Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘Miriam’

LOVE Incarnate in the Upside Down

Luke 1:39-41; 46-49; 52,53  

Let’s get this out of the way from the start. I know that for many, the stories about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth carry with them some pretty strong emotions and nostalgia. For some, this story can be confusing, maddening, and perhaps oppressive—depending on how religion [and your family] treated you growing up. I say that right off the bat so we can have an honest [and hopefully healthy] conversation about this story and avoid the common pitfalls around Christmastime. I do my best to present to you facts and background about the Gospel stories so that you can come to your own conclusions. But the main point of all this is not to say which interpretation of a story in the Bible is true or more accurate.

The point of any sacred story is to inspire us to be better people—to love ourselves and to love those around us.

Otherwise, the story has no meaning.

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s dig in to Luke’s story, and remember that I’ll be also discussing the series Stranger Things as part of our reflection. The theme is Love Incarnate in the Upside Down. Incarnate, as a concept, is not some untouchable holy idea, like a shiny white baby with a halo who doesn’t cry or ever commit a sin.

Image result for perfect baby jesus funny
Incarnate means something embodied in flesh; something personified or typified, as a quality or idea; or something represented in a concrete form. So, in this case, we’re talking about two women in Luke’s story [Miriam, called Mary in Greek, and Elizabeth]. Both women were pregnant. The idea, or the thing personified in them is the love and presence of God. Metaphorically, Luke’s story is focused on how the Divine is represented in the lives of the marginalized. In this case, two women—one of them who couldn’t have children [Elizabeth], and one who wasn’t supposed to, Mary.

maryElizArtwork by He Qi 

Luke’s Gospel, written at the tail end of the 1st century in Israel and Palestine, is focused on the theme of God’s salvation story, Divine love in action. Luke’s author focuses on the marginalized of society, specifically, women, the poor, and those stricken with disease or disadvantages. Mary and Elizabeth’s story is the center. Mary/Miriam had little worth according to society. She wasn’t rich, she wasn’t married, she was the last person an angel should visit.

anunciationAnd yet, in Luke’s story, Yahweh values Mary’s life. She’s inspired by this and sings about the stories from the Torah. Yahweh had helped her people the Israelites escape Egypt and oppression. The same would happen now for the poor and lowly, including her. Mary was favored, not because she was pregnant, but because in Luke’s story, the last of society are made to be the first.

Elizabeth’s context is not as humble and certainly not as poor. Was Elizabeth marginalized? Sure, because up to that point she was not able to have children. Sadly, this made her feel isolated and lonely. Of course, that isn’t to say that Elizabeth needed to have a child to have worth. But society sure conditioned her to think that.

I see in Elizabeth and Mary’s story the stories of others who have been told that they don’t have value because of who they love or because they don’t get married or have children. I hear the stories of transgender people who are pressured to conform to their family’s or society’s palatable version of themselves, and if they don’t conform, they are shunned. I hear the stories of children and youth from other countries whose parents came to the U.S. without documentation. The children are called “illegals” and told to “go back” to a country they have never even visited. I hear the stories of the working poor who are called “lazy” while they work three jobs and still can’t pay their bills on time. And I hear the stories of the many people who suffer from mental illnesses and are told by others to “get over it” and yet, every day is a real struggle for them.

And where, in all those stories, is love?

That is the right question to ask.

I’ve been asking this question personally during this past year: where is love personified, incarnate in this upside down world where one tweet can trigger millions and people’s lives are treated like slot machines? An upside down existence when rich and disconnected politicians gamble with the lives of the poor and marginalized? Where is love?

upsideDownteeThis is the question posed in my favorite show of the year, Stranger Things. One of the show’s protagonists is a girl named Eleven; later called by her friend Mike “El,” which means “God” in Hebrew. El’s parallels to Jesus are there.

ELsmilingShe has a mysterious birth story and her true father is never mentioned. El possesses miraculous telekinetic powers. While a prisoner in a government laboratory, she is tempted to use her super powers to kill a cat; she refuses. Later on in the story, El spends time in the wilderness and is sustained only by her manna which is actually Eggo waffles.

