I won't write much for this very last Sunday of the first decade of the 21st Century.
I will just say this:
Thank-you, to all who have read Sunday Song and Rumination, and listened to the weekly song. I've been doing this since September 2018, and I feel much closer to you, because of it.
We've been mostly hanging out between the earthy, the toothy, and the seedy, and the Christ we find therein. Sometimes, we've been reaching out to the lofty, cosmic, starry night, that renders us so deeply insignificant, that we feel honoured to be here. (Interesting that "render" is a part of "surrender".)
But to begin the New Year, I am going to delve into something a little different. I had a conversation when on Iona, about healing and grief work. I don't think we're going to lead our children in the pathway of real righteousness without it. In other words, as I consistently quote Thomas Merton speaking to his novices: "the war in Vietnam is America working out its own neurosis." In other words, no matter where we are from, if we're farming out our grief, avoiding our ancestors, avoiding the part we've played, we're not really doing the work we were put here to do. A part of our agency is our healing, and the development of our wisdom, so we know how to die, and live.
So, for the beginning of the New Year, we will be doing a fresh walk through the album Sanctuary- Exploring the Healing Path with James Finley.
Many have written to me, saying this album has journeyed with them, through the valley of the shadow of death. I thought it might be a good thing, to revisit it. And to introduce it to new ears. This album in particular is one I would pray could be heard by every ear who needs/yearns to hear it. It is the distillation of James Finley's life's work as a depth psychologist, who has the eyes of a contemplative Christian master.
I delight in the thought of serving you, and being with you, in the New Year.
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky.
You are beloved. You are the wild. You are in Christ. Christ is in you.
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I’ve only come near the edge of believing that there is no God a few times. I’ve sometimes asked in prayer, “are you heartlessly indifferent?”. “Are you just not involved?” “An “absentee landlord”, as Al Pacino said in the film Devil’s Advocate?” Many of the people I know, who adhere to a sort of scientific materialism, that there is no inspirited nature to the universe, are doing this because they have big hearts, and a deeply implanted sense of justice, and can see that if there is a God, why is pain a part of the deal?
This past week has been a hard one for me. I’ve struggled with cynicism. And have been weighed down with my own problems, but also have been feeling the weight that so many carry at this time of year. Some long for idyllic family times, and have no one to sit down at a meal with. Others who have family, also long for idyllic family times, but in reality, sometimes the siblings have stopped talking to each other, or there is some expectation that just isn’t met in the way the day transpires. It can feel a bit depressing sometimes… that our only options are to either be disappointed, or to protect our feeling of disappointment with cynicism. And we fail to recognize, that there is power in being still present, as we invoke holy observation, of ourselves, and of others.
Also, whenever cynicism is near, I know it is because I’m trying to protect myself, and I’m running from some form of grief. That I’m fearing the release of Holy tears.
The truth is, there are times when all of us, to whatever degree, think that God is indifferent. Watching us with some feigned involvement “from a distance”. And partly, the reason for that is, because any kind of unknowing is disquieting, even when, if we really think about it, all the most beautiful things in life, require not knowing. So… what if God IS indifferent, but in a Holy way? We Christians proclaim the incarnation, but we rarely ever take it to its fullest meaning. Because its fullest meaning scares us. That God as Love would bubble over as matter, as all things, and unmoor into the vulnerability of being, is such a tender thought, that our fear of real intimacy pushes it away.
So, here we are… it’s the fourth Sunday of Advent, and we’re approaching the birth of Jesus now. Within the context of sacred scripture, and our own life, how do we choose to frame Christmas?
What if we were to say, that God, through Mary’s consent, chose to outpour a new evolutionary level of consciousness - a sign, that we, and the whole earth, the whole universe, really are the garments of Christ. That is, we are deeply involved in an evolving story of love.
