Divine Intercourse

At the AMP conference last month, Michelle Tepper’s topic was “breaking the silence on love, sex and relationships.” Michelle trumpeted her success reaching college students, but I found her message uncomfortable. She relies heavily on Biblical rules in framing responses to the psychological needs of individuals.

So when I approached her afterwards, I began by suggesting that we sit down, bringing our eyes to the same level.

As I explained, if any of us were complete in ourselves, we would be God. He made us a duality on purpose. I expressed my concern that this aspect of the Biblical message was underrepresented in her teaching.

Having warned us in her presentation that we shouldn’t go around looking for a relationship that completed us, Michelle was hostile to the idea. I guided her away from reiteration of her message, observing that I have been advising youth on-line.

Then the conversation took a sharp twist. She asked “Do you think that Jesus was satisfied?”

I knew that she meant sexually, but I shifted to a large view of his life. “No, he wasn’t satisfied at all. He knew that his culture needed to change, with a passion that drove him to the cross.”

Michelle wasn’t to be deterred. “I meant satisfied sexually. I believe that he was beyond that need.”

Well, it was time to plunge right in. I shrugged. “Read the description of the New Jerusalem. It is a metaphor for the union of the divine masculine with the divine feminine.”

She was struck dumb, as were the onlookers.

I continued “Look, the Bible is all about men’s problems. The holy mother is in hiding, and it is time for her to be sought out and revealed.”

I know that I appear to be uptight and tortured as regard my sexuality. But the Bible describes the brutal beast of the apocalypse as possessing ten “horns.” This is an apt metaphor for the masculine approach to dominance: many men run around the world trying to stick their penis into it. The feminine beast in Revelation is red, suggestive of the menstrual cycle. The feminine beast uses sex to co-opt masculine aggression.

So the reason that I haven’t been “playing the field” (which would be easy to accomplish) is because all the women that I meet accept these conventions. They may not wish to personify them in their relationships (part of what makes me attractive to them), but they accept that bestial patterns of dominance define the world that we live in.

Being who I am, I am incapable of submission to any ethic that limits the domain in which love is expressed. So I choose not to have a relationship with any woman that brings that with her.

Sera Beak has been in my mind ever since I read “Red, Hot and Holy.” I believe that she showed up at MovinGround one Sunday after I filled out her online contact form. In that message, I suggested that if we were each who we claimed to be, that would be apparent only in relation to one another. She was clearly uncomfortable in my presence during the dance, and stood before me timidly afterwards. My thought was “Not yet.”

She lives in Texas, though, which is a hot-bed of Christian hypocrisy. Last year I felt her reaching out in concern, and I poured power into her spirit, trying to expand her range of influence.

Why? Read the book: Sera went all the way in with the Red Lady, and found wisdom waiting for her on the other side. That wisdom came from the holy mother.

Putting this all together last night, I reached out again, sending “It’s time for us to merge our powers.”

But what are those powers? What is the nature of love, and how is sex a metaphor for its operation?

Our exploration last night was complicated by pragmatic concerns, but it boils down to this: any act of love that preserves self involves penetration and yielding. A gift is offered, but room must be made for it to be received. As we are aggregates (both physically and spiritually), reception is consensual at many levels. Full acceptance requires communication of the nature of the gift, and adaptation to the perceptions of those smaller parts. That involves circulation, which is stimulated by withdrawal so that the gift of yielding may be repeated again and again until consummated.

Yeah. This is “White Hot” and Holy. This is why Jesus told the Magdalene “Do not cling to me.”

The visualization eventually evolved as a complex many-dimensional Klein bottle. A man penetrates a woman, the women connecting to the Earth that gives life to the man, the male penetrating the Earth as light from the sun, the light from the sun sheltered in the womb of space, and on and outward.

The Bible, being concerned with men, celebrates the masculine aspect of God. But that is only half the story.

The Zen of Jesus

Upon waking up to the reality that self-serving does not bring joy, the seeker after comfort tends to a superficial sampling of religious wisdom. The sophisticated teacher needs to avoid becoming involved in blame-shifting for the seeker’s miserable state. In the traditions of Abraham, that begins with a vow of submission, formulated in Christianity as “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” In Islam, it is stated as the Shahada:

There is no god but God alone; he has no partner with him; Muhammad is his prophet.

The dissatisfied acolyte is then made responsible for his own condition, in that all wisdom is found in direct relation with the godhead.

