• advent journal: speaking words of wisdom

    by  • December 9, 2008 • Uncategorized • 3 Comments

    A number of years ago, Ginger and I had the chance to go to Israel with a group from our church in Winchester. We rode our bus all through Israel and Palestine seeing the places we had only read about, watching much of the Bible come alive in ways we could not have imagined and also visiting the “traditional” sites for many of the happenings in the gospels, which all had churches built over them that were all asking for money. “This is the traditional site for (fill in miracle),” our guide would say, “but this is not where it happened. Centuries of a very lucrative pilgrim/tourist trade had made it necessary to mark the spot, even if the spot was wrong.

    On three occasions I remember our guide saying with certainty that where we were was the real deal. One was in the Garden of Gethsemane where she said the root systems of the olive trees go back to Jesus’ time; we were sitting among the same trees where he prayed. The second was across the Kidron valley, entering the Old City. The steps Jesus climbed on the way to Caiaphas’ house were still in use; we walked that day where Jesus walked. The third was inside the church in Nazareth, which was built over a spring she said had always been there; Mary would have come there to draw water in the dusty little village as her children ran and played at her feet.

    The centuries of “biblical” art that stand between us and the afternoon the angel showed up to tell Mary what was happening to her leave us with images of a woman draped in fine linens being told she would give birth to a boy that looks, in the paintings, more like Giuseppe than Jesus, gilding over all of the grit and gruesome that made up her life; ours, too.

    Nazareth was a no count little village hardly worth putting on the map, if there had been maps. The angel probably had to clear the dust from his throat before he began the proclamation and you have to wonder how long he had to practice before he could look this poor little girl in the eye and say, “Blessed are you among women.” She had no idea what that blessing meant, other than to respond, “Let it be as you said.”

    My brother was the first person I ever heard talk about “the paradox of blessing” offered to Mary. Yes, she would be the one to bring Jesus into the world, to be the deliverer of the Incarnation, and she would watch him grow in ways she did not understand and suffer and die. Such is the paradox of blessing. However Lennon and McCartney brushed up against it, they understood when they wrote,

    when I find myself in times of trouble
    mother Mary comes to me
    speaking words of wisdom, let it be

    Yesterday, as Ginger was pouring the cup to serve Communion, she said, “And Jesus took the cup and poured – in a room that was not nearly this quiet.” The downside of our reverence is we sanctify the humanity out of the very events that speak to all that it means to be truly human. Mary had to have had less than the ideal pregnancy ending with giving birth in a barn behind a less-than-five-star inn. However romantic our crèche scenes appear, with the animals gathered round, I can’t imagine it being much help to have the cattle lowing and doing everything else that cows do while she was in labor. For God to choose to enter the world in the person of Jesus was as gritty as it was glorious. The angels may have announced his coming, but Jesus came into the world on the bottom rung, at the place, as Bruce Cockburn says (and my friend Bill reminded me) you have to “kick the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

    On this day that the church decided to calendar as the one when the angel visited Mary, I offer Patty Griffin’s song, “Mary,” because it helps make Christmas a flesh and blood event for me.

    Mary you’re covered in roses
    You’re covered in ashes
    You’re covered in rain
    You’re covered in babies
    You’re covered in slashes
    You’re covered in wilderness
    you’re covered in stains
    You cast aside the sheet,
    You cast aside the shroud
    Of another man, who served the world proud
    You greet another son, you lose another one
    On some sunny day and always stay

    Jesus says Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
    Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
    While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
    Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

    Mary she moves behind me
    She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
    Everytime the snow drifts,
    Everytime the sand shifts
    Even when the night lifts,
    She’s always there

    Jesus said Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
    Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
    While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
    Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

    Mary you’re covered in roses,
    You’re covered in ruin
    You’re covered in secrets
    Your’e covered in treetops,
    You’re covered in birds
    who can sing a million songs without any words
    You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
    of another man, who served the world proud
    You greet another son, you lose another one
    on some sunny day and always stay

    In my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me . . .



    Blogging since December 2005


    3 Responses to advent journal: speaking words of wisdom

    1. December 9, 2008 at 5:57 am

      Sometimes I wonder if Jesus will actually visit one of our fancy, clean, ultra sound systemed churches when he comes back. I rather think he’s go straight to the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods and hang.

    2. December 9, 2008 at 1:17 pm

      He’ll be at the bar, Presbyterian Gal, with the most hopeless… down by the river with the homeless people. I do not delude myself that he will darken the door of my sanctuary.

      Milton, this song made me weep and weep.

    3. December 10, 2008 at 2:32 am

      This post? altogether a gift.

      (and one of my favorite songs – though I’d never have guesses how fine N.M. would sound up against Patti – thnx)

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