Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


Pregnant with Possibility

Once upon an Advent, I became an Anglican. Year’s end of 1984, to be exact.

Raised Roman Catholic and having spent my early adulthood agnostic, my ex-husband William and I followed breadcrumbs back to church. Not back so much really as forward. Instead of returning to the pews of our youth, we accepted an invitation to attend Immanuel on-the-Hill. (Yes, the other Emmanuel, directly across the street from Virginia Seminary.) Zach, my firstborn son was just three and Colleen was not quite six months.

These little children led us to knock on the door of a church – a door we had not darkened for ages. The liturgy was strangely familiar – like a favorite old song but to a different tune. And — singing this new song was a vested woman at the altar! And we got to drink the wine, as well as, eat the bread. What a revelation this was!

Literally, leaving church on my very first Episcopal Sunday, the rector had a proposition for me.

Would you like to join the worship planning committee?

Not just volunteer to read or be an usher, but to be a lay partner along with the priest planning the services of the coming season?

Having grown up in a tradition, where women were only allowed behind the altar if they had a vacuum cleaner, I was gob smacked! Floored!

Of course, I would love to! Yes!

And I do confess, this committee work helped fulfill a lifelong fantasy of mine – to be cast as Mary in the Christmas concert. The fantasy of every little Roman Catholic girl  (and every little Protestant  girl, too, I imagine!)

The Nativity, Julie Vivas

And alas, it came to pass for me this Advent of 1984. Recently pregnant and obviously not a virgin, at long last I had snagged the part of the BVM. Not quite as embarrassing as liturgical dance, in lieu of a sermon, I starred in a three-part liturgical drama:

Mary! Pregnant with God!

Three parts. Three trimesters.

Advent 1. Surprised. Uncertain. Shaky. Nauseous. Scared.

Advent 2.  Blooming. Stretching. Aching. Hoping.

Advent 3. Heavy. Swollen. Sleepless. Bursting.

I burst into the Magnificat.

It was Advent in the Eighties, and I wore Blessed Mother blue.

This is the blue season. The hangings are blue. The candles on the Advent wreath, except one, are blue. The darkness of these blue winter days yearns for the light. 

And on Advent 4, we have walked almost all the way to Bethlehem. Walked beside a pregnant, unwed peasant girl.

“…she was found to be with child… Her husband Joseph…planned to dismiss her quietly… But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit… She will bear a son and you are to call him Jesus…after the prophet Isaiah who said, ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel – which means ‘God with us.’”

Now this 1st century story is a hard sell in the 21st. Such an illustrious and exceptional birth was a common motif for the likes of emperors-turned-gods in the ancient world. And I confess to you, it has always been a conundrum to this Christian.

But Anglicans are unafraid to ask such questions.

Twenty-eight years ago, I crossed the street from my home parish Immanuel on-the-Hill to pursue a quest that has landed me in the pulpit this Sunday and many before. And the very first sermon I ever preached in homiletics class was on Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25, the virgin birth.

And it went something like this; I quote myself below.

“Hail Mary, never virgin, the Lord is with thee.”

“A little bit shocking? But I did get your attention, right?”

“And what I mean by Hail Mary, never virgin, in the poetic sense, is that when it comes to God, Mary is anything but a virgin. She is vulnerable, bewildered and yet open to this pregnant impossibility. Conceiving within herself all that is divine, all that is holy.”

“Don’t get hung up on the biology, my fellow seekers. Focus on the theology. The meaning behind the mystery. Focus on the good news that the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

“Just as true in 1991, as it was in Year One.”

“How do we conceive this Word of Love within us? How do we hear it, speak it, shout it from the rooftops, live it?”

“Like Joseph, what dream of God do we dream?”

“Like Mary, what does our pregnant soul proclaim?”

After a dramatic and pregnant pause, I returned to my seat. I was pretty sure I had flunked my first sermon, but I got an A minus or maybe a B plus — I can’t quite remember.

