2017: Blogging Rebirth

It’s a new year and I need to write more. I find myself in a funk in terms of my writing and my commitment to that. So I’m aiming for a post per day in 2017 and hope you will join me.

A New Year always lends itself to half-hearted commitments and I fear this may be one of mine, as time and what I like to do often doesn’t link together. But one needs to start somewhere and mine begins here on this first day of a new year.

Rebirth lends itself to also thinking about motherhood, on this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Mary’s own life, I imagine, went through a rebirth of sorts as she was told that she would be the “God-bearer” (theotokos). A Virgin, Mary is told of this miraculous birth that will come about with her assent. I imagine that this likely brought both excitement and fear, as most transitions do.

But here Mary goes anyway. Bravely. Knowing that God will literally be with her with every step.

Can we believe the same thing?

Is God with us with every step of our lives? Can we trust that no matter what befalls us in this coming year that God will indeed be with us? And moreover, can we trust that Mary understands the fear that we may feel in these days?

When our world is turned upside down, it is Mary who can mother us not merely into a calm and gentle journey. No! Mary jaunts with us down the rocky road, fraught with all kinds of trouble that might exist. But she helps us arm ourselves with God’s trust. Even at the hour of our death, Mary reminds us of God’s care for us, prodding us to accept that God’s love is stronger than our tragedies, God’s mercy destroys our sinfulness and that we can ease into the end of our humanity, knowing that God holds our own union with divinity in his waiting arms.

My own mother is now 88 and I am thankful to still have her with me, albeit far from me in these days. She needs mothering now in her golden years and finds it difficult, I fear, to accept that. What I have come to realize however, that both my mother and father (also, now 88) have made it to this age with very few resources. And so, perhaps their trust and dependance on God is far stronger than my own. So I have come to trust in their own faith, contributing when asked, but respecting their independence and moreover, enjoying their company when I am together with them.

Perhaps, that is what rebirth really means? We look at something in a new way and committing to move forward not in desolation, but in peace.

And with Mary mothering us into each new year.

We Are Invited

Imagine an angel appearing to you in the midst of the busiest time of the year and saying to you that while you haven’t had sex with anyone, you’re going to be pregnant.

My initial thought is: that’s an incredibly raw deal.

But more seriously, if we thought that our advent was busy with the shopping and the parties and the end-of-the-year financials and all the other things that need to get done….

Imagine what life must have been like for Mary.

But perhaps that is the lesson of advent. We are supposed to long for God to be with us…and I reckon that most of the time we don’t, until God pulls the rug out from underneath our feet.

Just as God did to Mary.

Advent is really about unexpected joy in expected chaos. Noticing God in the every day rhythms of our hectic lives. Perhaps Mary is a lot like us. While keeping house she finds this message from God that she is to be with child.

While traditional readings of the Annunciation story often point towards a pious Mary who humbly accepts God’s invitation, I hear a more hesitant Mary, perhaps even an exasperated one.

Doubt: “How can this be? For I have not had relations with a man.”

Fear: “Do not be afraid, Mary.”

Exasperation: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

That last piece almost as a ring of “whatever” to it. If we read that first part with a hint of sarcasm to it, Mary’s reply is much like our own. “Well, what else could happen to me today? Guess I’ll just have to roll with it.”

And roll with it she did. A young, unmarried woman, now pregnant in a culture that did not take kindly to women who had relations out of wedlock. The taunts may have been “Sure, sure…God made you pregnant.”
Even initially the man who she was betrothed to considered calling it quits.

The truth of today’s Gospel is that sometimes when God interacts with us and asks something of us, it may very well not be a pleasant situation. And yet, each time we “roll with it” and accept that God just might be able to see us through to the other side of a difficult time, we grow into the person that God knows we can be.

We can indeed stretch much farther than we expect.

Somehow we get the shopping done and find our families overjoyed at our thoughtfulness. Somehow we visit those relatives that might drive us bonkers only to find that they are touched by our presence. Somehow we give a bit more to others and find our hearts more open than usual.

Somehow, God knows that we are capable of much more than what we think will only bring us exasperation.

