat upright, and said, “Mama, everything about war is wrong.” One day he explained to me how the seed and the egg formed the baby I was carrying in my womb; he was eerily close and only 4.  Last year he wrote me this: I love you because you love me! It’s like he was reading 1 John 4 the night before.

This year, written at the tail end of the list of things that he loves about me, he wrote, “Your smile makes me loved and feel happy.”

My eyes have reread those words everyday since I taped that laminated picture and paragraph up in my “office” (aka: The Kitchen).  In my skeptical adult wounded state, I would’ve said, “Your smile makes me feel loved…” Leaving room for the doubt that you don’t really love me, because I know smiles can sometimes be fake. So, there’s a difference between feeling loved and belovedness. To this child, though, my smile declares to him: beloved.

The power of a mother’s smile.

My smile…the smile that comes across my face when they come in from being at school all day; the smile that cuts through the tension filled bedroom because someone was being a total grumpy pants; the smile that can’t contain itself when they do ridiculous things during a tantrum; the smile that–often–ushers them off to dreamland and awaits for the dawn to greet them again; the smile that assures them that even right in the midst of their crap, they are loved, they are the beloved.

And this leads me to discuss what conclusion I’m drawing about the image of God from the view of motherhood.  It’s the power of the mother’s smile–from the moment that baby is born to the moment that mother stops walking upon the earth–that declares belovedness to the child. And I believe that the power is there, in the mother’s smile, because it’s she who has been most intimate with the child (she knows him), the one who has provided comfort from day one (she is the voice and the smell that brings her comfort). It’s her smile that conveys not just “I am happy with you” or “I have learned you and find you amusing” but sustains the original love, the state of belovedness.  The very one who bore you, who handed herself over for you, who stared death in the face to get you here smiles upon you  and you are loved.

Am I still the beloved? Yes, dear child, you are.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26).

God has smiled upon us; and it’s a smile that will never stop. Through His son, our saviour Jesus Christ, he has declared to the entire world that He loves us so much and that He desires us so much to know that we are the beloved. His face, through His son, is shining upon us and is gracious to us; His countenance is upon us and gives us peace because of Jesus. And while my smile stops many times a day, His never stops. Because His smile upon you and upon me is based on His perfect love for us apart from our deeds (both good and bad) because of the totality of the work of Christ. God’s smile is forever upon you, right here, right now, right where you are–clean or dirty, put together or falling apart, sober or drunk, pure or defiled.  The very One who created you, the very One who handed himself over for you, the very One who reckoned with death and won to silence death once and for all and to bring you to Himself, smiles upon you and you are loved.

Am I still the beloved?  Yes, dear child you are and always will be.