ElEGGOS

And finally, El visits the Upside Down dimension and discovers a monster, the Demogorgon. She lays in a cruciform position, arms spread, in a pool of water.

ELcrucifixShe descends into a mental state where she faces the monster and death. She cries out for God and then hears Joyce’s voice [Winona Ryder], saying: “I am here with you.”

You see, in the story of Stranger Things, love can be found even in the Upside Down, even in the midst of darkness and horror. Where is love incarnate? In the presence of those who accept us as we are and in those we can truly call friends. Mike, Dustin, Will, Lucas, El, Joyce, Sheriff Hopper, Jonathan, Bob, Max, Kali, Steve, and Nancy become friends, but not out of convenience or sameness. Their unlikely community forms out of marginalization, suffering, and uncertainty. They form bonds of self-sacrificing love and stand with each other when it is unpopular and inconvenient.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? We can ask this question: where is love? Where is God in this upside down world? And we won’t find the answer in a religion or in money or in power or in isolation. We find love incarnate in each other, when we truly accept each other and stand up for each other on the margins. We discover love incarnate when we help others realize their value, when we don’t give up the fight against oppression and injustice, when we take risks for others out of love.

May we be love incarnate in this, the Upside Down. And may you discover love in others.

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Water, Wine, Love

John 2:1-11

Have you ever wanted to tantalize an audience with an amazing magic trick?
How about showing off your miracle skills in front of a bunch of people?
Would you like to turn water into wine?

waterTowine

Yes, even you can be a miracle worker! Thanks, science!

catscientist

The Science of water into wine and wine into water:[1]
1. Place a small amount of sodium hydroxide in the first glass and a little phenolphthalein in the second. In the third, add a weak acid, such as vinegar. Using differently shaped glasses ensures that you will not get them confused.

2. Fill a jug with water when you are demonstrating this experiment to others. As this is plain water, you can let your audience taste it.

3. Pour water into the first glass and stir. This is now no longer pure water but a mildly alkaline solution.

4. Pour the contents of the first glass into the second and stir. Watch as the mixture changes color, because phenolphthalein is a pH indicator that turns red in alkaline solutions.

5. Pour the red liquid into the third glass and stir once more. The acid neutralizes the solution, which should now become clear again.

So wait…was Jesus a mad scientist or fake peddler of miracles?

Cartoon Sale man selling his wares outside his car

Probably neither.
I think we obsess [a lot] over Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel stories, and that leads us to obsessing over “miracle cures” that make it to our email inbox or redirect us to another link via Facebook or other social media. Personally, I don’t think that the Gospel stories intend for us to focus on miraculous things so as to prove Jesus was great.

I love the stories and try my best to respect them. And each Gospel IS a story; John is no different. So no, the whole “water to wine” thing was not all about Jesus being some sort of magician/mad scientist back in the day. It’s a story loaded with metaphors and symbols. So here is some background:

Cana is the setting–a village in Galilee, about 9 miles north of Nazareth. And it’s a wedding! Keep in mind that at the time of John’s Gospel stories about Jesus [i.e. the end of the 1st/beginning of 2nd Century], in Israel and Palestine, weddings were a big deal. They typically lasted a week.

So you can imagine just how much wine was needed. So it goes that the hosts of the wedding would serve the best wine at the beginning of the wedding celebration, when everyone could taste and enjoy. And then, after a few days of partying, the hosts would break out the cheaper stuff, because by that time, nobody noticed.

Morewine

That is the setting in this John story, and it’s quite the story. Apparently, the wedding hosts ran out of wine–at least Jesus’ mom thinks so. That’s right–an appearance from Jesus’ mom! Mary [Miriam] appears suddenly in Luke and Matthew’s birth story that we read at Christmastime, but after that, she pretty much disappears. In John’s Gospel, however, Miriam/Mary appears twice–here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry [first miracle story], and then at his death. But in this case, at a wedding, we get an actual conversation between Mary and her son, Jesus. Mary notes that the wedding hosts have run out our wine. Jesus’ response is that they should have hired a better wedding planner. Mary then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.

