Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Gospel According to Doxy

“What, in one word, is the Gospel According to You?”

This was the question that my priest posed on Advent 4 (known to most of the rest of the world this year as Christmas Eve morning).

He had talked about what he termed the Gospel According to Mary, where he read the Magnificat and interpreted it as being about humility. The humility of a young woman who heard the will of God and actively accepted the chance she was offered to play a role in the salvation of humanity.

No meek little miss, this one. She knew the danger of acceptance. Knew that she would be vilified, shamed---and quite possibly stoned to death---if she agreed. And yet, she said:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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I doubt that she could see far enough ahead to know what she was really getting into. In particular, the painful end her firstborn son would meet---she was very young, after all. While death would have been a regular occurrence in her world, I suspect that the teenage belief that death happens to “other people” is not really a modern one.

I often wonder how many young women God went to before He found one that said “Yes!” Would Mary have agreed if she could have seen ahead?

I’m not sure.

Not sure that *I* would have agreed under those circumstances...you don’t have to have children to imagine the immensity of pain and loss that would come with watching them die.

In some ways, it is a brave thing we do, having children. We convince ourselves that our lives will be the happy ones---untouched by tragedy and loss. Teenagers are not the only ones who believe that nothing will harm them.

But, in spite of what she did know, and despite what she couldn’t know yet, Mary said “Yes!”

Everything that 2,000 years of Christian dogma teaches says that God could not have acted without her consent, and I believe this. Mary said “Yes!” and history, and the relationship between God and the world, have never been the same since.

My priest believes that Mary’s Gospel is one of humility---but I’m not sure he’s completely right about that. I see her Gospel as one that reveals the neediness of God.

Palestine labored under the yoke of the Romans in Mary’s time. Mary would have undoubtedly heard her father, brothers, uncles, and assorted other related males complaining bitterly about the taxes they were expected to pay---and about the desecration of God’s holy land brought about by the presence of the Romans. She would have known that people were waiting in hope for the Messiah---would have believed that she was delivering her people by saying “Yes!”

I feel confident in saying that she would not have understood that her son would bring a very different message than the one the rabbis predicted from the Hebrew scriptures. Based on the expectations of her people at the time, Mary would have expected the Messiah to be some kind of military hero. A knight on a white horse, sweeping in to drive the Romans out, once and for all. Ushering in the New Jerusalem and the unending reign of the great I AM.

Did she ever wonder what it meant that God would send His son to us as a baby---in all that naked vulnerability? Sleepy sweet and smelling of milk. Did it ever occur to her to ask “Why this way? Why not some other?”

I have my own thoughts on that subject.

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It is an old heresy to say that God came because He needed us---needed the contact and the love that come with relationship. Christian dogma insists that God is whole within the Trinity---that God does not need anything or anyone, because need, in and of itself, is evidence of imperfection.

So count me a heretic.

I can think of no other reason that God would have created humans---other than that She was lonely, in “that vast expanse of interstellar space.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer C).

Why come as a baby, rather than descend from the clouds on high, unless you want to know the deep love of mother and father---lullabies in the night and shoulder rides through town?

Why endure the agonies of adolescence, unless you want to know the rush of hormones and the passion for life that only those on the cusp of it can feel?

Why put yourself in the position of facing loss, unless you need to experience the sorrow that every human being on the earth knows when someone they love dies? The Bible tells us that Jesus knew Lazarus was ill---but he waited until he knew Lazarus had died before he went to Bethany. And even though Jesus presumably knew he had the power to raise the dead, he wept anyway for the loss.

What is it about humanity that made God need to experience the same things we do? To know what it felt like to wear skin---and to feel the touch of human fingers on it? To know the ache of weariness and the fulfillment of rest? To laugh, and cry, and love---to understand the pull of greed and lust and the power of pain and shame?

One simply cannot be human without feeling those things---and according to the deepest beliefs of my doubting heart, God poured Herself into human form in order to feel.

Count me a heretic when I say that God needs us as much as we need God.

And that is my Gospel. It is not one word (probably because I am incapable of limiting myself to a single word...), but this is the Gospel According to Doxy.

God needs us.

This is an unimaginably vast universe---and it continues to expand, according to my physicist friends. It is full of the most beautiful things you can imagine---hugely, massively beautiful things that defy your ability to conceive them. Power, and majesty, and glory in abundance.

And yet...if you are a Christian, you believe that God came to earth in human form. Experienced all the joys and sorrows that humans experienced. Forsook the majesty and the grandeur of heaven for the mundane and simple pleasures---and the heart-rending sorrows and pain---of earth.

And this is what I believe.

Because I believe that the universe is too vast and beautiful and intricate to have happened by chance---and that the siren song of love and joy and...yes...sorrow were too strong for even the Creator of all that vastness and beauty to ignore. That the ability to feel is the ultimate gift of creation. That God Herself wanted to know what it felt like to be loved in human terms---not the adoration of legions of mindless angels, but the tender love of a mother, the camaraderie of friends, and the warmth of human touch.

Mary could not have known any of this when she bowed to Gabriel and agreed to take on the task she was asked to do. She thought she knew what the penalties could be---and she was lucky that she was not required to pay the price of her life for her acquiescence. But she could not have foreseen that she was giving the great God of the Universe an opportunity to feel.

Bless her for having the reckless courage to say “Yes!”