Tag Archives: Women

Women of Advent

Winter Forest

I showed up 20 minutes late to meet my friend Mary at a small, hip coffee shop in the suburbs last week. We greeted each other warmly and chatted about our lives, curled around hot drinks to ward off the winter cold.

Although she is 15 years older than me, Mary and I are dearly connected friends who have shared similar pains in our lives over the last year. She feels like a kindred spirit to me, and these moments to catch up are sacred.

As we got up to leave, she handed me a copy of a Janet McKenzie painting of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. It showed the two dark-skinned women, wrapped in layered shawls, standing close together with somber faces and closed eyes.

My friend pointed to the women and said, “Look, it’s us! We are both having something mysterious and new being born into our lives, we just don’t know it yet.”

The story of the visitation is a happy one: the delivery of good news, the treasure of shared experience. But the women in this painting look serious and intimate. Sometimes, my friend explains, joy is not smiley. Sometimes it is deeper, quieter. Sometimes the mystery we bear in our lives, though beautiful and good, is heavy and powerful.

My Advent expectation has been like that this year — more still than hectic, more weighty than cheerful.

I took the picture with me to my office at church, where I taped it up next to my computer. When I look at it, feeling my kinship with Mary, the expectant mother of God, and Mary, my friend who walks through life with me like an older sister.

I look at the faces of the women in this painting and I remember that it is holy to carry joy, even if it is carried quietly. I remember that newness will be born in me, even if I am solemn at its coming. And I remember that through the process of becoming, I will never be alone.

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Filed under Advent 2013, My Faith Journey, Spirituality

The bleeding, the bold, the believers

A Gospel full of sick women

This weeks Gospel text is full of sick people.

Specifically, it’s full of sick women.

First, a sick little girl, whose father is distressed because she is “at the point of death,” and then a sick older woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Twelve years, my friends.

These are some women in need of deep care.

Here’s the other thing I notice about these women: they are not poor.

The little girl’s father is one of the synagogue leaders, a position of power and means in those days. And the older woman, we read, has “endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had,” which implies she’s got the spare funds to shop around for the best doctor in town.

Still, their positions of social power and their financial stability hasn’t helped these two women: they need the kind of healing only Jesus can give.

A Jesus-kind of healing

And of course, in typical Jesus style, that healing is unconventional and earthy and startling. While he’s on his way to the little girl’s house, pushing through the gathered crowd, the bleeding woman simply grabs hold of his cloak and is inadvertently healed.

The text almost makes it sound accidental, as though Jesus is just oozing healing power through his pores, without even trying.

“Who touched me?!” he asks, turning on the crowd. And when the desperate formerly-bleeding woman admits her touch, Jesus tells her it is her faith that has healed her. Not his magical pore-oozed healing, but her faith.

Then Jesus shows up at the synagogue leader’s house just a little too late: the girl is already dead. But Jesus barely flinches. “Don’t fear, only believe,” he tells the frightened family members.

Then he goes in, takes her hand, and talks to the girl. He touches her and talks to her. He invites her to get up, and she does. Just like that. And then he feeds her.

This is how Jesus heals: through touch, conversation, and shared food. It’s not fancy, it’s not showy. It’s just… Jesus.

Asking the tough questions

There’s something underneath this story.

Why are the sick people both women, one young and one old, with such parallel stories? Why are they both so critically ill, beyond conventional help? Why are they both wealthy? Why does Jesus heal them with such an air of nonchalance?

And, of course, the tough question that must be asked of all Gospel stories, what do we take away from this?

I can’t help be think about how important it is to be reading about the sickness (and wellness) of women this week, when the Supreme Court announced their landmark — and surprising! — decision to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act.

I am going to be clear about how important this conversation is for people of faith: the Gospel is not silent or irrelevant on the topics of health, healing, and wellness, and religious communities today should not be silent either.

Sometimes the best take-away is questions, rather than answers. Here are three questions I’m chewing on after reading the Gospel story:

  • What happens when wealth and privilege are not enough to keep us healthy?

The two women in this story had safety nets. The young girl had a well-off father who advocated and provided for her. The older woman had the finances and the audacity to continue seeking a cure for her illness. But even those protections failed them. Money cannot buy healing.

  • What happens when the vulnerable of our society (a category which certainly included young and old women in Jesus’ time!) do not have safety nets?

These women were lucky to have options, and they were lucky to encounter Jesus. Those who lack sufficient healthcare today are not always so lucky. I’m sure I’m not surprising anyone by stating that Jesus had a heart for the vulnerable and unlucky of his society. Are we, his followers, still living that Gospel value today?

  • Are we mourning in fear or are we seeking healing with faith?

Remember what Jesus told the bleeding woman who touched his cloak: “Your faith has made you well.” And remember what he told the mourners at the little girl’s house: “Do not fear; only believe.” Jesus clearly favors the faith of the bold.

The people in this story had tried living up to society’s traditional expectations, but they had failed to find wellness there. We need to be willing to move past our fears, our judgments, our preconceived ideas of human solutions and move into a place of radical faith. When our systems are broken, we have to have the courage and compassion to change them.

Do we believe in healing, as fiercely and wildly as the young dead girl and the bleeding woman in the Gospel story? Or are we too afraid to boldly grab at the cloak of Jesus, to invite him into our homes and believe in his unconventional healing?

– – –

May we, like Jesus, be willing to enact healing through talking to each other, touching each other, feeding each other. All our categories and opinions and politics aside, may we believe with a faith that is bold enough to pursue healing, even when all our traditional avenues have failed.

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Filed under Ethics, Lectionary Reflections, Theology and Faith

Living open-hearted

What I want in my life is compassion,
a flow between myself and others
based on a mutual giving from the heart.
Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication

When I read this heartfelt post today, it reminded me of a conversation I was part of last week.

It was evening, and everyone around our close circle was tired. But we had gathered to talk about leadership and grace and how the two relate.

Most of the folks in the room were women. And most of those women are in preparation to become ministers. What I mean to say is: these are people with presence.

They know how to listen, how to hold space, how to be with the pain of others. They also know how to speak wisdom and truth, even to a room of strangers. That’s what they’re about.

But in the course of this conversation about what holds us back from being authentic and present, one woman shared an experience that was deep and heartbreaking, mostly because so many others in the room understood her story.

“I can’t live every day truly open-hearted,” she told us with certainty. After a pause she said, “I’ve tried before, and it doesn’t work. It isn’t safe.”

And she told us about a day when she opened her heart as wide as it would go, and walked around the whole world offering all the love she had to give — to her loved ones, to her fellow students and teachers, to strangers.

And it was beautiful —

until–

she passed a stranger who looked at her, as she said, “as though he could kill her.”

This person who didn’t even know her. But with her heart wide open like that, the hatred in his eyes came like a blow. And she closed her wide open heart to protect herself.

Living open-hearted isn’t safe.

I was moved by her telling of this experience. By her commitment to live in authentic love, by her painful honesty in sharing with us. And by her courageous willingness to consider trying it again.

“It might still be possible…” she said.

And hope grows just like that, like a tiny planted seed waiting to break ground, like daring the impossible and believing.

I can’t say I’ve lived an entire day with my heart as wide open as it will go, but I can say that thinking about this woman’s story made me open mine a little bit wider.

May we all drink ever deeper from the well of authentic love. May we believe, always, that the radiance of God’s love can shine through us even into eyes filled with hate, even in times when it is not safe.

Perhaps that is where it’s needed most of all.

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