Thursday, April 17, 2014

"We have a God who fights for us."

Miriam.  Image credit.
One of the privileges I have as a college professor is that I teach a class called the Christian View of the Human Person, and the students have an option to write religious autobiographies.  Sometimes these autobiographies are wrenching, other times, joyful, other times, seeking.  But often, they are touching. Like this one: a couple of days ago, one of my students wrote--after a litany of real challenges in her young life--"But thank God: we have a God who fights for us."

We have a God who fights for us.  I immediately thought of Miriam's triumphant song in Exodus, "The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name."  We have a God who--for us--fights.  I've never thought of the warrior language in particularly positive ways before; at best, it's not my preferred image of God. But it's a true image.  It's just that the fighting is not violent, not power-over.  Our God fights for us like a physician saving a dying patient, a lover wooing to win his love's attention, a father seeking a child lost in the woods, a teacher using every trick to help the student learn the lesson.  Like a God who is willing to take every measure, short of taking away our will, to lure us into healing relationship with him.  Even becoming human and dying on a cross.

St. Therese de Lisieux, in her autobiography Story of a Soul, tries to explain why she was preserved from being a great sinner, since she feels it was through no merit of her own. I can't find the passage (feel free to tell me where it is!) but her thrust is that she felt she was in some way preserved from sin, received mercy before she could even commit the acts of sin.  I see some unusual relevance here. What if the Lord fights for us, even before we sin?  What would that look like?

Well, it would look like the Theology of the Body.  Original humanity, before the fall, was given the gift of the sign of the ensouled body.  Our bodies speak a primordial language that points to God, before a single word of revelation is handed down.  That sign was created by God.  That was God fighting for us, giving us direction, before we even stepped into the abyss.  But the fighting is not violent.  It is not brutish.  It is gift.


After the fall, the hermeneutic of the gift remains: the ensouled body remains as primordial prophet, and the gift becomes most clearly revealed in the death of the Son of God, a gift of salvation.  God never stops fighting for us.  It is, as David Power wrote, a "Love Without Calculation."

And after the resurrection, the gifting continues, because that is how God fights for us.  "I will send you an Advocate," says Jesus Christ, and the apostles receive the Holy Spirit, become temples of the Holy Spirit and agents of God. If we need to fight, he promises to fight with us: "do not plan what you are to say should they take you to court, the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say."

The law of the gift boils down to this: we have a God who fights for us.  The Lord is a warrior, the Lord is his name.  But like all of Christianity, it's not the fighting we expect.  It's a sacrifice that costs everything--but also changes everything.  We expect God to jig, and he jags.  No matter: soon enough, we realize that God isn't the one writing with crooked lines; we are.  He has fought for us from the beginning of time, in unexpected but entirely consistent ways.  When we listen to Miriam's song this Easter Vigil, let's keep in mind the upside down sacrificial gift of a God who fights for us.


The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; This is my God, and I will praise Him; My father's God, and I will extol Him. "The LORD is a warrior; The LORD is His name. (Exo 15:2-3)

Friday, April 4, 2014

...and we have a cover!


The book is set for release at Easter. 

If you are interested in being on the email list for release announcements, or any discounts/giveaways I am aware of, please shoot me an email at tobextended@gmail.com

I promise not to abuse your email or sell it to anyone, and you can opt out anytime.  Blessings on your weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thoughts on the Annunciation....


Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Part of the text addresses the spiritual motherhood of Mary, and how it is related to the physical motherhood of millions of women. In particular, it addresses what it may mean that Mary received the news of her motherhood with love, not fear, and that resistance to fear may well be a witness not only to her love and trust in God, but her immaculate conception....

The book is scheduled to be released at Easter.  More news as I know it!  Meanwhile, from the text:



...[W]e do know how Mary received the conception and birth of the Son of God: and this gives us all the insight we have about her as a person, and her call to motherhood. That is, she did not give in to fear, and lived out her vocation in utter fearlessness. At the annunciation, being approached by an angel and the Holy Spirit, she asks a simple clarifying question (How can this be…?) and then responds “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” No flash, no drama, only humble assent. In an age of historical-cultural criticism, we know that the stakes were high for her personally, in her culture: she was betrothed to Joseph but not living with him, and this seemingly illicit pregnancy could result in being stoned to death. Additionally, if it is true that she was dedicated as a child to the Temple as a virgin (as some legends offer), this pregnancy would look to the world like another grievously broken vow. It’s hard to see how anyone in such circumstances would have received this “good news” well.

