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Friday, November 20, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day VI - November 20


Celtic Advent - Day VI - November 20

“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work with these stories from your life–not someone else’s life–water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. 
That is the work. The only work.” ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Luke is the only one of the evangelists to tell the story of the Annunciation. Indeed, his gospel is the only one which gives us much of any information of Mary's pregnancy and the birth of Jesus. (Luke 2:1-7, plus a genealogy of Joseph at Luke 2:1-7) 

In Matthew's gospel (Mt. 1:18-25)  an annunciation of sorts comes to Joseph when an angel speaks to him in a dream after Joseph had learned that Mary was with child not his own and had thought to "quietly divorce her". 

In his dream, the angel says to Joseph, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (NIV) 

After Joseph woke up, he reportedly did exactly what the angel asked him and, in a stroke of TMI (Too much information), Matthew tells us that Joseph "did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus."

Luke's gospel provides much more detail of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and yet, it has always left me with more questions than answers. Perhaps that was by design. Perhaps he only wrote what he knew - or had learned from the stories told by others. Or, perhaps, he only told us what he wanted us to know. 

I want to know more about Mary. I want to know more of her thoughts, her feelings. I want to know how a young girl, as she was reported to be, could come to such a life-changing decision without consulting another soul. 

Was that an act of courage or was that an example of adolescent rashness? I suppose it's no surprise that she doesn't talk with her parents but one wonders if she had sisters or brothers or close friends with whom she would consult. 

Yes, she reportedly traveled up to the hill country to talk with her cousin Elizabeth, but by then, she had already said 'yes' to the angel and was already "with child".

Then again, how intimidating and overwhelming must it have been to have an apparition - a point of light, an angel - in your room. And then, to have a voice coming from that point or light or angel, talking to you, telling you the unbelievable truth that you have "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit."

I don't know what you believe about the Virgin Birth. That's not really the point of this meditation. The point is to use this story as an inspiration to know your own story. 

My parents met briefly at a mutual friends house. It was Sunday and what everyone in my family did on Sunday was to "take a ride" and "visit family and friends". My father says he saw my mother across the room and, he said, "I knew that I had just seen my future wife."

My mother says she saw my father across the room and thought he was "very handsome, too handsome for someone like me." (Please note; My mother was a very attractive woman but her self-esteem was always pretty low.)

She said she was surprised when the man that would be my father made his way over to talk with her. She said she was "certain it would end that afternoon and she wouldn't ever see him again," but, to her amazement, at the end of the afternoon, he asked if he could see her again.

They dated for a few months and then my father was drafted into the army to fight in WWII. They decided to get married right away, which they did, and then, three weeks later, my father was gone to fight on the Pacific Front for four years. 

And, didn't return once. 

They were married for three weeks and didn't see each other again for four years. I can't even imagine it.  

All they had as a means of communication were "love letters" which my mother kept for years in a shoe box under her bed. 

When my father finally came home, he was an injured war hero with a hearing loss, a lingering case of malaria and a Purple Heart. He also had what we now know was a serious case of PTSD. He said he had "suffered shell shock" but never talked much about it. They don't call men of his age "The Silent Generation" for nothing.

Well, except sometimes in the middle of the night when he would wake up screaming and crying as he relived a scene from the battlefield.

My mother, on the other hand, was anxious to being The Great American Dream. She had what I'm now convinced was a clear vocation - a very clear sense of a call from God - to have a family. 

"Four beautiful children," she often said, "two boys and two girls." 

She was close: Three girls and one boy. But, there was tragedy along the way.

And, when life hit its inevitable bumps and detours, when we each went through adolescence, one by one, I would often hear my father mutter to my mother, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "Four beautiful children. That's what you said you wanted. That's what you've got. Four beautiful children. Happy now?"

Her first pregnancy was a stillborn. A girl. She named her Nancy and we went to her graveside every year on All Saints Day. My mother got pregnant three months later - against doctor's advice - and had a miscarriage after five months. 

Devastated but determined, she waited the 12 months before, as she said delicately, "trying again." In the meantime, my grandmother organized the local church to begin novenas - a period of nine day or nine week focused prayer - so my mother would conceive a child. 

The promise made was that if she had a girl she would be named after their church - St. Elizabeth of Portugal. 

And, so it came to pass and so it was that I was named Elizabeth (although my mother preferred to say that I was named after the Queen of England). 

In the worst moments of my life, I held onto that story for dear life. When I came out to the fullness of my identity and rejected by my family, it was comforting to know that I was wanted and prayed for and called into being by a community of faith and named for the patron saint of that church. 

That story also helped me know something about myself. It gave me at least a baseline of understanding about the beginnings of my life. It allowed me to listen for what Howard Thurman called "the sound of the genuine". 

One of the things I love most about being a priest is being trusted with people's stories. I hear them, sometimes, for the first time anyone has ever said them aloud to themselves, much less when another person has been present in the room. 

Piecing stories together and watching patterns emerge is always a point of insight, often as startling as being alone in a room and watching a point of light emerge, speaking through the thin layers of time, illuminating a path to the future that could never have appeared any other way and listen for "the sound of the genuine". 

Scripture calls it "an angel". The ancient sanskrit word for "angel" is more accurately translated "point of light". I suspect that Mary, illuminated by that point of light, was able to listen to "the sound of the genuine" in her. So, too, did Joseph in his dream. Both Mary and Joseph were able to cut the strings that bound them to cultural and religious norms and follow what the truth had in store for them. 

What is the story of your nativity? Do you know the story that brought your parents together? Do you have a sense of having been called here, to them, to that particular family? What avenues of insight does that open for you about your life now? About where you may be headed on your journey? 

I hope the story of Mary and Joseph inspires a Heavenly Annunciation in your life. 

The Sound of the Genuine

There is in every person something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in herself. There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. Nobody like you has ever been born. And no one like you will ever be born again.

You are the only one.

If you cannot hear it, the sound of the genuine in you, you will never find whatever it is for which you’re searching. And if you hear it and then do not follow it, it were better that he had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived. Your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences. And if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. 

-Howard Thurman


Marionapilgrim said...

I could weep for the truth of Howard Thurman's The Sound of the Genuine. So many of us spend our life being what other people want us to be, rather than what we need to be to be our true self.

Marionapilgrim said...
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Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The first time I read Thurman's book I wept. It still strikes a deep cord in me, all these years later.

Peter said...

Oh Elizabeth, you make me weep. This Secret — your gospel — is so beautifully written and shared. It opens for me new ways of listening and looking at my own life and origins and those of my mother, and two daughters as well with whom I will share it. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are most welcome, Peter. I hope you are well.