The Moment of Christmas

Have you noticed that the Christ is always born into the world when the night seems darkest and there is no moon reflecting light back to us?  When soldiers of some foreign army of violence or consumerism or degradation inhabit the souls of the people who do not sleep in heavenly peace but are held in trances of fear and false security? Have you noticed?

Noticing is the first part of awakening.  Awakening to the realization that all we were taught about “just wars” and “those people” and “what we deserve” are nothing but justifications for the status quo – and the status quo is the siren’s song that entranced us to live busy, empty, striving lives in the first place.

Notice and then turn.  Turn towards those things that challenge all your beliefs, especially those that make the immense, expansive, loving  God (Who created this Universe or Multiverse) and Who told Moses, “I will be what I will be” into a small, tight, mean accountant. Look upon them without fear and know that they are illusions and illusions disappear every time the Christ is born in another human soul.

The Christ gestates in every soul, yours and mine and everyone else’s, waiting to be born again and again; six billion opportunities for Christ to break forth in our world, each one a  unique ”I will be what I will be.”

It is Christmas today.  It is Christmas because one soul (and maybe many), while gardening or shopping or working or praying or dreaming or mourning, noticed and realized.  That realization is the moment of Christmas and in that one moment all of time and space collapse into a point of love so powerful that all of history leads to it and all of the future derives from it.  Happy Christmas.

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Returning to MySelf

As I travelled to work Wednesday morning I was listening to one of my favorite local public radio shows called “Where We Live.” John Dankoski, the show’s host, was interviewing an eco-athlete named Roz Savage.  You can listen to the interview here: http://www.yourpublicmedia.org/node/25227.  It is worth listening to.

In brief, Ms. Savage tells the story of growing up as the daughter of two Methodist Ministers in Britain.  They did not have a lot of money.  What they did have was time and a real connection to the natural world.  She tells how she moved away from that life into a life of business success and consumerism, and then how she let go of that “yuppie” life to become who she is becoming – and how much happier she is because of that letting go.

This interview was a real teaching moment for me; it helped me remember something I forget all too easily – to be MySelf.  To be the writer, teacher, minister, poet and priest that I am and need to be. I am strongest, healthiest and most powerful when I am MySelf: grounded; authentic; connected and listening to God and this Sacred Creation. When I forget MySelf I have no source for renewal and I end up exhausted and a blessing to no one.

I rarely quote from the Apostle Paul, but I will today.  In the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians he writes,  ”If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels. but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  I think the love he speaks of comes when our lives (what we do) are aligned with our Selves because our Selves are our Souls and our Souls are from and with God.

So today, yet again, maybe for the thousandth time, I return to MySelf.  This turning has been happening all week – a week of sorrow, horror and fear across much of the world – a week that began for me when a teacher saw Me, unstopped my ears and called me out of the cave I’ve been hiding in.  He has my thanks, as does Ms. Savage who may never know that she made a difference in my life.

May our returning, yours and mine, bring light, compassion, courage and clear-sight to our beautiful, aching world.  May our words inspire, our hands comfort, our eyes see and our footsteps lead to peace.  May it be so. Amen.

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Angels and Anawim

Today is December 24, 2012.  The celebration of Christmas begins at sundown this evening.  May the Christ be born in every human heart this evening. May “a new and glorious dawn” break tomorrow over a world whose people are inspired (in-spirited) to see what a just, healed, loving and sustainable world looks like.  May we the people (of the whole world) then face with courage and passion the work we have been given to do.  The new-creation awaits.  It waits for us.  Let us be about it.

Here is a small, and still rather unpolished poem.  It may have future iterations, but for now, this Christmas-tide, may it bless you.

They come to the stable,
their unclouded eyes
the common thread between those                                                                                                    from heaven and those on earth.

Angels bend to the child
still covered in birth blood;
hosannas absorbed by
straw and clay.

The aching come.
Responding to an invitation                                                                                                                issued to all,
heard by few.

Come to me all you who                                                                                                            mourn, hope and work for justice                                                                                                and I will give you comfort,                                                                                       encouragement and peace.

Hosannas rise into the bright sky.

 

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On the Radio

Hello friends,

In mid-November I was interviewed about my writing and ministry by Rev. Shelley Best.  It aired in Hartford very early on Sunday morning, December 2, 2012, but you can listen now by clicking the link below.  I hope my poetry and reflections bless you in these days when sadness and joy tug on us all.

