Speak Through Me

Years afterward, I was asked by a peer “How many people go to college, Brian, and come away with a fully-developed philosophy of life?” I was shocked. It had never occurred to me that someone would go to college for any other reason.

I could have seen the difference, I guess, except that it was pretty embarrassing. Every conversation with a stranger unfolded at a million words a minute – a flood garbled in my haste, a defect of expression that I am confronting fully only now in my review of the videos at Love Returns.

My uncle Phil had borne the brunt of these exchanges more than once. Naturally concerned when I was preparing to read a passage at his brother’s funeral, he came by to advise me to draw out my vowels. My aunt had chosen some beautiful words, though, and I was well beyond that in my preparation of the reading. When I delivered the final “He is at peace,” the gathering paused in silence.

That was my first experience of having words work through me. Knowing that my aunt’s choice was an emotional one, I took in the meaning of the words but also received the deep, mature wisdom of the author’s emotional experience. A crescendo of loss wracked the middle of the passage, and when it came through me, the congregation leaned back.

In reading Scripture, the emotions are all that relates to our modern age. The situations are described only briefly; essential social context is often missing. To make them relatable, we project our own situations, along with our own emotions. This can lead us astray.

Monday night at Bible study, we focused on Matt. 20:20-34. The passages relate Jesus’s response to two pleas: one from the mother of James and John that her sons should sit on the left and right of his throne. The other is from two blind men that cry out for healing. In both situations, the onlookers rebuke those making the request. Jesus turns to heal the two blind men. His response to James and John is ambiguous.

Ambiguous? It may not seem that way, for Jesus challenges them with this question [Matt. 20:22]:

Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?

To which the brothers reply: “We can.” Jesus does not dispute this, observing only [Matt. 20:23]:

My cup you will indeed drink.

Commonly, this is read as a rebuke, something like “Oh, you sorry fools – sending your mother to plead for power.” But it can also be read as an affirmation of respect: “Yes, you can.”

The study leader noted that the mother was Jesus’s aunt; her sons were Jesus’s cousins. Given this, the emotions swept in, and I saw the situation in a different light.  They may have known what others were planning, and as family were pleading: “You know that you can trust us. Please let us protect you.”

When I shared this perspective, the woman sitting next to me seemed to expand. I felt her reaching back into that moment, and she began “And did Mary know this as well?” Here was another piece: Jesus had cast aside his mother’s protection, but still she loved him. Was it Mary that had organized this plea by John and James?

From this perspective, the parallels between the two stories are heightened. John and James are blind to the spiritual consequences of their service, but they wish to serve, just as Jesus commands of those that rebuke them [Matt. 20:27-28]:

…whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.  Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

James was martyred by Herod, the first of the Apostles to so suffer, and perhaps demonstrating the determination needed by the others. John suffered a different bitterness, being the Apostle left to grieve the persecution of the early Christians, including all of his Apostolic brothers. In that grief was a trial of bitterness. It was a trial that he passed, qualifying himself to bring the wisdom of Revelation to the world.

Magnificent, She

In the Garden, God warns Adam [NIV Gen. 2:17]

[Y]ou must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

After the serpent seduces Eve, God comes into the garden and asks [NIV Gen. 3:9]:

“Where are you?”

What heartbreak there is in these words, that the stewards of its creation should hide from Love!

Why do we hide? Is it because we perceive the dependency of flesh upon sin, and so feel shame? Is it because, if we were to fully understand, we would see the burden that God meant for us to shoulder in healing the world of sin? Is it because, knowing of evil, we are infected with thoughts that, when empowered by love, grow into weeds that choke our souls?

These are the reasons that I experience.

And given that we must hide, how do we hide? What is the mechanism of our shelter? Genesis says that Adam and Eve hid “among the trees of the garden,” but that is only figurative. No, the only means to hide from love is, as God foretold, to take refuge in death.

In healing Peter’s betrayal, the resurrected Christ asks him three times “Do you love me?” [John 21:15] This is the grace of God: to redeem with mercy, to celebrate the strength that comes with the lessons learned from mistakes made in frailty.

And so, as it was Eve that submitted first to Death, it is to WOMAN that Gabriel speaks. To a virgin, betrothed to be married, the angel announces that the child of God will come through her into the world, preceding the tidings with these words [NIV Luke 1:30]:

Do not be afraid, Mary.

For what did the Law say about a conception that Joseph, her husband to be, could interpret only as a sign of infidelity?


And yet, pierced to the core with the promises made for the salvation of her people, Mary offers herself, body and soul [Luke 1:38]:

Here am I.

O woman, O grace, O life restored! Oh, magnificent surrender to Love!

You were indeed the Christmas Eve.

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.