And the seminary did not kick me out.

And for twenty-five years, “Emmanuel, God with us” is the gospel I still imperfectly preach. And I am so grateful these past five years to have been able to preach it here at Emmanuel on High. Again, on Advent 4, on Matthew 1:18-25, on the virgin birth.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God my savior.


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‘Tis the Season to be Blue — Blessed Mother Blue

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

Blue.

Blessed Mother blue.

Blessed Virgin Mary blue.

There is no sexier color in the Crayola Crayon box than Blessed Mother blue. That is, of course, if you are a little Catholic girl. And it’s Advent. Please, Baby Jesus, bless me with Blessed Mother Blue!

Now Mary (quite impossibly!) is very, very much what every little Catholic girl wants to be when she grows up. Well maybe not when she grows up, but what every little Catholic girl wants to be in the Christmas pageant. Damn, Mary is what every Protestant little girl wants to be in the Christmas pageant!

Drape me, Baby Jesus, in Blessed Mother blue.

Alas, it did not come to pass until Advent 1983. Pregnant with my second child and obviously not a virgin, at long last I had snagged the part of the BVM. Not quite as embarrassing as liturgical dance, I starred in a three part liturgical drama: PREGNANT WITH GOD.

Three parts, three trimesters.

Advent One. Surprised. Uncertain. Shaky. Nauseous. Scared.

Advent Two. Blooming. Stretching. Aching. Hoping.

Advent Three. Heavy. Swollen. Sleepless. Bursting with life.

“My soul proclaimed the greatness of The Lord!”

I burst into the Magnificat.

It was the 80’s. And I wore Blessed Mother blue.

Now, blue is also the color of a mood. Possibly a million times in a millennia or two, possibly a million artists have depicted the Madonna and Child. Beatific Mary with the fat, little, haloed, baby Jesus in her lap. And in every painting, in every icon, in every stained glass window, as beautiful as she may be, she is the Mater Dolorosa, our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows.

“Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child…”

Advent is the Blue season, a season of darkness and light.

At first light today it was dark, 6:30 am dark. The sun went down today at 4:54 pm. I got up in the dark. I drove home in the dark.   And in between, the sky was gray all day outside my window. And the days are getting shorter. Yes, shorter. Is it any wonder, as the holiday looms why you may be feeling so BLUE, so deep, dark, inky, indigo BLUE.

My mother, Mary Lou, was often Blessed Mother blue. So blue she could barely get out of bed. So blue she could barely lift her head. So SAD, so deeply sad, it was like the light had literally gone out of her eyes. No sign of light and life in November, meant an equally dark December. O mom, we’ll have a blue Christmas without you…

Since God created the night, God’s people have prayed for the return of the light. That’s why long before there ever was a Christmas there was the Winter Solstice. The Stone Age people who built Stonehenge knew all about it. The Neolithic people who built Newgrange knew all about it. The deepest, darkest day of the year, is the day the light returns. December 21st.

On December 21st, my church Emmanuel on High, is having a Comfort service, a Christmas Comfort Service. And the service begins with a song — a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter who clinically knows exactly what it’s like to really sing the blues.

Come darkness, come light
Come new star, shining bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

Come broken, come whole
Come wounded in your soul
Come anyway that you know
Alleluia

Come doubting, come sure
Come fearful to this door
Come see what love is for
Alleluia

Come running, come walking slow
Come weary on your broken road
Come see Him and shed your heavy load
Alleluia

There’s a humble stable and a light within
There’s an angel hovering and three wise men
Today a baby’s born in Bethlehem
Alleluia

Come darkness come light
Come new star burning bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

Come to the Comfort Service. Come for healing. Come for communion. Come for warmth and music.  Come for solace. Come for peace. Come for prayer. “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. For my yoke is easy and my burden is Light.”

Come for the Light.

Sunday, December 21st, 5:00 pm.
Emmanuel on High
1608 Russell Road
Alexandria, VA.

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