Peace and good, Melina

Melina Rudman Radio Interview December 2nd, 2012

 

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The Third Day

This is the third day of heartbreak.  Just as in the Christian story, the worst occurs on a Friday morning.  Just as in the Christian story we watch, cry and pray as we learn the worst.  Saturday brings no release, just unutterable sadness.  Advent has become Lent.

Sunday dawns and our sadness accompanies us to worship. The third Sunday of Advent – we light the rose-colored candle, the candle of joy. Tears flow. We sing the ancient hymn:

O come Thou Day-Spring,
come and cheer
Our Spirits by your Advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 

We wait for the Light though the days grow darker. Candle flames flutter and gutter in the December wind as we gather together in vigil.  We wait, and the words spoken so long ago to anyone with ears to hear come alive in our broken hearts: “You are the light of the world.”

God has such trust.

May it be deserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Justice

On Saturday morning I presented this keynote for the Connecticut Women of the United Church of Christ.  Some of them requested copies, so I am posting it here to share with them and all of you.  May it be a blessing in some way.

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to be here with you to today to speak about justice.  It is a big concept, justice, and your choice of this theme has had me praying and pondering for weeks.  Feminist Gloria Steinem has said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” and I think that holds true for our ideas around justice.  My goal in these 45 minutes is to get us stirred up; I like to call my retreat-style “gently provocative”, so let’s see if, together, we can come to a deeper understanding of what justice is for followers of Jesus and what we must unlearn, and come to understand, about ourselves and our place in the world.

I always like to start things off with a definition, so here is the definition of ‘justice’ from the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” [bold mine]

And here is the definition of ‘just’ from the same source: “having a basis in or conforming, sometimes rigidly, to fact or reason; conforming to a standard of correctness; acting or being in conformity to what is morally upright or good.”

There’s a lot of “conformity” going on with this definition, isn’t there?  I found that interesting, not only because I tend to resist conforming, but because of something the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. said on this topic.  He said, “The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined nonconformists [again, bold mine] who are dedicated to justice, peace and [sister]hood.”

We must become nonconformists; people who think and respond creatively when confronted with an injustice to ourselves or in our world.  Jesus’ life is filled with stories like this; just consider the story of the woman caught in adultery if you need an example.  Notice what Jesus does, and does not, do in this story. 

And, for good measure, here are some other quotes on justice you might recognize:

“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” – Exodus 21: 23-25

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn … the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”  – Matthew 5: 38-42

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” – Mohandas Gandhi

So, the Hebrew Scriptures give us a prescription for meting justice, and then the Christian Scriptures challenge that prescription – turning it on its head.  Two thousand years after Jesus, the Mahatma reminded us of the implications of tat-for-tat justice.

The quote from Matthew’s Gospel is part of what we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus was a brilliant man and he was all about justice, God’s Justice, always pointing towards the Kingdom of God.  We have just come through Lent and Easter and have seen what human-justice was responsible for in his life; Jesus calls us to a new definition and understanding.  Remember, too, that he was speaking to first century, middle-eastern people whose customs we might not understand or appreciate, so let me give you a little background.  Slapping someone in the face was something only a master or mistress could do to a slave, or a man to his wife or children.  There were rules around this “right” however.  The slap must be open-handed and with the palm of the left hand so it couldn’t do too much damage.  In turning the cheek, the only way someone can slap you again is with the back of their hand, and this would shame them.  So, turning the other cheek was a way of shaming the one who resorted to physical violence.

Do you all remember the second half of the Noah story?  After the flood recedes, Noah and his family settle down and Noah plants a vineyard.  After the harvest they make wine and Noah drinks a bit too much of it and falls asleep naked in his tent.  His son, Ham, sees his father lying there and tells his two brothers who “took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness.  Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.” – Genesis 9: 23  The shame was not Noah’s, it was Ham’s; this is still true in many societies, so if someone sued you for your tunic, your one tunic, and you gave them your cloak also, you would be naked and they would be publicly shamed for leaving you naked.  I have heard of this same tactic being used recently somewhere in Africa.  The story goes that there was an oil company that was fouling the environment and many children were getting sick and women were having miscarriages.  The men were reluctant to address the problems because they were afraid they would lose their jobs but the women knew something needed to be done.  They tried to get justice, which to them was the company using safe standards and practices, through the courts – all to no avail.  So, one day before dawn, the women gathered together and walked to the company, took up posts in front of all the gates, removed their clothing and just stood there.  When the men came to work they would not approach the gates, for they would be shamed before everyone if they looked at or touched these naked women.  The women stayed, without their clothes, for about three days before the company cried ‘uncle’.  Justice is always nonviolent.

