Monday, December 22, 2008

Loss

Last night was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It was the third anniversary of the death of a good friend, a casualty to despair. Far into the night I found myself leaping to the phone to answer the call of a dear friend whose marriage collapsed a year ago, leaving him with a broken heart and many questions.

L had a miscarriage in September, and is still suffering from occasional bleeding and pain. She's the third of my friends to lose a child. It is the first Christmas since the death of my grandfather- a good man whose amazing mind and stories were stolen by Alzheimer's. B's father is no longer speaking to her....his extreme cruelty to her mother resulted in B. making the phone call to the police that ended in a restraining order against him.

The darkness is strong. I find myself thinking of the shepherds at the Nativity. The night sky is broken by angelic proclamation and song. "A Savior has been born. Peace on earth, good will towards men." The shepherds ran to the stable to worship. They saw the Messiah. . . then had to go back to watching sheep. Nothing changes. It takes thirty years for this baby to grow up. He becomes a radical preacher, a homeless vagabond. Just as it looks like he could change the world, the authorities nab him and nail him to a cross to shut him up. Where were the shepherds?

Here we are now, two thousand years later. Congo and Zimbabwe look like they're going up in flames. Somalia....Darfur....antibiotic resistant TB...factories in China polluting the air...and the thousand small tragedies that we encounter every day. Why hasn't it changed yet?

Yesterday, I picked up The Irrational Season for a few moments. L'engle writes the first few pages out of the darkness that surrounds Advent. She reminds me that we are waiting for the Eschaton, that Advent's fufillment is still to come. The solstice has passed, the days are lengthening. Tonight's darkness will be a little less.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Completely Smitten With Michelle Obama

I'm not yet sure if this will become the enduring love affair I have with T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle and (most recently) Barbara Kingsolver. However, I most definitely have a major crush on the future first lady.

The infatuation began when I first read The Audacity of Hope- In the words of her husband:

"Most people who meet my wife quickly conclude that she is remarkable. They are right about this--she is smart, funny and thoroughly charming. She is also very beautiful, although not in a way that men find intimidating, or women find off-putting; it is the lived-in beauty of the mother and busy professional rather than the touched up image we see on the cover of glossy magazines. Often, after hearing her speak at some function or working with her on a project, people will approach me and say something to the effect of "You know I think the world of you, Barack, but your wife...wow!" I nod, knowing that if I ever had to run against her for public office, she would beat me without much difficulty."

I have swooned time and time again as I've listened to her speak or watched the dignified, graceful way she interacts with others. (According to a recent Newsweek article, I'm not the only one).

A small part of the appeal is her unconventional beauty. She's neither the classic porcelain doll nor the dangerously thin runway model, but a polished, healthy, radiant woman.

Far more gripping is the fact that Michelle Obama is the sort of woman Betty Friedan hoped for when she wrote The Feminine Mystique- Brilliant, competent, qualified in her own right, a devoted, wonderful wife and mother who is a person of influence outside her home (vs completely dependent on husband and children for identity).

The opinion dominant in the circles I've grown up in is that women work outside the home reluctantly, begrudgingly using their time to earn money to feed their family, when they ought to (and perhaps, if they had more faith, would) spend that time with their children and husband. It's a worldview that considers professional women (married or single, but especially married) an anomaly. People who loved me and wanted the best for me have told me "God doesn't have a calling or a plan for your life. Your calling is to help your husband with his calling." There's a small provision for women with "the gift of singleness"-- who are allowed to be missionaries and teachers and are viewed as being deficient in the ability to have relationships.

The extreme I'm most familiar with is the extreme that allows women no identity outside of their families....there is also the militant feminist extreme that claims that families are a burden to women. I personally haven't experienced this viewpoint, beyond literary criticism and reading about Gloria Steinem, etc.

Michelle Obama defies both the extremes. She's a woman who's wrestled with deep questions of identity outside of her family, who's pursued her own career and has made countless speeches on behalf of her husband's presidential campaign, who is now planning a spiel as a stay-home mom to help the girls transition to life in DC.

Maybe it's arguable that Hillary Clinton is made of the same stuff as Mrs. Obama. I wasn't watching the Clintons during the '90s. But I am fascinated by the unique blend of a passion for politics, activism, family...competence in the workplace and the home, a beauty with a brain and a heart.

So here's to you Michelle, and I can't waite to see what you accomplish during and after your stint as First Lady.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the
armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us
in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both
the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.” ( 1928 BCP page 90)

Advent's collect- dating back to 1549 and the first English Prayer Book. My priest emailed it to me this week in a reminder that we are lost without grace. Last Advent I latched on to something in a sermon of his: "In Advent we await the three-fold coming of Christ- Christ's first coming to Bethlehem, Christ's current coming to us by the Holy Spirit, and Christ's future coming as King."

I was a baby Anglican at Advent last year, celebrating the start of my first liturgical year. Now I'm an Anglo-Catholic lost in a Protestant world. There is no purple surrounding me, no candles to be lit, no gentle reminder from my priest to schedule confession. But it is still Advent, it is still the beginning, time for penance and waiting. I will repent and I will wait...and wonder where the next year will lead.