Lacking a divine center for its practice, Buddhism takes a different approach, epitomized by the Zen koan. A koan is a cryptic one-liner that organizes an inward meditative journey. The most notorious is:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The obvious answer is “nothing,” but that certainly doesn’t point the way to wisdom. The student still needs to grasp that the “hand” being referred to is themselves, and that in seeking after spiritual glory, they earn no lauds.

The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22 shows Jesus ministering to the problematical seeker. The poor fellow grasps at eternal life as a guarantee that joy can be secured. Calling Jesus “Master,” he then asks what good he must perform to earn that grace.

Presciently, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus had pre-empted the Christian vow of submission:

Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father.

Consistent with this warning, Jesus immediately deflects the proffered authority:

Why do you ask me what is good? There is one alone who is good.

No man needing anything but faith to draw upon the strength and wisdom of the Father.

But the teaching does not end with the Zen master’s edict to seek inwardly. Jesus lists the six commandments of human relation: edicts against murder, adultery, theft, and lying; and encouragements to honor our parents and love our neighbors. The latter build intimacy with those closest to us; the former prevent those bonds from sundering. Through this practice, Jesus suggests that his protégé will “enter into life.” In avoiding the drama of struggle, adherence to the commandments allows to blossom those quiet moments in which we gain the subtle and sublime assurance of security in our knowledge of the compassion that embraces us.

We are no longer a hand trying to clap alone.

But the seeker is not just young; he suffers another handicap, one known in Islam as Allah’s greatest test of character. He is rich. Thus, while meaning well, others see him as a potential source of material security. They seek a bond with his money, not his heart. And so Jesus offers him this final advice: give your wealth to the poor and follow!

The young man departs saddened. We can only guess at the cause: was he responsible for managing money that ensured the well-being of the community, wealth that he could not trust others to manage responsibly? Was he simply unable to imagine survival without the perks of wealth: the daily bath, the satisfying meals? Or did he arrogantly perceive his wealth as a sign of divine approval, and so Jesus’ pronouncement as proof that hope had been invested with just another false prophet?

Whichever it may have been, we as readers should recognize the advice not as some generic one-size-fits-all formulation, but a direct response to the needs of this troubled young man. It is the mark of the greatness of his compassion that Jesus does this again and again throughout his ministry: offering just the words that the listener needs to hear to bring solace and healing, even to the point on the cross of:

Father: forgive them. They know not what they do. [Luke 23:34]

Jesus was not concerned with self-preservation – he was devoted to his ministry to the lost. Thus, while his teaching encapsulates the wisdom of the Zen and Christian teacher, it then surpasses it. None can doubt that he does the best that he can for them, although they might not be able to respond fully. Yes, it is this I believe that gives the young man sadness: his realization that salvation was offered him, and he was unable to grasp it. It foreshadows Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane:

The spirit is willing; but the flesh is weak. [Matt. 26:41]

and:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. [NIV Matt. 26:38]

Sorrow Drowned

Matthew 14:13-21 begins:

As soon as Jesus heard the news [of John’s death], he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. [NIV]

Sister Gloria chose this for our reading last night. She asks two of us to repeat the reading, and when she offered me the first repetition, I knew that I was in trouble. Jesus’ grief came over me, and – struggling to control my breath – the first line came out four words at a time.

I, too, have been drawn to the solace of the water. The day that I wrote Darkened Lives Matter, I was overcome with sorrow and left work to walk the pier at Port Hueneme. Fishermen tended their lines above the rhythmic swells, the ocean full of billions of years of assurance that whatever life it surrendered would be replenished.

But that was not solace enough for Jesus, for in the loss of John – his cousin and only vocal supporter – Jesus had a foretaste of his trial. In the march to Jerusalem that follows, I feel a certain grimness in him, as though hope had been stolen.

For over what had John lost his life? A meaningless confrontation with the queen over the minutia of the law. If not John, then who among his followers would grasp the essence of the New Covenant, the covenant of forgiveness, healing and love?

Then comes the next sentence, and I found his grief braced by the consolation of purpose:

But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns.

He was not alone. These many had arrived, not just to reflect on the greatness of the one lost, but to tender John’s authority among them to Jesus. Embraced by their faith, Jesus offers them the healing communion with the father.

As the day comes to a close, the disciples counsel him [NIV Matt. 14:15]:

This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.

I did choke on these words. The suggestion itself seemed painful. Jesus’ response as offered in the King James is revealing:

They need not depart.