So the servants filled the water pots, six of them, with water, and then they brought the pots to the governor of the feast, the head planner of the event. Upon tasting the so-called water, the governor was shocked to taste good wine. Thus ends a fun and interesting story complete with a magic trick/miracle.

But….

There’s more to the story

As you can probably guess. John’s authors are not just telling us a nice fairy-tale to remember something magical Jesus did. So let’s look at just a few of the symbols in John’s wedding tale.

First, the story begins with this phrase: And on the third day…a marriage…

Marriages and banquets are eschatological images, or in other words, symbolic events referring to what will happen in the future. Often the Hebrew prophets and the NT Gospels [as well as the NT book of Revelation] use the image of a wedding feast to symbolize paradise, the afterlife, or in general, some good ending for humanity, and the world. And I’m guessing that “on the third day” triggers your Spidey senses. Indeed, three of the Gospels explicitly go out of their way to state that Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day. So what we have here is a pleasant, joyful, symbol of grace, community and abundance, as well as the idea of new life, even after death.

Also, are you wondering about what Jesus said to his mom?
“What to me and you, woman? 

RavenOhSnap

Sounds a bit harsh in English, I’ll admit, and Raven thinks so, too.

Simply put, though, in Greek [and considering the culture and time], how Jesus addresses his mom is actually very, very respectful. He didn’t call her mother, but woman. This is expressing equality. Mary, in Jesus ‘eyes, is not just a mother, but a full human being with purpose that extends well beyond society’s conventions.

Also, notice these words of Jesus: My hour is not yet come.

Another reference to Jesus’ death, and because John’s author wrote this Gospel well after Jesus’ death, of course Jesus in the story can refer to something that has not yet happened. So John is reminding all of us that the wedding at Cana is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and eventually, to the cross. John’s Gospel calls this the first of the signs–seven in total.

Some notable details
First, there were six stone water jars. Six being one less than seven [according to my mathematical genius], which you probably know is a good number, no wait–a VERY good number in Biblical literature. So seven means completeness or wholeness. Only having six water jars means that you’re so close, but so painfully far from wholeness!

Further, the jars were also set “according to the Judean cleansing” which is a reference to the Mosaic Law of the Jewish tradition. Even weddings were set up in such a way as to follow the Jewish rituals. But having six jars means that the rituals and laws weren’t enough to bring the people wholeness. So everyone was missing something.

Next, the governor of the feast is juxtaposed with the servants. The governor, when he is served the now wine-filled jars, is shocked at the good taste but also has no idea where the wine came from.

The story clearly tells us that the servants are not shocked and also know where the wine came from, because they were direct participants in its making. So once again, the powerful, the heads of society, the so-called elites, or celebrities don’t know what’s going on, and the so-called servants and lower-class people totally know what’s up, cuz they are making it happen!

And finally, the governor’s words of every person gives the good wine first, and when they were drunk, the lesser (wine). You have kept the good wine until now shows that Jesus and co. don’t care much for conventions or social rules. The good wine, the good life, should be available at any time, for anyone.

The details speak for themselves
Thus, you should be able to draw your own wonderful conclusions from this story. I hope you do.

My final thoughts:

Miracles, whatever that word means to you, don’t happen unless it’s a collective effort.

Miracles, to me, are surprising occurrences in everyday life. They could be explained by science, or maybe not. Either way, they are still miracles to me. But they happen in everyday life, and they happen because people make then happen, together.

Secondly, we should stop relying so much on social and religious customs and traditions. They just don’t cut it and leave us feeling a bit empty. Why should we only serve the best wine at a certain time? Who says so? Why do we have to have a certain number of jars, prepared in a certain way? Who says? Why should the rich and powerful always get to make decisions while others don’t? Why do we have to have all these social levels and categories of people? Who says so?

The good wine at the great feast is and should be accessible for everyone. And that good wine fills everyone’s cup to the brim, and the cup is full now.
[1] http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryhowtoguide/ht/waterwine.htm

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