The trouble with saying that is that this kind framework, or revelation, has to come through our poverty. And what I mean by poverty, is: living fully, with sober suffering and joy. Cynicism keeps me treading water at least. It keeps me from living a false joy. And it keeps me from utter despair. I hover in that mode, in the hopes that I’ll find room at the Inn, so I can stay even just a little bit “comfortably numb”. It keeps me protected from intimacy with my friends, and my beloveds, because all intimacy is a mirror for the Intimacy at the heart of the whole universe.
Releasing that cynicism in a form of tender grief, and tender laughter, always leads me to the stable, where Christ can be born. See the tricky part is, that God resides in that place in us where the grief is. Which is exactly where the joy is. And whenever we’re running from the slow, precious tenderness of grief, or likewise don’t allow joy to flow, is usually when we get hung up on trying to find room at the Inn, where we all think God is supposed to be. It’s easier to believe God is born at the Inn, because the Inn is superficial. We tell ourselves, “maybe there isn’t a room there, but maybe they’ll just let me sit at the bar, if I can look as though I played by all the rules and did everything in the correct sequence”.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about the incarnation, it is always through very joy-filled moments of poverty. Meaning, it is when I realize I’ve got nothing left to give, and can still sense my belovedness, when I become quieted enough to realize that I am either a part of the flow of love, or I am a rigid clog in the arteries of love. And either way, my pessimism has no power over the final outcome of the Coalescence at work. Still, is that really the way to live my life?
I have this little song that says
“we are Bethlehem
we are Mary’s “yes”
The angel choir sang of this kiss
That God is woven in with this”
But to realize this, it is almost always in those moments, or even long years, when we are bewildered by, or are suspicious of, the Silence of God.
The bewilderment hopefully causes some break in the armour, so we might allow ourselves to glimpse at… ourselves… because all along, God has been in there, closer than we are to ourselves.
And likewise, sometimes it feels like God isn’t with us, because there is no room at the inn. Like we’ve been forsaken and turned away because we don’t fit into the business as usual. We missed the memo, and are doomed to peer in through the window, watching all the folks who did it right, getting their golf clubs ready for the caddy to cart off to the pitch.
But the truth is, we are all finite. We are all vulnerable. And that is what makes us touchable. Huggable. It is how we are able to share the sign of peace with each other. It is where love is enfleshed, and live out.
We struggle with the notion that the Divine, the Source, this all encompassing Love Supreme, who some of us call God, is unmoored, outpoured into reality. IS reality. And that somehow the Christ child was born here, into the revealing truth, of who each of us are in our poverty.
The Silence of God is our center, and our circumference. It is the Holiest indifference. The absence we think we feel, is really more like being eclipsed, because of how overlapped, intertwined, interwoven God is with all of this.
Sometimes I am awestruck at my own devotion to this idea of Inclusive-Incarnation-as-Reality. Sometimes I am afraid it is true, simply because it might not be true. And often in those times, I run in fear, away from possible joy, and from the hurting it causes in my heart. And in those times, again, I try to find room at the Inn, where at least there, I think, I will be cushioned from being vulnerable, and from unknowing, and from having to wonder. There at the Inn, at least they won’t ask me to unmoor, like the God I intuit, is always unmooring.
But look at what is happening somewhere over yonder. Get up, put your coat on, go outside, breathe in the scent of animals, kneel in the straw. There’s Silence, and then birthing moans, and then Silence, in your ears. And God plunges into life, as vulnerable and precious, as any baby ever born. And the echo of Mary’s song is there. And she and Joseph sing the stories of their people. And someone already wants him dead, because it is too good to be true.
Teresa of Avila said, “the feeling remains, God is on the journey too.”
Thomas Merton said, “for the world and time, are the dance of the Lord, in emptiness” - and he said, further along in his passage, “yet the fact remains, we are invited to throw our awful solemnities to the wind, and join in the general dance.”
Jesus said, “I and the Father are One”.
Jesus also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
And what that means is that Christ has been born in your stable, too. And mine. It IS too good to be true, and yet it is true. Which is why it hurts to be human. But in those moments when we resist the flame within the flame in our own hearts, are the moments when it burns. And I confess, I’ve been feeling pretty burnt lately. I’ve been running from the freedom of my own poverty, that allows me to join in the general dance.
