Monday, April 26, 2010

Celebrating Natality

I am reading Diarmund O'Murchu's "Catching up with Jesus: A Gospel Story for Our Time." So far I am quite enjoying it as it is giving me things to think about. This following put into words some of what I celebrate.

According to O'Murchu, Grace Jantzen proposes that "Redemption comes not through mortality with the emphasis on death and suffering but through natality celebrating the birthing, flourishing, and growth of everything in creation."

I thought about this. Death is something that is certain and relatively predictable. No we can't predict the exact moments nor in the long run can we fully control death but death is something that comes to all things. Birth is uncertain and unpredictable. Human beings tend to prefer the certain and predictable even when that means death. Witness how so many of our churches are shrinking into closure because death is preferable to the unknown of what might happen if we actually try something new.

But this idea of redemption being in natality really speaks to me. I have always had a problem with the emphasis on the cross and suffering. I much prefer to find things to celebrate - to look for the many blessings big and small in our lives and the world around that speak to God's ongoing presence and working. I do not believe that creation is finished but is ongoing. When the Kin-dom is complete so will creation be complete. And I don't see the coming in of the Kin-dom as an apocalyptic event but rather a growing of the cosmos into the purposes for which God created it and a coming of the world of Shalom here on earth.

In seminary we had to study Rowan Williams' book "The Wound of Knowledge." Now I will readily admit that with my problems trying to understand the written word I struggled to make sense of the book. It took me a couple of reads in order to "see" what Williams was trying to say (I may have mentioned before that I see in concepts, images, visions and find understanding the written word difficult unless the author is deliberately drawing word pictures). I do remember discussing one of the chapters in class. It had been about Augustine and how he believed that God was found in our weak times - in our cross moments. I argued that for Augustine, a male of some stature, those moments would not have been the norm and so it was legitimate for him to believe that God was most often found in them. But as a woman, times of powerlessness, of vulnerablity etc. were not so rare. I usually find God in the powerful moments spent in creation - both in the outdoors with bright warm sunshine and a lovely breeze or whipping wind and in the creating process of craft work.

It is interesting that if we look at this redemption in natality idea, women are more ideally situated traditionally to experience it. We are the ones to go through the pain and uncertainty of giving physical birth. We are the ones who are sterotypically considered the nurturers of relationship. These things, as part of our norm, can lead into a shared experience with the Creating Divine.

The emphasis on the cross and suffering carries with it the major views of atonement which centre around sin and judgement. It models and power over, an authority based relationship and a separation of the sacred and the secular. It is about control, and distance and it tends to keep things in the head rather than embodied.

What happens if our emphasis is on natality? We begin to focus on embodiedment, on incarnation and relationship. We tend to celebrate life and open ourselves to wondrous possibilities. We experience the awe and mystery of the various relationships with the Divine. Instead of trying to understand in a scientific manner we tend to feel the awe and mystery with a sense of euphoric oneness. The more intellectual model tends to focus on separation with a sense of our littleness in connection with an all powerful male God.

The embodied understanding that can come out of a celebration of natality helps lead us in a "seeing"/experiencing of the sacred in all things. This is my style of spirituality. I don't keep regular prayer habits or practices. Instead, I celebrate and try to open myself to the presence of the Divine all day. I have certain practices that I do when I want to do this in a deliberate manner. These practices usually involve embodiment. They usually involve more than one or two of the senses. And very rarely do they involve structured prayer or reading. They might involve music and meditation, which I have learned help me to open myself to the awe and mystery. In the warmer weather I try to do these practices outside sitting on the ground with the warmth of the sunshine and a breeze flowing past me. I find that this is the time that I am closest to the Divine.

Whether this is an outcome of the what I was taught about the relationship between the Divine and the individual and also with all other parts of creation or whether I needed to have these experiences to more fully understand the beliefs I was taught as a child, I am not sure. But I believe that my growing faith and my practices are definitely intermeshed. This celebration of natality as O'Murchu calls is has helped me form my ministry style. I can see the Divine at work in all things.

It does mean that I rarely talk about sin. It is not that I don't believe that we sin, that we cause separation between God and us and between us and others on a regular basis. I just don't believe that constantly pointing out where we fail accomplishes a huge amount in the long run. I have experienced the harm it does in a way less than full relationship with God as a young adult. I could not pray or participate in various ways in a service because I was no where near worthy enough. I prefer to celebrate the ways in which God is active in our lives and the lives of others around us. When I develop relationships with people I focus on the good within them. It is not that I am unaware of the edges, I just don't let that colour my interactions. I prefer to respond to the good and foster the development of that.

Natality lends itself more easily to a power with scenario. It lends itself to the uncertainty of being with people as they journey through life and walking with them in their struggles listening to them and stepping back far enough for them to make the decisions they need to make. It means facing those outcomes with them rather than taking charge when we feel they are wrong and criticizing when the outcomes are less than perfect.

It lends itself to a more inclusive acceptance of people. Part of this is because instead of holding the masculine up as the ultimate goal as our Christian faith has traditionally done (based not so much on the Scriptures as on the erroneous theories of pagan philosophers, something I find so totally ironic when people call me a heretic) it celebrates all aspects of the human sexuality. There is no fear of the feminine that leads to a need to treat woman differently in so many unjust ways and that also leads to a fear of homosexuality and its challenge to traditional understandings of male/female roles. There is an understanding that creation needs both male and female equally, that each person has gifts that contribute to the creating process in important ways - that the reality is we need all in order to create.

I think it also leads to a better way of growing into the mission to which God calls us. We are better able to step out trusting in the uncertainty of future as we try new things. We are better able to let go and trust in God. We don't end up locked inside our church buildings afraid to face the unpredictable world outside them.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

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