This is a foreshadowing of the miracle of the loaves and fishes that follows, but I felt something in the emotion below. It was as if to say: “But…I find comfort in them. We need each other, these people and I.”

When the morsels of food are gathered, Jesus “look[ed] up to heaven” and broke the offering. This final act of beseeching was the culmination of the grief. It was a supplication: “Dear Father, give these gathered a sign that they are not alone.”

And so those that partook did so with angels gathered at their shoulders, awash in the infinite ocean of God’s love.

Sacred, Healing Heart

A sin is a sin because it leaves a wound in the spirit of our victim. That extends not only to other people, but to God himself. In both Genesis and the history following entry into the Promised Land, Yahweh cries out against the agony of his association with the people of Israel.

The Law was intended to guide the Chosen People into a path of righteousness – a way of living that kept sin from entering into our relationships. The challenge, of course, was that Israel was surrounded by people that lacked that same discipline. The relationship with God was insufficient to protect them from the sins of others.

In the books after return from exile, a common exhortation among the prophets is that the Gentiles must be allowed into the covenant with God. This flew in the face of Hebrew tradition, which passed the heritage through mothers. But it was intended to entrain a process that would eventually manifest in the spread of righteousness across the face of the earth.

And then comes Jesus to bear the sins of the world.

In common theology, this is seen as an act of retribution. In Christ Alone expresses this with a beautiful gratitude:

Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

But this is to think with the heart of men, not with the heart of God. Jesus tells so many parables of evil-doing that is forgiven by the grace of God. In every case, those stories reveal that it is not retribution that God seeks, but reconciliation.

The truth is approached in the last two lines of the stanza, particularly when seen in the light of Jesus’s promise to those that suffer [Matt. 11:28-29]:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

When offered, this was almost certainly seen as a promise to the few that heard, but on the cross it became true for all willing to receive the healing grace of the father. Jesus opened his heart to all of the sin of humanity, each of us finding a place in the tissue of his compassion. The sun shone its light into its chambers, and brought healing there.

This surrender has its dark side: Jesus, bearer of a perfect, spotless heart, allowed sinners to take up residence in it. He embraced the world in his love, knowing that to love is to give power to others. While his will washed against the tide of sin, he knew that some would use that power to hurt others – turning his power against his own heart.  Thus his declaration of its humility: he knows that his heart cannot heal us without empowering us to create suffereing.

To complete the work, then, his heart will be broken: some among those he loves will have to be cast out into the darkness. As he says about the power of loving in the parable of the talents [Matt. 13:12]:

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

But for those that have, to “pick up your cross” is not to bear the burden of sin. It is something far more joyful and hopeful. It is to offer yourself as a tool for the healing of others. It is to allow the love that fills you  to pass through you to those that suffer with fear, filling them until they, too, fear no longer.

It may seem unfair, to be required to heal those that hurt us. Only keep in sight the outcome of his agony  carried for these millennia (again from In Christ Alone):

And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

Tradition Transitions

Locally, the cultural transition from polytheism to monotheism always involves an argument about divine merit. The critical consumer of religion would have been expected to ask “Why should I worship your god?” Not surprisingly, then, the major tenets of monotheistic religions are concerned with the nature of God. In the Old Testament, God is the omnipotent creator. In Islam, the fundamental tenet of faith holds that “There is no divinity except in God (and he has no partners).”

This creates the context for today’s tawdry and tendentious theological arguments between Jews, Christians and Muslims. For the Jew, God is the commanding but devoted groom to the Chosen People. To the Christian, God manifested as man in an act of redemptive service. For the Muslim, God is the fundament of reality and thus the only meaningful subject for contemplation. The Jew argues against Christianity and Islam as against adultery. The Christian, presented with contradictory scripture, uses fragments of Jesus’s teachings to argue that he is the only path to redemption. And while the Qur’an holds that none of God’s messengers can be ignored, it also teaches that Mohammed (pboh) was the culminating prophet, and so that the Qur’an is authoritative scripture, even when it grossly elides the writings of the Torah and Bible.

These controversies provide fertile ground for political manipulation. Al Qaeda was led by a man whose principal concern was the corruption of the Holy Places by the Saudi dynasty. The House of Saud in turn uses its oil wealth to propagate the literalist theology of the Wahabbists that supported their claims to monarchy. The Republican presidential front-runners rally their base by proposing crimes against humanity justified by the idea that Muslims don’t value their own lives. And the Zionists rally Christian support for a slow annexation of Palestine by reference to an ancient land grant and obscure end-times prophesy in the Book of Revelation.

