Friday, May 17

God and God's Mom

I used to be a kid. I used to be a kid growing up in the Evangelical Protestant church. We used to hear a story, and it went something like this:

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine-John Chapter 2
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

We would read this story and go, "Whoa. That's the first miracle of Jesus." And we would like it.

When you get into sacramental theology, you see a LOT more here than the first miracle, even though that alone makes it worth the telling. But I'm not going to get into every nuance here. 

When I was growing up, I read the Bible. A lot. And when I was in the New Testament, I would call our protagonist "Jesus." And he is. I would call his mother Mary. And she is. That was all well and good.

When I made my first visit to an Orthodox Christian Liturgy for some purpose more than writing a research paper, they kept talking about "the Theotokos." The woman who is a lifelong friend and eventually became my godmother leaned over to me and rasped, "Theotokos means 'God-bearer.' They mean Mary." Later (much later) on, it occurred to me that to be a God bearer was to walk around containing the Uncontainable; a perambulatory Ark of the Covenant. Imagine. To be full of God. But I'm not going to get into every nuance here. 

Here's the part that flipped my lid: I've been teaching at an Orthodox Classical school this year, and one of my biggest blessings has been our assistant priest's kid. LOVE that KID! He has been growing up fully Orthodox. When he talks about Jesus, he doesn't say "Jesus," he says, "God." One day he was coloring an icon coloring page when he guilelessly looked up and said to me (as if I would know), "What color are God's shoes???" And even though I've been a Christian my WHOLE life, it occurred to me for the first time: God wore shoes. 

One day, he was coloring and chatting, and this kid told me the story of the Wedding at Cana. It went something like this:

"One day, God and God's Mom went to a party. And there wasn't enough wine, so God's Mom wanted him to make some more. God had the guys go get the jugs of water, and God turned the water into wine." 

It blew my "Jesus Loves Me" Protestant brain wide open.


And God's Mom. 

Went to a party. 

God showed up, and made wine.

I cried tears in my eyes a little bit; and THIS is the nuance I want to get into. God came to a party. 

I wish I had the vocabulary that my student does. What if I read the New Testament, every time I saw the word "Jesus," I said (and absorbed, and believed, and let resonate through my being), "God." 

After all, Jesus (ahem, God) said himself:

John 14:8-10
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

If I were able to do this; if I were able to see Jesus through God-O-Vision, what would I learn about the nature of God? God went to a party!!! 

What else did He do when He was here, wearing shoes?

What else is He doing now? 


Monday, May 13

Disney vs. Psalm 37:4

Have you ever read fairy tales? No, I mean the original ones. The original fairy tales are not concerned with selling movie tickets or spinning off action figures from a storyline. Many of them are incredibly violent. Even though most of them end well for the protagonists, the strife they endured to get there is exhausting. Then there are the Disney fairy tales:

"And he/she/they lived happily ever after." ~Walt Disney

Happily ever after sounds like the kind of life for me!!!

In the Bible, if we are shortsighted, we will see this promise as a cleaned-up, sanctified version of the Disney ideal:

"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

As a teenager, I was always very wary of Psalm 37:4. I had this suspicion: that to truly delight yourself in the Lord might change your heart. It might change the DESIRES of your heart. And I didn't always want my desires to be changed. Like the old lech Woody Allen says, "The heart wants what it wants."

Just this morning, I realized that there is another distinctive between "happily ever after" and getting the desires of your heart. To get what you always wanted is not the same thing as being happy forever. It might not even be the same thing as being happy.

I live in the best house. It is the house I always wanted. It is a 1910 bungalow with beautiful hardwood floors, a roofed front porch, a deck out in the fenced backyard, a sun room attached to the master bedroom, and Craftsman style windows and wood detailing.

It is more than I ever asked or imagined when I visualized myself living in a bungalow since... college? High school? It is a rental, but I've always fantasized about someday buying from the landlady.

So housewise, I got what I always, always wanted. It was the desire of my heart.

It just wasn't happily ever after.

Soon, I will move away from the house of my dreams. I will have a roommate that I love, I will be in a much easier position financially than before. My move will allow my life to have a kind of freedom and empowerment that I do not currently have. And I am grateful for these things. But it is a gain that comes from a loss.

I have lost much in the last year. A lot of what I have lost is directly tied to my own or other people's actions. Job was a righteous man who had everything he ever wanted... the desires of his heart. He lost everything, through no fault of his own. After he had lost everything, he "got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:20-21) 

And what do we have that is really ours, anyway?

The difference between "happily ever after" and the desires of your heart from God is that happily ever after never WAS real.

But unless what we are wanting is only God Himself (and it's hard to know what that looks like), anything we are blessed with doesn't stay. Lazarus died... and lived. And died again. We are blessed to bless others and to bless God back. How many parents in the Bible and Tradition begged God for a child only to give the babe back again? (Samson, Samuel, Mary, John the Baptist...)

To delight yourself in the Lord is to desire the peace, truth, and light of His Kingdom. To desire the Holy Trinity in all their vastness and immanence. To be given the desires of your heart in this way means that you will give them back... but when you have them, they are REAL. They are wafts of air from a reality that is so deep that we cannot now often perceive it. Even as I have been writing this, I got word that a sweet woman I prayed with just yesterday has been healed from a mass that was in her lungs!!! It was there two weeks ago, and now it is NOT THERE. 

Will she eventually die? Of course. But the blessing of all these things is the moment of knowing God walked with you... at the side of a cradle... in my bungalow... through her lungs. 

So I will continue to grow up, to want the Disney "happily ever after" less and less. To delight, to be granted... this is my wish. Or, taking the caution from my teenage self, it is what I wish to wish. 

To hold the blessings loosely, that I might find Him in all things... "and the pure in heart shall see God." To breathe deeply the wafts from the Real, and find myself in Him. 

Ever after.

Sunday, May 5

The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God,
Let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant,
Let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting,
Let them now receive recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour,
Let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving
Let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour,
Let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour,
Let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour,
Let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first;
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
Just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first;
To the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.
He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord,
And, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!
The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith.
Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament their poverty,

For the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions,
For pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell and took Hell captive!
He embittered it when it tasted His flesh!

And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed:
Hell was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions."

It was embittered, for it was abolished!
It was embittered, for it was mocked!
It was embittered, for it was purged!
It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Ηeaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead,
Has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.


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