But the encounter with the Holy Spirit may have assured her and strengthened her to travel 50 miles to tell the other person mentioned in the annunciation, a cousin with another miraculous pregnancy, Elizabeth. And her words are not “I’m afraid,” “I’m so worried,” or even “I’m confused” but:

...My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name (Lk 1:46-49).

That is, her response to Elizabeth’s awe-filled “you had faith” was to redirect Elizabeth’s awe to God: “Look! Look at the goodness of God! Look at what God has done! In me, in Israel, in all the small ones of this world!”

Mary’s acceptance of the pregnancy, the child, and her vocation to motherhood is rooted in a fearlessness that comes from a harmony of body and spirit, and total trust in God. If she was indeed without fear—that psychological consequence of dissociation—then perhaps she saw the birth of her son (whatever that would look like) as work, as effort, as cooperation with the Holy Spirit, but not pain. That is, perhaps she did not anticipate or experience pain because she did not give in to fear, from her acceptance of the annunciation onward. Perfect love cast out all fear.

For Mary, accepting motherhood meant to focus her energy and attention—in her case quite literally and directly—on God, fearlessly and without reserve. This was her untarnished experience of motherhood....

Friday, February 7, 2014

"Unto Us A Child Is Born"

Hello, everyone! 

The ToB Extended book is getting formatted and ready for publication soon (hurrah), and I'm talking to another publisher about a popular presentation of what Theology of the Body could say about childbirth, more of a "spiritual direction for birthing mothers in a book" project.  Life keeps me busy.





In pulling that together, I realized that this 2010 article I wrote on childbirth is available online--but after Feb 17, Sojourners is going to ask you to pay for access (don't blame Sojourners--all online publishers are trying to figure out how to make things work in this dragging economy).  So, if you are interested in reading my earlier thoughts and experiences on giving birth and the Christian life, please, go ahead and read here.


A snippet from mid-article:

....

Of course, there are times when drugs and other medical interventions are absolute life-savers, and we thank God for them. But the rest of the time, I think there are many gifts in a natural childbirth that make flouting current medical convention worth it. And one of the biggest gifts is that natural childbirth helps us realize we cannot do this alone.

We cannot do this alone. Well, isn't that why most of us go to hospitals? Although there can be exceptions, anyone going to a hospital craving companionship for this journey is very likely to be disappointed. I know some women who go to the hospital, get the routinely offered and accepted epidural, and watch TV with their husband or friend until it's time to push. After all, there’s nobody else to talk to, you can’t get out of bed, and there's nothing to do.

When I suggest that we cannot do this alone, I am suggesting that we need something more than medical interventions, as necessary as those sometimes are. When we become, in the fullest sense of the term, new mothers, we are aware as never before of all our relationships and connections -- with the baby’s father, the baby, the siblings, the grandparents, the friends. And through those relationships, we see and step into a calling that God has given us: Being a mother. This child is your son, your daughter. Love this child with Me. Let us all love this child, together. An amazing thing has happened: A child, loved by God, created in God's image and desired for God’s kingdom, has been given to us.

....

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Down Syndrome and reading the language of the body

This note (from facebook, used with permission) is from Fr. Vincent Daily, brother to my friend Eileen Daily and both of them sister to Connie Daily, who has DS.  Connie is an adult, had a bad case of pneumonia last week, and is still in recovery...and Fr. Daily picks up the story there:

Just left my sister at the rehab hospital. She's got a roommate for a few days. Anyway, Connie just went out of her way to go over to this person whom she has never met ... Extends her hand and says, "Hi, I'm Connie". The poor lady says, "Sorry I'm not better company, I'm going through chemo". Connie hugs her and says "it's ok"... Con sat next to her for a few minutes holding her hand. The poor lady had a beaming smile on. An occasion of grace.
As I do my night prayers, I just thank God for my sister's greatness of heart and being an example of what it means to a genuine Christian.

This made a lot of people smile, but it's more than a nice story.  It reminds me of a question I raise in the manuscript, where I focus on what we think of the spiritual capabilities of people with Down Syndrome:

Vanier prods us continually: do we really believe in the holiness of people with disabilities? If we want to see a “sign” of witness that usually holds deep meaning to Catholics, there is a small order of religious sisters in France called the Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb. It is a small contemplative community of nuns who have Down Syndrome in community with other nuns who do not. From their own literature:



Guided by the wisdom of St Benedict, we teach our little disabled sisters the manual labour necessary for their development. We live poverty in putting ourselves at their disposal. With them, we share the work of everyday life.



The office, adoration and the praying of the rosary are adapted to their rhythm and their capacities. In a spirit of silence, our prayer feeds every day on the Eucharist and on the meditation of the Gospel. ….