The mature religious scholar admits that all arguments concerning the nature of God are futile. God is infinite, and therefore cannot even be described, much less understood. Unfortunately, this leads to religious relativity. The principal deity of any religion (such as the Hindu Brahma) can be identified with God. In the Qur’an, tolerance is suggested by the warning that not all the prophets of Allah are known to us. Worse, in the Old Testament other gods are mentioned by name, and the inducements to worship only Yahweh are backed by dire threats. To the modern reader, the character of Abraham’s God is not always appealing.

The way out of these dilemmas is to recognize that while God may by the object of religious devotion, humanity is the subject of religious action. That perspective leads us to wonder, of each stage in the journey, what it was the humanity received for its devotion. Naturally, the history of the traditions of Abraham is limited to the human perspective, and in focusing on males leaves much wanting for those seeking to bring women back into the process. But the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an are all the record we have. What can we make of them?

Prior to Abraham, a mature reading of Genesis would hold that man was offered the guidance of divine wisdom and the support of divine mercy. This was constrained in the covenant with Noah, in which a frustrated God makes men responsible for managing their own justice.

The story of Abraham and his progeny charts the development of moral fortitude in humanity’s change agent, the unstable male. The degree of the necessary transformation is foretold when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, with a ram substituted when Isaac shows fear. It is two generations later that significant strength arises in the lineage, when Israel takes under his wing Joseph the orphaned first-born of his true love Rachel. Even so, while Joseph’s virtue impels his rise to the top of Egyptian society, the Hebrews are subordinated to Egyptian culture. His strength seems to fail its purpose. From the history of the Patriarchs, the only obvious lesson is that boys need fathers.

The story resumes with the Exodus from Egypt and wanderings to the Promised Land. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses possesses all the intellectual skills necessary for leadership, but his people are psychologically weak. The work done in this part of the Bible is to create a society devoted to rational problem solving. This is accomplished through the propagation of a complex legal code and foundation of a dedicated tribe of philosophers.

With this resource in place, God again enters into direct relationship with the people after their entry into the Promised Land. The nation, established through conflict, is beset by enemies, but God raises up heroes to prevent its destruction. Once again, however, the investment is betrayed, as the people demand the earthly trappings of monarchy as a means of focusing resources to ensure their security. The great prophet of this era is Elijah, but ultimately it is the tangible presence of the monarchs that commands the devotion of the nation. The consequence is its destruction, with the elite carried off to Babylon.

In this setting, deprived of political power, the greatness of the prophetic relationship is proven in the person of Daniel. Like Joseph entering the royal court as a slave, Daniel is not assimilated, but expresses spiritual gifts that force both the Assyrian and Persian kings to recognize the authority of God. But the Israelites as a whole did not heed this lesson, returning to Jerusalem as an administrative power that evolved into monarchy, with the priests relegated to the role of law-keepers, decaying eventually to profiteers from animal sacrifice.

To that point, then, God had succeeded only in the private sphere. In the public space, the institutions of state and religion were used to suppress the psychological and moral freedom that comes with a personal and direct relationship with God. Overcoming this injustice was the great goal of the ministry of Jesus. In a few short years, he demonstrated that God exists to serve humanity, raised up an entire generation of prophets equal to any among their ancestors, supplanted legal codes with the rule of love, and motivated the lower classes to discover the power that arises from banding together in mutual concern. Recognizing the trap posed by written scripture, Jesus offered his wisdom in parables, leaving it to his Apostles to reconstruct for posterity the history of his ministry. Of course, upon hearing the news of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, any person familiar with the story of Isaac would recognize that the covenants of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Jesus.

At the close of the New Testament, we have a history of cultural evolution starting from superstitious origins that culminated with ethical maturity that allows even common individuals to experience direct relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. But we had seen this on a lesser scale prior to the conquest of the Promised Land, and the outcome was eventually a corruption of the divine relationship by human power. Indeed, while the Church at first organized around ministry to the disadvantaged, with the collapse of the Roman state it was left as the only European institution. It was not long before the temptations of authority began to corrupt its mission.