Finally, the “go two miles” teaching:  The Jews of first century Palestine were an occupied people; they were occupied by the Roman Empire.  Roman soldiers were allowed, bu military law, to conscript strong men to help them carry their packs.  They were allowed to coerce them for one mile only – it wouldn’t do to have all the farmers and craftsmen away from their fields and work for days on end; the people who agitate, so one mile was the limit of disruption any soldier could place on any conscript.  If the conscript refused to quit after one mile, but went the extra mile, he upended the power dynamic and the soldier was helpless (and in trouble with his superiors).  Brilliance!

We must unlearn our old ideas about justice as reward and punishment.  We must unlearn our old ideas that justice can ever be met through violence, oppression, separation or coercion.  We must learn the ways of non-violence if there is to be justice in this world.

I’d like to give you one more thought about justice, one that came to me in prayer more than a decade ago.  It is this:  Justice is the healing of  a situation; it is not about rewarding the good and punishing the bad, but healing the wounds and separation caused by violence, greed, ignorance, inequity, oppression, accident, fear, whatever.  God’s justice is not that some of us go to heaven and many more to hell, but that we all be healed and reconciled to God and one another.  And God’s justice is not only for the hereafter, but the here-and-now.

We must become healers if we desire justice.

So, holding these four thoughts about justice, I’d invite you to share with your neighbor what it is around justice that you might need to unlearn and learn anew in your own life. (5 minutes)

So, here we are at a gathering of women in the United Church of Christ in the Year of our Lord 2012.  This is where we get provocative. More than 2000 years after The Prince of Peace was born to a young, poor, unwed Mary of Nazareth somewhere in, what was even then, a war-torn Middle East; 2000 years after Jesus shocked the powers-that-be by welcoming women and lepers and tax collectors as his disciples; 2000 years after Mary Magdalene, who has been called the “apostle to the apostles,” was the first to experience the Risen Christ, the world is still filled with injustice – against women, children, the poor, the “other” in their many manifestations.  Why is this so?  Ultimately, I believe it is because we have not yet dared to love God with our whole hearts, and souls, and strength and minds.  We do not trust that we are each here to generously gift the wold with that which God has gifted us.  We are, as Marianne Williamson said so perfectly, more afraid of our light and power than we are of our inadequacy and shadow.  This is the injustice from which all others flow.  It is an injustice against the worth of our own souls and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is what allows “the appalling silence of good people.”  It is what allows us to say nothing as funding for women’s health care is debated (mostly by old, rich, white men), it is what keeps feminists of both genders from insisting on equality and respect for all people.  It is what has allowed me, like the Priest and Levite from the story of The Good Samaritan, to “pass by on the other side” and not respond to the hungry and homeless.  It is what allows us to continue warming the earth, soiling and spoiling our water, air and land, trading what cannot be replaced for cheap gas, disposable razors and food that poisons instead of nourishing.  It is what stops us from asking what the difference is between the terrible violence perpetrated on the innocent people of Syria by Assad’s forces and the terrible violence the United States visited upon Baghdad in the days of “Shock and Awe.”

Marianne Williamson went on to say this, “You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We must come to terms with this statement: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”

I would like to close by relating a dream I had about 15 years ago; it is one of those dreams that change your life.  In the dream I was being taught by a teacher who was all alight, glowing.  She was showing me how “marvelously and wonderfully made” I was.  She was showing me something I can only liken to a hologram of myself; in it I could see my skin and features but also my insides.  I saw my kidneys and liver, stomach and lungs.  Then I saw my heart; a pulsing muscle pushing blood in and out of the appropriate chambers.  What I also saw was light emanating out from behind my heart, and in the light was written the word “Christ”.  I asked the teacher about this and she replied, “You all have it, Melina.  You all have the Light of Christ within you.”

If you believe the message of this dream that the Light of Christ is within you.  If you believe the words of Marianne Williamson.  If you believe that Jesus was speaking the truth when he told us that the Kingdom of God is within and among us, then every aware moment will become a creative moment; violence will hold less sway in your life, and through you, in the world; you will seek to heal what is wounded; you will “make manifest the glory of God that is within [you]” and justice, God’s justice, will be realized.

May it be so.