“We follow every day the ‘little way’ taught by Saint Therese; knowing that ‘great actions are forbidden to us’, we learn from her to receive everything from God, to ‘love for the brothers who fight’, to ‘scatter flowers for Jesus’, and to pray for the intentions entrusted to us.”[i]


            It is striking, and produces a smile, to see the pictures associated with this small group of consecrated women: one never sees women with DS in a full habit. The description of their life together reminds one a bit of L’Arche. But perhaps the most salient reactions I have had are when I share this group with other Catholic women who have children with DS, or love someone with the diagnosis: they sometimes break down crying, with comments such as: “I would wish this so much for my daughter/niece/friend. I know she is so close to God. Why don’t other people see how holy these people can be?” Granted, a habit does not make one holy. And choosing the religious life needs to be a free choice, so I assume they practice ways of discernment that make certain that this calling is from God and a truly free choice for these women. But the habited nuns with DS stand as a stark visual reminder of the universal call to holiness. That indeed, regardless of any limitation, we are called to a spiritual infinite—we are called to union with God.



[i] “Little Sisters of the Lamb,” Laodicea, Jan 11 2010, http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/little-sisters-disciples-of-the-lamb/. The order was established in 1985.



If we do believe in the holiness of people with DS, that they bear witness to Christ through a theology of the body as well as anyone else, the first story should not surprise anyone at all.  Indeed, too much surprise should convict us.
 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Being pregnant during advent, and hospitality

From the book:


Many people are familiar with the story of Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980), co-founder of the Catholic Worker, a radical movement dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and vulnerable through depending on God’s providence. As a young adult, Dorothy-- a strong-willed young woman in love and living with a man named Forster Batterham, writing for socialist and communist papers in New York City, and joining marches for women’s suffrage and worker’s rights--found herself pregnant. In fact, she was pregnant for the second time; she had an abortion of an earlier pregnancy by another man. This pregnancy, wholly unexpected since she had thought she was barren after the earlier abortion, she was determined to bear--despite Forster’s objections and her own precarious financial situation. While pregnant, she decided that the baby must be baptized in a faith she wished she could fully embrace herself. She was attracted to Catholicism, sitting in the backs of churches full of people she was trying to stand in solidarity with, the working immigrant poor of New York City--but she hesitated to become Catholic, in significant part because it would mean the end of her relationship with Forster. When recounting this story, Jim Forest, a friend of Dorothy Day as well as her biographer, said “And this birth, the birth of Tamar Teresa, was a turning point, the beginning of her ministry of hospitality. It all began with the hospitality of the womb.”[1]


[1] Jim Forest lecture, March 2002, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (Winona, MN). Forest’s most recent biography of Dorothy Day is All Is Grace: A Biography Of Dorothy Day, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2011.


Three of my five children were held in my womb during advent. It's a common experience for pregnant women--a nine month pregnancy does cover most of the year, and the chance of hitting advent is high.  But it's a privileged time to be pregnant and to hear of another pregnancy, Mary's childbearing of Jesus.

So much of pregnancy can be just uncomfortable.  Even painful., sometimes scary.  But there is also something like holding a great secret.  And  the real sense that you are able to nurture and care for your child by doing so little, really--eat, a little exercise, sleep.  It may be the one time in life that living out your vocation given by God doesn't require any real thought or deliberation: at this point, it's simply about providing the other room to be and grow.

This is a note that Dorothy Day's biographer Jim Forest highlights beautifully: Dorothy made a decision to offer her child the hospitality of the womb, and all of her hospitality to the most vulnerable in society began in a concrete way with that experience of making room for a child of God.

So much of the Gospel of Matthew's nativity story is about a lack of room: no room (initially) in Joseph's heart for a miracle child, no room at the Inn, no room in Bethlehem thanks to Herod and a hurried flight to Egypt.  But Mary made room, and we all make room when we embrace a pregnancy as God's work.  And soon enough it will be work: the labor, the raising.  But for a few more days, we get to practice hospitality by simply breathing, eating, drinking, and resting as needed.  This end of advent, let us remember Mary's hospitality, and our own call to hospitality as we understand it in our state of life.  And I wish all of you a blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Article published: "The Sign of the Dying Body: How the Theology of the Body Helps Us To Die In Love"

Thank you to the good folks at Homiletic and Pastoral Review for choosing to publish this article I wrote.  A number of the pastoral themes in the chapter on dying in the main book are presented here. 

This may be the closest you get to a sneak peek of the book, so go take a look if you're interested!