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Sunday, December 23, 2012

And holy is your name

Madonna and Child by Jason Jenicke
When the Infinite meets the finite, there are no words. But we keep trying to find them.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
        - From East Coker in Four Quartets, by T.S. Eliot

Today at Mass I was sitting calmly, thinking about nothing, as I watched the adult acolyte, Marie, set the altar for Communion preparations. She quietly fussed about the table like a woman working in her own kitchen, for her own family, before a meal.

All of a sudden tears came into my eyes.

I saw that in Marie's humble "woman's work," she was doing a great thing. Without her setting the altar, there would be no Communion.

I remembered a sign I saw years ago: "Without Mary there is no Jesus."

When I first saw that sign, it seemed sacrilegious to me. But then I thought about the words and realized they were - literally - true.

I sat in the pew watching Marie smooth the cloth on the altar, and I thought about the "woman's work" I've been doing. I've hosted three family gatherings in my home this Christmas season, and I'll host another tomorrow - on Christmas Eve. Before each family gathering, I fuss and prepare.

Then the family gathers. We older ones reminisce about our days growing up. We laugh about the funny things our parents did - the overabundance of Jello at family meals back then, big important memories like that. The younger ones tease us about the funny things we did raising them. My kids laugh about the dish I made called "glop," how I gave them ABC (Already Been Chewed) gum, how I used the wooden spoon for things other than stirring soup. Things like that.

This is our coming together, our comm-union.

Today the priest talked about Mary receiving the startling message  that she is to be the mother of the Christ. Her response is to "spread herself out like a tablecloth over the whole world." I've never heard of an image like that for Mary, but today I thought how appropriate it was. A tablecloth - woman's work, again.

The priest went on to mention that the Hebrew Scriptures tell us that David was in love with the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God-with-us. David stayed in the hill country for three months. When he came upon the Ark, he danced with abandon and leapt with joy.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is the Incarnation.
Here the impossible union.
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled...
      - From The Dry Salvages in Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

The pregnant Mary too goes to the hill country. After three months there, she greets Elizabeth, and the child within Elizabeth's womb - John the Baptist - leaps for joy. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. Jesus is the reality of God-with-us. Both Elizabeth and her unborn son John recognize that.
Mary and Elizabeth - from Natalie Snapp's blog
At the end of Mass, we sang "Holy is your name," a magnificent hymn written by David Haas to the tune of the Irish traditional song "Wild Mountain Thyme." For the first time, I realized that the words of the hymn echo the words of the Magnificat, also known as the Canticle of Our Lady, Luke 1:46-55. I've always loved the song because it sounds so beautifully Irish and goes on like perpetual motion. But today I was moved as never before by the words.

Here is a lovely rendition of the song, via Mark Haas music:

At every Mass, we say the words of the Credo: "I believe in all things seen and unseen." I am writing about mysteries here. My words are paltry. Artists, the musicians, writers like me, all try to express their joy at the intersection of the Infinite and the finite. How can we tell you about the joy in our hearts?

We can't.

But we keep trying.

And some of us delight in doing women's work in  our own families, and in this world that is our family. We are honored to serve. I say this as a feminist. Believe this: we are honored to serve.

So here I am...
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure...
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again...
For us, there is only the trying...
   Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated...
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity, a deeper communion...
                                      In my end is my beginning.
       - From East Coker in Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot

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