Thursday, August 31, 2006

Leaving the Shore

I grew up in this little seashore town, whose population swells ten-or twenty-fold for three months out of the year. I have year-round memories, of course. The summer memories are informed by the Coppertone ads (I can still smell that cocoanutty sweetness) in which the little Scottie pulls at the bathing suit bottom, revealing (what was then) an enviable tan line. (Judging by the folks I've seen here these last three days, there are still many aspiring to that look, cancer-causing though it may be.) My summer childhood was, essentially, one long day at the beach, with a packed lunch and a mom who changed my bathing suit and powdered me every time I came out of the ocean.

It is in the ocean that the lessons I learned in Catholic school about God had their context and began to make sense. In the ocean, yes, there was silliness. I remember being with a friend, and imitating the one leg cocked flight of Pixanne (the star of a Philadelphia area children's show modeled on Peter Pan), and laughing until we choked on the salty water and panted with exhaustion. But in the ocean there was also the intimation of eternity, of something large and delicious and dangerous that could pick me up and throw me around, and could cradle me and soothe me, and could thrill my body in ways I later learned could be described as erotic. In the ocean I became convinced of an ultimate Other who was still somehow an ultimate With-me.

Going home today, to landlocked life; a little surge of the tide within.

James... Knowing the Truth

This Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary offers a passage from near the beginning of the letter of James. So many questions about James: was it really, for example, written by Jesus' brother? THAT James? (Scholarly consensus, probably no.) And don't you just love a piece of the bible that so pissed off Martin Luther that he called it "an epistle of straw"? He hated, loathed, despised and abominated this little gem because it seemed to veer wildly away from what he thought was the Main Thesis of the New Testament, i.e. Justification by Grace and Not Works. And then we have old James, maybe a guy with some sibling rivalry issues none of us can even begin to appreciate, saying, Ahem, "Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."

Speaking of which: I opened to this passage today, hoping to be able to apply it self-righteously to an email I got yesterday that scared the crap out of me, and then made me mad, and then made me want to exact vengeance. James would not cooperate. "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness." Aw, man. James is like a good pre-school teacher, saying, Lovey, you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk, ok? (I wanted to pin the quick to speak anger stuff on the emailer. Ooops.) James says, if we are hearers but not doers of the word, we are like folks who look at ourselves in a mirror and then walk away, quickly forgetting what we look like. (Hey! Sounds like a shout out to PeaceBang!) So by extrapolation... being doers of the word is like keeping a mirror before ourselves at all times, not so that we can say, "Why, how righteously pretty you are my sweet!," but so that we can know the truth, and know the truth, and know the truth some more.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Goodbye #2 to MagSon, and a Few Days at the Shore with MagDaughter and Grandpop

I awakened this morning from a vivid dream in which I was swimming around the bay in the seashore town where I grew up, nine-plus months pregnant with a baby I was planning to name Ruby Madeleine. I was very contented with myself, and using the water as my main mode of transportation around town.

I am, in fact, in that same town, having bid a second farewell to MagSon (oh hell, let's just call him Laurence O.) at his fabulous dorm at Great Big U. Now MagDaughter (Petra!) and I are with Grandpop for a few days, one last chance to walk on the beach and let our hair get frizzy and eat freshly caught flounder before our upstate New York autumn really takes hold.

So I wonder: Am I dreaming of a replacement baby for the child who is, well, sort of launched? (Even as I type that I hear the snickering of the Fates as they peer ahead to see him living at home to age 37...) Or is this baby some kind of connection to my mom, gone for just six months, as I sleep under the roof where she took her final breaths? Last night my father brought out a little plastic box in which my mom kept her caul. The caul is a membrane that covers the face of some babies at birth, and which, my mother told me, was thought by her Irish family to signal that she had the "second sight." In my experience of my mother this felt true-- she was an emotionally powerful woman who did have an uncanny (but perhaps, in the end, simply motherly) way of knowing.

I can't seem to shake the silly joy of my dream pregnancy. It lingered as Petra and I walked through the warm surf this morning, watching the sandpipers run, first toward the waves, and then away from them, and towards, and away.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Milestone Time

Oh my. Milestone time. Yesterday, at 5:15 pm local time I put my strapping 18 year old son in a car with the former Mr. Magdalene, to be driven to college in the Big City. MagSon is an actor, and has been accepted at his first choice school to hone his craft. I am overjoyed, and at the same time, filled with the memories of how devastating it was for my own mother when her babies left the nest. For some reason, she just didn't see that one coming. I am of the "We've prepared his whole life for this day" school of thought, and truly celebrate my firstborn's stretching his wings at last.

But oh my. What an empty house it is. The absence of things like "Rammstein" pitched at high volume, and tall, funny friends (and tiny sweet girlfriend) roaming in and out, and the constant battle to mow or take out the trash... and piling together on the sofa with MagDaughter like three puppies to watch Desperate Housewives... leaves a void. We rattle around, the almost-14-year-old and I.

Here is MagSon at a particularly fabulous moment, in a production of "Yeomen of the Guard" this past summer. Neat.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Women at the Tomb

Several years ago my denomination published a calendar with the art of the amazing He Qi. In honor of the namesake of this blog, I offer this haunting portrait.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just Call Me "The Accidental Blogger"

There I was, minding my own business-- well, actually, I was trying to post a comment on PeaceBang's site-- when, in the course of events, I was sucked into a vortex that completely altered the space-time continuum, and.... I ended up with this blog.

Perhaps it would be best to start with the name. Corny, perhaps. But let me hasten to insist that I have been a fan of the great apostola apostolorum since long before she got mixed up in any well-plotted but poorly written best-selling novels. For many years Mary Magdalene has been my personal heroine for the following reasons:

1. She has been misunderstood. Beginning with an early-medieval dyspeptic pope, the "sins" of sexuality and prostitution have been ascribed to Magdalene. She has been called a prostitute, painted as a harlot, following Jesus because he forgave her great sins. She has been associated with the woman washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. She has been assumed to have been the woman taken in adultery. There is no scriptural basis for any of this. What we do know of Magdalene forms the basis for my admiration, and it is the following:

2. Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her (taken by the aforementioned dyspeptic pope to signify the Seven Deadly Sins). Scholars don't know exactly what "seven demons" means, whether to take it literally or as a description of something like severe psychosis or other neurological condition. I for one don't dismiss the possibility of demons out of hand. What I think we can be confident of is this: she knew the profound depths of human brokenness, and she knew the dizzying joy of rescue. She is a model for all who know themselves to be both broken and saved.

3. Mary and some other women followed Jesus, providing for him out of their means. The experience of rescue changed Mary's life. It placed her feet on another path. She wanted to stay close to her rescuer, whether to hear his teaching or to feel his reassuring presence. She walked the path of discipleship with conviction.

4. She was present at the cross. It is hard to overstate the courage this indicates. In the face of the bloodiest, most brutal form of execution, she did not run and hide, but stayed and bore witness.

5. She was witness to the resurrection, whatever that means, whatever form that took. She was at the center of the early church's experience of the risen Christ. She was in the garden, in lovely counterpoint to Eve, backing into paradise instead of being driven out of it.

Was Mary Jesus' wife or girlfriend? Heck. I don't know. I don't much care; I'm not sure it matters either way (though I am perturbed by the implication that a woman's greatness is always assumed to be derivative). I simply feel an affection and an affinity for this woman, shadowy figure that she is, who stood at the threshold of great mystery and walked right in.