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Kairos

Many years ago I had a dream about the first day that we in the Christian tradition have come to call Holy Saturday.  In the dream I was inside the tomb waiting and watching. It was what others have called “liminal space”; the hushed- space that is pregnant with miracle.  I remember feeling impatient and being told, “Wait, the three days have not been met.” This poem, titled Holy Saturday, was written as part of my work around the dream.  May it bless you in this week when we notice the intersection of Chronos and Kairos. May all the veils that keep the Holy from our sight be torn in half; may all the stones that keep us sealed in tombs of our own making roll away.  May it be so.

Holy Saturday

 Melina Rudman

©2010

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1: 3

 The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it. – John 1: 5

 
The darkness is complete – no rays of sun or flickering flames brighten the space.

Yet there is light

or something akin to it

in the hollowed, hallowed rock where

just hours before

a body

newly silent and strangely peaceful for all he’d endured

has been hurriedly laid.

 

What a curious place, this cave in the garden.

Timeless earth

opened and sealed to hold what cannot be held

or comprehended.

Cold and quiet,

death is always a step

a breath away

from warm, noisy life.

 

Angels keep watch, their presence a part of the utter stillness.

 

The body, lifeless

enlivened

illumined

with Light that is not light

and is not understood.

 

We wait.

Three days have not been met.

In the garden’s soil, the shells of small seeds

crack;

tight skins unable to contain the pulse of new life.

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Sabbath Day

On certain Sabbath days, when snow has fallen, or the cherries are blooming,

when the grass stands waist high in Summer meadows or Monarch butterflies are massing sea-side, sipping mineral-laced Autumn mud for their long journey south,

God, who usually suffers the tight-fit of the places we design for Her (or Him) with gentle humor, throws open the doors of the church, temple, cathedral and calls us to come out under the sky where the wild winds blow, where waves lap (or break upon) their shores, where we and the birthing and greening and growing and dying are all one and the same, world without end, amen.

“Remove the shoes from your feet, the scales from your eyes, the armor from your heart; for the grass, sand, stone, snow upon which you stand is Holy.”

Today was such a day.

 

 

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The Patience of the Holy

Years ago I read Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love and was staggered by the line (later used by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech) that it is not our darkness we most fear, but our light.  The problem, and gift, of prophetic statements like hers is that they are true, and then they are True, and then they are TRUE.  We confront them in ourselves at each level of development and it never ends and it is never too late. Such is the patience of the Holy in drawing us to Itself.

Beginning to write again is my own way of learning to love the light I am in the world.  I have been resisting and ignoring and saying I am too busy and all it has resulted in is anxiety (and some very patient subscribers to this blog).  Writing is how I share my heart with the world.  Sharing in this deep way is a bit scary, but it is what my soul cries out for and I have come to the place where the discomfort produced by not sharing has become greater than my fear of sharing. Most of you will recognize this as the space in the human psyche where change becomes possible.  And so I write because words are my paintbrushes; they are how I express myself – and what else are we here for if not to be God’s unique expression of Self as ourselves?

So, tell me my dear, patient and unique friends; how does the Divine long to express Itself in you?

 

 

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Reimagining the Gospels

What you will find below is the Introduction and one story (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar) from a book I have been imagining and writing for over a year now.  Writing, as any writer will tell you, is hard work; writing that reimagines what so many hold sacred is, for me, work that is done in prayer and with empathy.  I invite you to read and wonder and share your responses.