What is your burdensome invitation? What is God beckoning to you to handle this advent? What might God be asking you to carry in the coming year?

While it may sound daunting at first, God reminds us, as he reminded Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”

And while it may seem like we are in over our heads, God is with us in our fear, our doubt and our exasperation. And more importantly, God reminds us that He knows our hearts can stretch much father than we think that they can.

All we have to do is believe that.

Trying to Control the Sun

It was another wonderful day at Notre Dame filed with much intellectual stimulation. We were all treated to Sr. Mary Johnson, SND’s words on spirituality and then three wonderful vocation stories from our peers including my good friend Fr John Grace, the campus minister at Virginia Tech. Fr. Edward Beck again led us in prayer last night and again he moved me into contemplation.

Sometimes I think I know so much and that I know how to fix every situation. Fr. Beck reminded us the story of Naaman the Leper, where despite his gallantry he has a flaw: leprosy. It takes a slave girl to get him to do something about it and then when the great prophet, Elisha doesn’t even see him, but sends a messenger, who asks of him something simple, to wash in the Jordan River he thinks he knows better. He essentially says “THE JORDAN? Please! I know better rivers that could probably make me cleaner than that filthy Jordan! And what do you know anyway? You are not the healing prophet!”

Eventually he becomes persuaded, again by servants, to do this simple act and is healed. And Naaman worships the God of Israel.

I think Naaman is also a lot like Joseph, Mary’s husband. For you see, Joseph, an upright man of the law knows everything. And he knows that Mary is pregnant and he also knows that that child is not him and so the law gives him the right to dispense with the betrothal. In fact, the law gives him the right to stone Mary.

But Joseph, a kind man, decides to divorce Mary quietly. I imagine him to be really angry at the breaking of the betrothal agreement. I imagine he had a few derogatory words to say too. And I know if any of this happened to me, I would not have a sound sleep. Rather my unconscious would be working constantly and I would dream all night.

And the same thing happens to Joseph who comes to trust God through his dreams and continues to trust God and Mary even though he may not always be given the gift of truly understanding.

Last night…I was clearly a Naaman and a Joseph. Whenever my wife gives me some bad news, I often try to offer her a solution. And sometimes she’s even taken that advice. Most of the time though, what I am offering her is for myself, for my comfort and not hers. I try to control situations which actually limits her freedom to choose and to be who she is.

In fact, while I’m not always conscious of it, I try to control a whole lot. Including my sunset walk last night where I tried to recapture another gorgeous picture by the lake here. But each shot fell short of my expectations. So I gave up and I got back on the winding path by the lake and there it was:

The beautiful random swans just quacking and floating and being who they are. Glorious. I turned around and here were two mallards, a male and a female and three little ducklings. I tried to take their picture but it was too dark and then God’s voice clearly hit me.

“Stop trying to control everything. You are even trying to control the sun, you dope!”

I sat and watched those little ducklings and the swans and the little raccoon that that came along further down the path. They were there for me to simply see and to shut off my camera and let them just be there for me to see and experience–to walk with and most of all to shut up and not say anything or do anything (and here I am blogging–perhaps I still don’t get it?!”) but simply to be still and to notice the beauty of creation.

Perhaps there is a lesson for me in noticing and not doing. Do I notice how my wife solves her own problem? After all, she did this for her entire adult life before she met me and apparently that worked out OK. Do I do the same thing with my students sometimes, especially the ones that I think need a shove or perhaps might not be as intelligent as others?

Where is my Jordan River that I need to get rid of my own leprosy and be simply healed? Where do I take the opportunity to let go of how I think things should go, my own laws perhaps, and instead experience things as they are?

As I returned back last night, I passed the grotto here at Notre Dame a small cave like place of prayer dedicated to Mary and filled with candles. I imagined that if I were Joseph’s, I would grow in frustration with her. I imagined saying as Joseph, “So what makes you think you know everything there is to know about this child?” And I imagined Mary saying, “I don’t think. I just trust and then I know.”

I just trust and then I know. Walk with someone today who needs you to walk with them. And be willing to trust that they know and that all will be well.

And if that doesn’t work, throw yourself in the river and wake up.