Over the next few days, as we each do Christmas how we do Christmas, join me in taking the time, to sit, or kneel in the stable. And I mean, imagine going there in your heart. It is there that Christ will be born, as a sign, that neither cynicism and nihilism, or their opposites, ignorance and bigotry, have the final say in who we are.
Our hope beyond all hope did come
To call us each and every one
To the surface of our consciousness
God dwells within, and always has
As I write this, it is December 14th, which is the feast of St John of the Cross.
It is fitting that this is so. I am struggling today. I'm sure you have those days, too.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that God made a world for us to share in, and give back to. In many ways, our farm feels like that. But even our homestead and family has struggled this week. I'll put it this way - installing a thermo-syphon system into your wood cook stove while attempting usual life with small children, has been a great lesson in energy, and entropy!
Anyway, I’m lamenting a bit today. In this hemisphere, we are entering into the short days. I love the darkness. I love the stars. The moon. (I howled at the full moon this week, at midnight, no less). But the cost of hoping for racial equity, of hoping for the commons to be raised from the dead, can be so great. Some weeks are like that. I know in some ways it is my ego holding on too much. And in other ways… it is simply my heart breaking for the many who suffer needlessly throughout the world.
So, in case you’re struggling too… as Rilke said, “just keep going, no feeling is final”.
I could use that encouragement myself.
I wrote this little lament today… as a balm… as a child’s cry… as a confession… that I’m feeling sad, and anything but unwavering, in my faith. One thing I do intuit... is that this lost feeling is deeply incarnated. It is a part of the process of allowing the great Navigator to gently take over the helm just a little bit more... and a little bit more. So that the subtle perceptions that engender real nonviolence can find stability, (in the midst of the malaise). And, it is important to go easy on myself, because the malaise is a symptom of my inner struggle with the moral neutrality of disturbances that create change, (or bring us to rock bottom).
With gentle, tender, difficulty, here are the vulnerable lyrics of where I'm at this week. Maybe you're there, too. It is so interesting how some of us encounter sadness as we hope.
Today I want all the answers
I don’t want the mystery
I just wanna know
Is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
You can say it all happens for a reason
But tell that to the child
who's crying in the cage
“This is going somewhere good, child”
“This is going somewhere good.”
The best things in life are free
So we replace them
How could that be something good?
How could that be something good?
These are very good
All these things are very good
I know if I had all the answers
I would kill the mystery
And I would think I know it all…
But is this going somewhere good?
Is this going somewhere good?
Can we take it somewhere good?
I’ve always loved the term “Jesse Tree”. It is poetic and strikes at the heart level, and reminds me of the tree of my own ancestors and how graced I am to be here, living a life, for however long that is. So I’m not going to knock this reading. I am however going to point out that the lineage of the mother Mary is also important to mark, when we’re looking at the lineage of Jesus. (In some ways, Joseph has taken the back seat in this story, and the mother Mary has gotten the lime light… but let’s face it, history is full of attempts to erase the image of Mother Mary… and I would say, the lack of attention to Advent has been an attempt to forget her willingness to be a channel for the Holy One.)
I was recently told, by a great advocate of the Advent season, that she saw an Advent calendar with a picture of Santa holding the baby Jesus. Now, I’m not concerned with identifying as a persecuted Christmas celebrator. But I am concerned about the deeper story of how the women in all of these stories are erased, by all political sides, most of the time. Its very insidious. Even what appears to be for a good reason sometimes, getting rid of all feminine symbols is still keeping things where they’ve been for so very long... a place where a vast part of the world’s voice is muffled. A place where the story is only told in part and the scales weigh toward one end, and the vast spectrum of people leaning toward the other end, are erased.
In other words, don’t mess with the mother.
So today I’m going to focus on what we might see as the musical, spiritual lineage of mother Mary.
One of my favourite Old Testament scholars, Walter Brueggemann, has dedicated most of his life to understanding, to really reading, the prophets. He has given us some very useful language, by coming up with terms like ‘prophetic imagination”, (one of my favourites).