With love,

Melina

~~~~~~~~~

Introduction

I wonder about Scripture.  I have been wondering about it ever since I was a little child and I first heard the stories of angels at the manger, loaves and fishes being multiplied and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.  The stories I learned in Catechism told me who Jesus was according to the Roman Catholic Church and I accepted them as truth.  That I was baffled by some and comforted by others, that there were inconsistencies between the same stories in different gospels never troubled me (details rarely trouble me which explains my life-long struggle with math and my predilection for adding context around sacred stories).

As an adult, and practicing spiritual director, I still wonder about Scripture.  My wondering now leads me to questions of relevancy.  I believe that the stories told in the Gospels point to great psychological and spiritual truths. It doesn’t matter so much if the stories are true in their particulars (most Biblical scholars would say they absolutely are not).  What matters is that the stories told in the great traditions are true in their essence.  So far as we know, human beings are the only life-forms that tell stories and we’ve been telling them for a very long time.  We tell stories about God and nature, heroes and villains, history and possibility.  We use stories to explain what is known, to explore what is unknown and to express our hopes and fears.  The stories we tell explain a lot about who we are; especially those we tell about the Divine.

The Christian scriptures tell stories around the life of Jesus of Nazareth and they tell them in ways that would speak to their intended listeners.  Matthew’s gospel, referring often to “the law” and to Jewish prophecies, was written primarily for the Jewish followers of Jesus. In its original form Mark’s gospel, written when the early Christians were being persecuted and executed by Rome, ends with an empty tomb and frightened disciples.  Luke, whose author also wrote The Acts of the Apostles, speaks to the disempowered with a message of love and justice.  The fourth gospel included in the Canon is John’s.  John’s gospel is a mystical text written for believers of the Risen Christ.  That the stories differed in content and context did not seem to bother the church fathers who set the Canon in year 393 of the common-era.  The stories were meant to convey meaning, not history or facts.

I would argue that there are many things decided by the “Church Fathers” that keep us from deep relationship with God, but their understanding of story is not one of them.  Stories point to something bigger than themselves; they are not a recitation of factual details.  When we insist that a story be true in every detail it becomes isolated in time and place; it loses its life and loses its relevance in our lives.  I find it interesting that those same Christians who insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible have no trouble proclaiming a Messiah who used parables and metaphors to describe who God was to him and how we could know when we’re close to what he called “the kingdom of God.”

Just as Jesus used story to help us comprehend God, we need story to help us understand ourselves, to understand what is possible. If ever there were a time when human beings needed to understand how to live compassionate, aware and just lives it is now. If ever we needed a Christ whose humanity could be understood we need him now.  The unemotional, detached, stained-glass window representations of Jesus make for fine stories of the transcendent, ineffable, unreachable God.  God is these things.

God is also immanent, imaginable and waiting to be invited into our lives.  This is where the Gospel stories come in.  This book contains some of those stories retold in ways that have helped me to see Christ’s life journey as a roadmap to be followed; exploring what he might have thought or felt so that we can relate to his story and better understand our own.  I start with a quote from the gospels from The Inclusive New Testament followed by a retelling of the story and ending with a few thoughts or questions meant to invite you to deepen your own sense of the text.   These writings are not a recreation of history, nor are they meant to argue one or another theological point; they are simply prayerful wonderings around the stories told of Jesus’ life.

It is possible to worship the Christ and never know the Jesus who invites us to be like him; to never know ourselves as beloved, and to love God, ourselves and our neighbors as ourselves. Not only is this separation  possible, I believe it is common. Indeed, a look at human history would communicate rather emphatically that we have not understood the one who calls us to love our enemies, and to be gentle and generous with ourselves and others.  Our history of war and oppression and the injustices inherent in the hierarchies of government and religion show that what we have understood all too well is the christ we have made in our own image – a christ of harsh judgment and imposed order.  A christ meant to keep us in line. A christ who is not Christ at all.

Jesus’ stories and the stories of his life are meant for us to emulate, not just read.  He would not have said “follow me” if we could not do it.  We can.  Indeed we must if human beings, and perhaps even life itself, is to continue on this little blue planet at the edge of the universe.

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

While Jesus was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon, who was afflicted with leprosy, a woman entered carrying an alabaster jar of perfume made from expensive aromatic nard. After breaking the jar, she began to pour the perfume on his head.

Some said to themselves indignantly, “What is the point of this extravagant waste of perfume?  It could have been sold for over three hundred silver pieces, and the money given to those in need!”  They were infuriated with her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone.  Why do you criticize her?  She has done me a kindness.  You will always have poor people among you, and you can do them good whenever you want, but you will not always have me.  She has done what she could. She has anointed my body and is preparing it for burial.  The truth is, wherever the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told in her memory”

– Mark 14: 3 – 8