While this corruption did not manifest itself fully until the Renaissance (when the European kings moved to dismantle Feudalism by meddling in Ecumenical affairs), the counter-reaction was established in the seventh century as Islam. Islam summarizes the Hebrew experience, defining a religious observance based upon holy edicts (though limited in scope as compared to the Torah), but yet encouraging individual moral judgment through a personal relationship with the creator. Where the Church and Empire had acted vigorously to suppress even mild forms of heresy, Islam recognized local differences, holding that each community chose its authorities through popular acclaim. Even more, the original “people of the book,” the Jews and Christians, were welcomed explicitly as coreligionists, not rejected as competitors.

In two short centuries, the tolerance and vigor of this teaching allowed Islam to grow into the largest empire known to that time. In defending their privileges from Muslim expansion, the authorities in Europe were forced to devolve power to lower levels of the society. As the balance between the two cultures was righted, neither the caliphs nor monarchs would be capable of subordinating religion to the service of the state. Rather, the state came to assimilate religious virtues, allocating resources from the wealthy to support the poor. In the twentieth century, the greater danger to religion was irrelevancy, a threat that has allowed the morally corrupt to foment and exploit literalism and aggression among those daunted by the complexity of modern society.

The secular historian might be tempted to dismiss the beneficial evolution here attributed to religion as due to cultural accident. Against this, we must ask what antecedents foretold the Law, the moral parables of Jesus or the social contract of the Qur’an. Even should such antecedents be surmised, we have to ask why in every case the seminal prophets should have dedicated their work to the glory of a compassionate and forgiving God, and whether anything other than divine participation can explain how those individuals, often culturally isolated, should have created philosophies so ideally suited to propagate moral discernment and freedom in societies that suffered from their lack.

For the person of faith, of course, no such doubt need be addressed regarding their personal religious experience. What I hope that I have illustrated, rather, is the degree to which those experiences are harmonized when we discard our arguments regarding the nature of God, and focus instead on the majesty of the transformation that monotheism has wrought in human nature. What faces us now is to discern the next step in the process, the step that Islam, with its teaching that Mohammed (pboh) is the last of God’s messengers, forces us to recognize must bring us to full realization of God’s purpose for humanity.

Trump v. Jesus

As I watched the footage of Donald Trump screaming “Get them out of here! Get them out of here!” and “Try not to hurt him – but if you do I’ll defend you in court,” I had this image of Jesus standing in the center of the crowd, trying to calm the hatred, just falling to his knees as a great shouted heart-cry arose from him.

This is not what I died for!

Rachel Maddow’s backdrop to her coverage of violence in the Trump campaign sported a picture of a Trump in full bombast, underlined with “De-Nomination.” Rachel sees Trump as a fascist, and drew parallels with the behavior of his followers and those of Hitler. Indeed, one of those caught on film pushing a black attendee at a Trump rally proudly proclaimed his affiliation with a white supremacist group. Maddow believes that through his incitement of violence Trump is disqualifying himself for nomination to be the leader of a free nation.

I see this as being a far more complex phenomenon, recognizing that the anti-Trump media has tended to feed the paranoia by casting his off-the-cuff comments in the least charitable light. Trump’s retort to Megan Kelly that “blood [was] coming from…wherever” was probably an unfinished reference to her nose or mouth, not her vagina.

My own visceral reaction to Trump comes from another source. After I finished playing with electrons and muons, I left particle physics because I realized that it would never have practical applications. It wouldn’t create jobs for the people that need them most. My first “real” job involved rescuing a project built by technologists to monitor waste discharges from a facility that employed 10,000 people. The system was required by the local treatment facility because prior discharges had disrupted their operations. Working eighteen hour days under enormous pressure, I brought the system under control, investigated patterns of radiation releases that violated the terms of our discharge license, and participated in tours to calm public fears. I protected those jobs.

After leaving government employment, I began work as a software developer. In my three major engagements, I worked in companies run by people who hated government, seeing it as merely an impediment to job creation. But the ethic of their operations was shocking to me. The organizations were dominated by fear – fear largely originating from the realization that the software used to control the expensive machines they built was so incomprehensible that engineers could no longer configure the installations. In each case, I refactored the code, fixing bugs and adding features as I went. I saved jobs.

The response in every case was to beat me down, because I exposed the fact that, at root, it was the behaviors of executives that made it impossible to achieve success. It was the lies and anger managers projected at their employees that destroyed their capacity to think. I came in and restructured those relationships, building a core of rationality and blame-free problem solving that enabled people to grasp at hope. I ministered to my peers as a Christian, and that terrified those that terrified them.

So this is what I see when I see Trump: a screaming blaggart who builds casinos designed to take advantage of people of weak will, and exclusive communities that protect the rich from rubbing elbows with the poor. I see a destroyer of families and social cohesion, and a diverter of energy that could be employed to heal the infirm and sustain the poor.

