The Mary Who Said No (a poem)

* I wrote this poem as a way to process my response to this article about divine rape and sexism in religious narratives (which has its own issue but nevertheless raises important questions). It  solves nothing and not just because I lack the authority to rewrite history. It leaves plenty of its own issues. But it gives me a momentary hope in the God I love so deeply. And this Christmas, I need that. (Also, I don’t remotely believe God is male, but it matters that we’ve interpreted God that way so for the poem – male pronouns were important.)

“No.”
She said, her voice soft.

“No.”
She said again.
Louder.
Defiance echoed in the small room.

Through the blinding light
the angel blinked, owlishly.
Silence stretched.

She shifted. Waiting.

“No… what?”
the question finally came,
uncharacteristic uncertainty in angelic tones.

“No.” She said, still surprised at her own daring.
“No, God cannot take me.
No, God cannot use me like a jar
for his designs.
No, God cannot shatter my worth
and leave me pregnant
and sit back and watch it from afar
like entertainment for the king’s court.”

“Well… God can…” the angel started, but she was on a tear.

“He doesn’t even know me!” She cried.
Indignant hands rested on her still small hips.
She was so young.

“He knows you,” said the angel.

“Well I don’t know him.
If he wants me so badly, let him come and talk to me himself.”

Another silence, and then… absence.
The angel left her in the dark.

And so she slept… and wondered.
And wondered… and slept.

In the morning, God was with her.
Not in her, not using her, not demanding her submission.
With her.
Tentative, nervous,
humbled and inspired.

And God stayed.
And she stayed too.
They talked and they laughed
and they learned
each other.
God stayed for a long, long time.

And when she felt
that she was no longer an object to him,
when his need to use her
and his conviction that she should be glad
gave way to genuine desire
to create with her

When that moment came to be,
she let him in.

And then his love for her
in her particular human feistiness,
and the love she returned
in her own power and strength,
grown in time and trust,
took root in her young body.

And it grew and grew
into a love
that would save the world.

Amen.

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Courage, Trust, Patience, Presence: Reflections on a Year Lived Bravely

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A year ago, I embarked on a quest to live more bravely. I dedicated this past year to courage, and wrote a blog post about it (as I do). In that blog, I talked about how I wanted to be a bigger a part of the work that God was doing in this world and that in order to do so, I needed the one thing I felt that I had always struggled to have: courage. I talked about knowing that I was a strong person—that I could survive just about anything, but recognizing that it took more than strength to grow and to dare and to risk.

I said, “I am not interested, really, in head-long, daredevil dives. I am, however, interested in real, deep love of myself and others and of really seeking justice. I am desperate for the kind of courage that allows you to let someone in, to be vulnerable, to name what you believe even when it’s hard, to say the thing that’s on your heart, to let go of needing others’ approval, to screw up sometimes in the name of trying to be better, to forgive, to give up control so you can become a part of the Greater Work and let the wonders of life unfold around you.”

And so I committed myself to daring every day to do things that scared me. Because I’m me, I had grand plans for this endeavor. There was going to be a dedicated blog. Endless listicles. A book option. At least one daring act of bravery a day dutifully recorded and processed.

It didn’t take long for most of those fancy plans to fall away. But the courage thing stuck around. I really have thought about it every day. And I really have pushed myself, over and over, to do things that scare me. Some of them are obvious acts of courage: I’ve asked for jobs, I’ve stood up for myself against bullies, I’ve moved across country and started a new life. Some of them were more specific to my own struggles and anxieties: I’ve cold-called strangers about opportunities. I’ve named my truth in really hard moments. I’ve committed to rekindling relationships I’d neglected. I have let friends in more deeply than I ever had. I have risked opening my heart. I have been brave.

And in this adventure, I have learned a few things. It took almost no time at all for me to realize perhaps my most important lesson: for me, courage is about trust. The very first time I found myself confronted with an opportunity to be brave, as panic and fear began to set in – I started to pray. And I realized that what I needed to be able to do to enter this moment of fear and daring was trust God. Not so much trust that God was going to protect me from hard things or make things turn out my way, but just trust that God was there with me, loving me beyond all comprehension, and ultimately holding all things together for the good.

I’ll admit something: trust is a hard thing for me. The hardest thing, really. And the great paradox of it all is that trust requires quite a bit of courage, but you can’t have courage without trust either. I found myself, in moments of fear and trembling, imagining God grasping my hand and asking “Do you trust me?”and then me, summoning all my courage and faith, responding, “I trust you.” I actually began saying this personal catechism out loud every time I wanted to be brave. On the question my voice would waver, and then I would take a deep breath and say the answer “I trust you” even when I wasn’t sure. I swear—miracle of miracles—every time, at the end, a sense of comfort would wash over me. And I would realize—I do. I do trust.

I have never been a prayer mantra person, but I have said that question and answer a hundred thousand times in the last year. In a particularly hard month, I had a leather bracelet made with those words engraved on it and now I wear it daily. Sometimes, I have imagined it is a conversation with God, other times, it has been a conversation about trusting myself. Learning that I can do both has, in turn, led me to do many other incredible things. I am still fearful, but I also believe, and dare, and trust. And so, as it turns out, I can be brave after all.

————

Knowing that gives me the courage to enter into next year’s quest: patience and presence. Presence (and patience with it), too, has always been a struggle for me—perhaps my biggest struggle. I am always trying to remember and analyze the past and plan and control the future so I don’t get hurt, or fail, or miss something. Of course, that sort of over-functioning only guarantees that you’ll miss everything that’s right in front of you.

I realized at one point this year that for me, presence is also about trust. In my journal, I put it this way, “being truly present in the current moment requires that you fully entrust every other moment to others: other people, or God, or the you that you have been or will be: this very moment is all [this very] you gets. It is more than enough. (Cherish it.)”

I grateful for the life I’ve been given and the wealth of moments entrusted to me. I want to learn to grasp and give thanks for each one. I have no idea how to do this (advice welcome!) and frankly, the idea of letting all the rest of it go terrifies me. But that’s okay, because now I know that I am brave enough to do it anyway.

And whether it’s God, or me, or this life itself asking, “do you trust me?”—I know the answer: “I trust you.” In this moment. And always.

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God Laughs Me Into Hope: A Poem

Some mornings
God laughs me into hope.
She is sneaky like that.

While I am busy fretting
and She’s busy
holding the mourning,
and stirring up discomfort
in the sleepy and complacent,
and loving this world
in all its messiness,

She spares a momentary finger
to poke me in the side
and then a holy hand
around my ear
to whisper:
“You are ridiculous.
And fine.
Ridiculous!”
She laughs.
“I love you.”

And since Her laugh
once birthed a world,
it gives me hope
and swells my daring.

Thank God, She knows me
and laughs.