Such a long day; he is tired and hungry and longs for nothing more than a meal and sleep.  Sleep, he knows though, is still far off. He feels the eyes of Simon’s other guests upon him, waiting and wanting; always wanting – a sign, a healing, a story to upset the authorities.  So many eyes: some loving, some questioning, many hostile.  How long has it been since I was just another man at his meal?  Too long, he thinks.

His teaching and healing have taken on a new urgency in these last weeks, his followers feel it, though only he knows why.  He’s tried desperately to get the message of God’s love across to the people and found himself resisted and reviled by the very ones the people turn to for spiritual growth.   He’s tried just as desperately to prepare his friends for what he feels sure is coming, but they refuse to understand and their fear is one more burden he bears.

He reaches for another piece of bread, warm and fresh, baked that day by Anna, Simon’s wife. He dips it into the dish of spiced oil at his elbow and takes a bite, savoring the simple flavors of wheat, salt and rosemary.  A commotion at the doorway draws his attention.  A woman enters the dining hall uninvited, a woman he recognizes but does not know.  He’d first seen her on the temple grounds with them a few days ago.  She had sat close enough to hear while he taught near the collection boxes; he’d noticed how intently she’d listened to his words, soaking them up the way dry earth drinks in the first rain of autumn.

The men in the room step away as she passes, murmuring at her impropriety, waiting to see what Jesus will do.  He’s got a reputation, he knows, for breaking the laws of purity and the priests and scholars cannot abide his freedom.  It threatens their hold over the people.  Their curiosity has got the better of them tonight though, as they stand in the house of a known leper.  They’ll stand there to be a part of things, but won’t deign to eat with Simon or Jesus and his notorious friends – tax collectors, women, Romans.

The woman, wrapped head to toe in costly robes, stops beside him and takes a small jar, gleaming white, from her sleeve.  Without a word, she breaks the seal, opening the jar.  The aroma of nard floods the room; nard, perfume of love, incense of the Temple.  The woman raises the jar and pours the thick oil over his head.  He closes his eyes, feeling it soak his hair, run around his ears and down his back.  He sighs deeply, accepts this gift of loving care, letting it refresh his soul until the flow of oil stops.

He opens his eyes and looks into hers, sees the brimming tears, knows she has seen what waits for him.  “Thank you,” he says. She nods, still silent, staying by his side.

Looking away he sees his follower’s confusion, always confusion. For three years he has taught them and still the light has not dawned!  He feels the anger coming from some of them, knows them so well he can practically hear their thoughts. Their words burst forth, biting and hard, “Stupid woman, what a waste! A year’s wages – think what we could do with that!  Think how many we could feed.”

He feels the woman shrink beside him. “Stop it!” he says, just loud enough to be heard over their complaints.  “Why are you criticizing her?  Don’t you remember the teaching from the other day?”  They turn to him, angry but silent, uncomprehending.  “We were at the temple; this woman was there with us.” Exasperated, “Don’t you see who is around you?”  Blank looks are his response. He takes a breath, pushing back his frustration, knowing he must explain again, must make the connections for them.

“We were by the collection boxes watching as the wealthy and the scholars came to put their money in.  They made a big show of it.  Then the poor widow came and gave her gift – nothing compared to the others, yet everything for her.  What gift was more precious than hers?  To God it was more precious than all the rest combined.  Remember? This woman, too,” he says, turning again to the woman at his side, “has given a precious gift.  You all come here in need, with empty hands ready to take my words away for your own salvation or political advantage.  Those in need will always be among your numbers, and that is as it should be for God’s love does not favor the rich over the poor. Neither does it favor the poor over the rich.  Here is this woman, a woman of wealth, a woman in need of nothing but the love of God. She understood the teaching better than any of you.  Look, she came here with full hands, broke open her heart, and poured out her gift of kindness. We have all benefited from it.” He pauses, and when he resumes his voice is only a whisper, “I most of all, for she has anointed me for my own burial.”  Shaking his head to clear his thoughts he addressed his companions again, “Remember the parable of the talents, remember the story I shared at the house of Zacchaeus? These are all the same stories told in different ways.  What gifts God has given you, multiply and give back to God through intention, kindness and generosity to others.  No one is exempt from this teaching.  Everyone has something to give; and everyone who gives must also receive. Soon I will no longer be with you. You will be the ones teaching about God’s love, but you will not be able to do it unless you can receive that gift for yourself.  You cannot have one without the other.”

The room is silent.  He stands and turns to the woman.  “Thank you.  Your gift has joined our lives.  Whenever people tell my story, they will tell of what you did for me this night.”  Walking from the room he feels their discomfort, their stubborn adherence to rules and roles that keep them from the One who holds out new life to every soul.  He leaves them with their questions and breathes in the clear air of evening, searching out a quiet space to ponder and pray in the Presence.

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So often Scripture is read in bits and bytes; little stories disconnected from previous or later lessons.  As I prayed and wondered around this story I began to see it in the context of other lessons around money and spending.  Indeed, this story directly follows Jesus teaching about the widow’s mite, Jesus sat down opposite the collection box and watched the people putting money in it, and many of the rich put in a great deal.  A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny.  Then Jesus called out to the disciples and said to them, “The truth is, this woman has put in more than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have put in money from their surplus, but she has put in everything she possessed from the little she had – all she had to live on.” – Mark 12: 41-44

If you look at all of Jesus’ teaching around giving and receiving, what do you learn?

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