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There is a story Bill Deacon likes to tell about me. Some 15 years ago, on a canoe trip – it was time for a campfire – I was pretty particular – controlling is his word – I was pretty ‘particular’ about just how to set up a good campfire. So I said something like – ‘How about I be in charge of the fire?’ So for the rest of the trip, he and the other guy with us did their best to subtly disrupt my control of the fire. Knock a log over, hide the kindling… If I was Prometheus trying to control the fire, they were Zeus reminding me of the limits of pridefulness.
One of the characteristics of living with privilege (and as white male, affluent educated healthy… I live with what is, in global terms, an unfathomable degree of privilege) – one of the characteristics of this is the ability to stay in control, to be able to direct where I live, what I do, when I eat, what I eat, to set the temperature in the room, to see a doctor or dentist when I want to. I can stay in control. Things don’t often get wild, chaotic.
When I want something I know I can get it – I can see it . Amazon Prime. Two clicks and I am assured that I have controlled the situation – sure enough a day later, any more than a few days and it is annoying – there it is on my doorstep. This is controlling the fire. And this is no comment at all about Amazon Prime so much as the phenomenal privilege many of us live with. Staying in control. And when a misfortune falls, a loss, an illness, aging, it is a struggle to understand not now being in control. It is a struggle to locate a new source of hope, beyond ourselves and our own strengths.
So I have noticed that where these things are not true, people edge closer to chaos. When I was down in Regent Park this week, a few streets in things are bit edgier, fewer people are so much in control of how their lives go, there is an edge – on the sidewalk a man had just parked his car and was walking away with his wife or maybe his sister – she was veiled – and another guy thought he had parked badly and came up and shoved him, and he shoved back and they cursed each other and they carried on. I don’t see this in Rosedale. Here we call Amazon Prime and a bylaw officer comes to take care it. In the wilder places there is a fear and with it an anger and then a violence always not far off. I read, astounded, this week, an` article by Catherine Porter about a slice of life in Haiti, and the story of a few people navigating that existence, and was gobsmacked at how precarious each day is, and how some humans manage to live with a grace and a fire in the middle of it.
When Isaiah made his famous declaration about the voice in the wilderness, which the church then co-opted as the voice of John the Baptist, it was perhaps badly translated. Not wilderness, which for many of us is actually a place of delight and beauty, trees and lakes and silences. But wildness. A voice calls out – in the wildness – where things are not in your control – where you cannot yet see what is good – this is where God will come, so make a path. Into your wildness, into where you no longer see a way – this, he said, is where God will speak. And those who live in this place will teach us. That faith is precisely NOT yet seeing. Faith is living in the wild places as if we know we will find a way, but cannot yet summon it up or create it. Living as though it is still very real.
Let nothing you dismay. The message of the church into this day. Tidings of comfort and joy.
Magnificat – Luke 1:46-55, The Inclusive Bible translation
My soul magnifies God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Saviour.
For you have looked with favour
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit; you have deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things, while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy –
the promise you made to our ancestors –
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.
Where the Wild Things Are – Part 2.
From the beginning this passage looks widely out of place. Immediately before it is the story of Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the two of them feeling the quickening of their children in utero. One is apparently beyond child bearing years and the other is young and unwed. Both are poor. There is joy and celebration – there is blessing and response. Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist and Mary to Jesus. But these two women cannot know this yet. What they can know is the outrageous wild joy of being pregnant – of being with child. And so Mary responds and her response is not quiet obedience epitomizing the meek and the mild Mary that is sometimes portrayed in our churches.
No, she responds with some of the most prophetic words of scripture – and this is odd – this is a thoroughly marginalized person – female, pregnant, unwed and poor. And yet she responds with a blueprint for joy – ‘her soul magnifies God and her spirit rejoices in God’ she sings out. Even in her fear she is unafraid. The image is extraordinary, even comical; she gives voice to a song for the ages, a song that invites us beyond our realistic expectations and our numb imaginations. The rest of her song turns the world upside down: the proud shall be scattered in their conceit, the
hungry will be filled with good things. The words Mary says actually foresee the toppling of the structures that tie her worth to her ability to conceive a son.
This passage and the choice by the writer of this particular woman as a bearer of child who will grow to be Jesus, Abba, teacher, more than any other story in the scriptures goes a long way to keeping me walking as a Christian. It is simply and joyfully subversive. It is marvellously earthy and embodied. Mary’s circumstances, her giving voice to ideas that still shock some and delight others – her giving voice to ideas of worth wildly at odds with accepted norms – her fist pumping joy at her pregnancy – with her cousin she can be honest – she is not ashamed but delighted – this improbable origin of a man who was to set the world on fire by turning the world upside down, is first announced by 2 women laughing joyfully about conception.
‘My soul magnifies God – my spirit rejoices in You.’ Mary’s cup is overflowing – can you remember a time when you felt this way? When your joy was so great you thought your heart would burst? Can you recall what a gift that was or is? When you were jumping out of your skin? When you could not stop smiling or laughing and you danced for no reason other than the joy of being alive? When you could in that moment sure of god with you of the overflowing presence of the spirit? The I-can’t-sleep-I’m-so-excited giddiness of Christmas Eve?
Mary’s song invites a response from the reader, of gratitude. Being thankful is the doorway into joy. We are grateful for her joy and for ours. We are invited to count our blessings remembered and to come – What a gift.
And Mary’s song is not only a blueprint for her joy – it is a blueprint for the joy of all sentient beings. Mary – the lowest of the low, prophesies – peers into the future and imagines a different social order – a way through the wilderness. Of three kinds of moral failings Mary speaks: pride, political failures such as domination on large and small scales, and economic failures such as the poverty we allow to exist alongside great wealth. She is unafraid in her God inspired expectations.
And so she sings,
…in solidarity with her foremothers, she sings,
…in continuity with her deepest traditions, she sings,
…in a hope and a joy that simply cannot be bound, she sings.
She sings in joy,
she sings to Elizabeth,
she sings to us,
she sings to God.
There is a voice singing out in joy as we move toward Christmas. Let us raise our voices with joy.