Speaking into the times we live in, but also exhuming history, takes depth, texture, poetry, and vast imagination, or we create dead ends for ourselves. These dead ends fall short of the possibility of opening the closed system we’re in. We need straight shooters in this dance, but we also need the arts, those who tell the truth in slant, because I believe all dystopian possibilities arrive, due to the absence of the artists. The arts and cultural programming are always the first to be cut in school systems.
So with that… let’s look at a song… in particular, Mary’s Magnificat song… this is what Walter Brueggemann has to say about it:
“As a little child Jesus must often have heard his mother, Mary, singing. And as we know, she sang a revolutionary song, the Magnificat--the anthem of Luke's Gospel. She sang about neighborliness: about how God brings down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly; about how God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Mary did not make up this dangerous song. She took it from another mother, Hannah, who sang it much earlier to little Samuel, who became one of ancient Israel's greatest revolutionaries. Hannah, Mary, and their little boys imagined a great social transformation. Jesus enacted his mother's song well. Everywhere he went he broke the vicious cycles of poverty, bondage, fear and death; he healed, transformed, empowered and brought new life. Jesus' example gives us the mandate to transform our public life.” - from the essay The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity by Walter Brueggemann
I think we can arrive at comprehending what Walter Brueggemann calls the Liturgy of Abundance and the Myth of Scarcity, through many different channels, but the channel I have taken, is being able to see Jesus' abundance in our regenerative farm, and certainly as a mother. The other area I have experienced this abundance, or this Source, is in songwriting. When I show up for songwriting, I blindly grope around for awhile, and then fall into a deep pool, in over my head, in order to catch a quick glimpse with my heart, at some simple patch of flickering light, and pluck some graced bit of it, to bring it back out into our world, as a hope, or a truth. It is pure gift, but I have to show up for it.
I’m working on a new album right now, and am nearly half way through composing it. Often, my albums take about a year to percolate under the surface, as I ruminate on what I’m reading, and on the signs and symptoms of the times that we live in. Then they start to overflow into music. Which is happening right now. The album is about how Jesus’ miracles and his movement, was an Abundance Rebellion, that stood in a lineage that seems to be passed on by prophet mothers to their prophet children. From Hannah to Samuel... from Mary to Jesus.
And remember, Walter Brueggemann calls the Magnificat “dangerous”, and says that Mary’s son enacted her song well. Maybe that’s why we’ve tried to minimize the mother… some consumerist demonic force is making sure the mother isn’t on the Advent calendar or the gift wrapping, because she knew that what is really true, outside of economic paradigms, is that there is enough, and that we are not inherently selfish.
Along with the mother Mary, Mary Magdalene has been minimized, too. It is thought by many researchers that Mary Magdalene may very well be the mystery woman with the alabaster jar. It may have even been the same jar she brought with her to the tomb.
This jar is one of the most profound symbols that we have in the Christian Household, and yet it isn’t a precious symbol on any of our walls! It represents a God, who would pour out into creation, because the substance of Love has overflowed, and this love is so indiscriminate, that, as Wendell Berry says, “there are no unsacred places, there are only sacred and desecrated places.” And it represents the story of a woman, who really got what Jesus was up to… we might say she was anointing the outpouring one.
In the system of scarcity we currently exist in, it is so obviously a lie. Half of the food that is produced, is thrown out. And there are more seasonal clothes in landfills than there are on the backs of people who need them. We think there isn’t enough, but we’re wrong.
Mary the Mother knew there was enough. Mary Magdalene knew there was enough. And as Walter Brueggemann said, “Jesus enacted his mother’s song well.”
Just imagine the texture and the dynamism and the aliveness, when we bring not only Jesus, and his male disciples to life, but also the women in the story. If we allow ourselves to imagine their prophetic presence, and sense within the lines, that those women were integral to Jesus’ movement, this really means God is with the whole entire spectrum of who people are.
Now that, sounds like a Liturgy of Abundance to me.
There is enough love to go around.
There is enough to go around.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.