In Daniel’s Dream of the Four Beasts [Dan. 7], Daniel sees the coming of “the Ancient of Days” on a “flaming throne” with “wheels of fire.” This is the imagery that accompanies Apollo, god of the sun, in Greek religion. Daniel sees the fourth beast being consumed by flame, even as the last of its horns continues with its “boastful words.” So we have Trump, distracting us with his boasting (“When I’m elected, we’ll win so much that you get tired of winning.”) from the necessary work of healing the world of the mess we’ve made of it, and most specifically the effects of global warming.

I think that Rachel had the wrong word on her backdrop last night. I think that it should have been “Domination,” that great enemy of Christian truth and freedom that seeks to force others to comply with its will. As foretold in Daniel, the fiery destruction of domination is an unfortunate prerequisite to the coming of the Age of Christ. As Jesus suffers the “birthing pains” of His return, try not to be taken in by the enemy’s vainglorious self-promotion.

A Mother’s Generosity

Since that day in 2000 when I surrendered my heart to the cross, perhaps the greatest obstacle to the purpose I have adopted is the received wisdom of Christian teaching. The ambiguity of ancient accounts means that they provide rich metaphors that reflect powerfully on the challenges that we face every day. That, in turn, makes scripture approachable, where if we were to face the events in their full psychological significance, we would feel like corks in a tidal wave, unable to apprehend at all how we might hope to play a role.

This means, unfortunately, that a thick veneer of common wisdom hides the personalities that must be unveiled if scripture is to be fulfilled. These people must be called out of the past, welcomed, and healed. To do that we must try to see them as people struggling against powerful forces, but people none-the-less, sensitive even more than most to the sorrows and joys of love’s action in the world.

To those that have followed my writing, this thread may appear lost in the flood. I have addressed it twice in recent memory: the reposting of Mary, Contrarily from my blog at anewgaia.ning.com, and again in On Following. But it was also there in the first posts I wrote in 2014, though I may have seemed to have been stretching in considering the personality of Christ himself in All the Vice of Jesus and We Can’t Say ‘Thanks’ Enough.

I wasn’t expecting to return to Mary, but two Sundays running I found myself in different settings listening to the story of the Marriage at Cana. In both cases, the speakers focused on the drama engineered by Jesus. The intensity of my sympathy to Mary’s predicament was unexpected, and in one case actually seemed foreign.

Consider the history: On the day of his presentation at the Temple, Mary is approached by Simeon, who prophesies:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Then in his twelfth year, after the festival, Jesus stays behind without permission to offer wisdom to the priests. When his parents discover his whereabouts, Jesus explains that he must be about his father’s business, but Mary rebukes him. Upon their return, Jesus grows in favor with God and men, but remains out of sight to the religious and political authorities.

So considering the authority of Mary in Jesus’s life, we may surmise that it was applied to protect this beautiful soul from danger. Against that benefit we have the realities of his era that he was sent to confront. The growing corruption of the temple would not have been unknown to Mary, who traveled annually to the festivals. Nor would the taxation that impoverished the families around them. And so a burden of guilt grows in Mary’s heart, that she trades the suffering of her people for the safety of the son sent to liberate them.

This is the context of the wedding, a rare communal rite, lasting for many days, at which provision of wine was considered essential in augmenting the joys of the occasion. Lack of wine was an ill omen, as well as being an insult to the company that had come from wide and far to share the celebration.

Why did the wine run out at this wedding? Merely a miscalculation on the part of the bridegroom? This strikes me as insufficient motivation. I imagine that this was known in advance, that the family was unable to provide enough due to reduced circumstances under the widespread social injustice suffered by the nation. Some limit is reached in Mary, the burden of the people overwhelms her motherly caution, and she tells Jesus to do something to salvage the situation. What she hears then shakes her in her inmost being:

O Woman, what has this to do with me? My hour has not come.

The first words are an insult to her authority, and might have brought anger, but the last ones: has she not told him this again and again over the years. Yes, he must do the work set by his Father, but not yet – the hour is not yet, let him remain with us just a little longer. And so she understands him as saying:

Dear mother, if you ask me to do this thing, I can no longer hold back the will of my father. Your authority over me will end.

The sword foretold by Simeon pierces her then, and unable in her heartbreak to face him, she turns to the servants and says:

Do as he tells you.