In a time of cultural turmoil, during a period of personal crisis, Amythyst Kiah was woke by “a siren with broken wings.” She rose up and sang this song, Sleeping Queen. It is a a song that Kiah describes as a lament. She grieves for the unjust world described by philosopher, Michel Foucault. It is the world we live in. It is a world where power is abused and the torture of human beings continues, in the name of discipline and punishment.
In a time of cultural turmoil, during a period of personal crisis, a young betrothed woman called Mary was woke by an angel. Mary rose up and sang a song of celebration. Her soul “magnifies God” and Mary rejoices about a world described by the Hebrew Prophets. It is the world we live in. It is a world where power is abused and the torture of human beings continues, not only in the name of discipline but all too often in the name of God.
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, the third Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. From the Latin term gaudēte – meaning rejoice – in churches everywhere, this is traditionally a day of joy of anticipation at the approach of the Christmas celebration. During Advent, Christians traditionally focus on “three comings of Christ.” The first coming of Christ was into human history via Mary’s body and what Christians call the Incarnation. The last coming of Christ is the now ever delayed Parousia. But most importantly, on this day Christians celebrate and look forward to the daily coming of Christ into the lives of those who are “in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I grew up in a Christian household and went to a Christian Church. But it was not a liturgical church. The Bible was “important.” But 2,000 years of Christian traditions, teachings and creeds seemed of very little, if any importance. It was not until I was in my first year as a Religion major at Calvin college that I remember hearing my first (and still the best) Advent sermon I ever heard. The Pastor’s name was Mara Joy. And she radiated with joy as she invited all of us within the sound of her voice to vigilantly watch for “the coming of Christ” into human lives each and every day. I guess in some ways. I’ve been working on this “sermon” or reflection ever since hearing that one some 15 years ago.
If you’re just tuning in, the first two weeks of Advent, we looked at some of the literary and theological parallels between the lectionary passages from the Prophet, Isiah and Matthew’s gospel. This Sunday’s Readings provide a welcome break in the alternative gospel reading from Luke: Mary’s Magnificat. It is Mary’s song of joy, exclaimed shortly after her visit from the angel, and upon her arrival in the home of her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also pregnant with a slightly different kind of miraculous conception. According to the stories those babies turned out to be John the Baptist and Jesus. It’s a boy times two!
But, could Mary and Elizabeth’s conversation and Mary’s subsequent song pass the The Bechdel test? I think so! The dozen or so male pronouns in Mary’s song betrays the weakness of religious language and language in general. Whatever God is, God probably doesn’t have a penis. Right?!? And this song is not primarily about what God is going to do in her son. No! In this song, Mary recounts to Elizabeth the miraculous stories passed down through the generations about the things God has done. She sings of a God that abounds with mercy and steadfast love from one generation to another. Mary sings of a God that humbles the haughty and powerful and lifts up the downtrodden. Most of all, Mary expresses gratitude and joy God had chosen her.
Most often, pastors love to preach that Mary was surprised, honored and above all that she surrendered to the will of God. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve heard the story so many times that the scandal of it all gets a bit lost on us.
I am not talking about the silly “was she simply a young woman or a virgin” arguments. But the real scandal: Its in the song. Its in today’s story from Luke. Its a story told in song from one woman to another. It is a story about one woman being filled with God – literally.
Today, the vast majority of American Christians are heretical by creedal standards. But in 431 CE things were a lot different. In the first few centuries of Christianity, if you were a prominent Bishop and you said the wrong thing about Jesus, you could get your ass killed! Or worse, you could be condemned to eternal damnation in Hell upon death. In fact,in 431, at what today is called the “Third Ecumenical Council” of the church condemned q guy named Nestorius and all of his followers for arguing that Mary was merely Christotokos, meaning “Bearer of the Christ” rather than Theotokos, “Bearer of God.”
For Nestorius it was first and foremost a rejection of associating God almighty too closely with humanity and human flesh. This was no longer the easily digestible and intelligible stuff about Jesus having two distinct natures in one person or three distinct personhoods of the “Trinity” subsisting in one “triune” God. This was truly radical stuff about divine personhood not only dwelling in flesh, but also passing through another human body. The body of a young woman. For out of her vagina, in a “manger” presumably with blood, a placenta, and other bodily fluids on the barn floor next to some poor Bethlehem Farmer’s ox and ass, would come… God.
Mary had a dream. Amythyst Kiah had a dream. Both women in one way or another confront the difficult reality of living in a world where the bodies of women are superficially critiqued by the society around them. a society that makes false Character judgements based almost exclusively on outward appearance and what they do or don’t do with their bodies in private. One woman praises God for what she sees as God’s faithfulness in times past. This lends weight to her expression of joy and praise about what she believes God will do, in part through her.
I wish I could say the world has changed tremendously since Mary’s Magnificat. But Amythyst Kiah just wrote Sleeping Queen in 2016. She wrote it in a time where elected leaders in a “free” Republic can go on national TV and brag about what they do to the bodies of women without consent. She wrote it in a world where men still regulate what women can and cannot do with their own sexual and reproductive health. She wrote this song somewhere around the time of The Pulse night club massacre in 2016. The recent attack at Club Q exposes the dark, xenophobic underbelly of our “free” society. Its a song of Lament, yes! Absolutely! But like Mary’s, it is also a song of hope. And like Mary’s Magnificat it is a song of radical hope in the face of a cruel world. It is a world in which people still find a perverse satisfaction in inflicting torture and cruelty in the name of “justice.” In this world of injustice where it seems like Mary’s song will never come to fruition, I don’t blame Kiah for going back to sleep that day.
But still I
wait fight for the world these women collectively envision. I fight for my mother who showed me by example -her words were something different – that the creative power of the “divine” and the destructive force of the “demonic” lives in each and every one of us. I am thankful to the Mother of my children, for doing that which divinity does: encompassing and bearing new life. Thank you to my daughter for teaching me that I just don’t know shit! Seriously! All the time. Thank you to Leigh and Leanne for believing in me when I simply could not. And of course, thank you to my wife, and best friend for teaching me the true meaning of love that is patient. love that is kind, love that does not brag, envy, or boast. I want to love more like her each day.
I also want to dedicate this post to the women who taught me how to sing!!! Shuhada Sadaqat, who most of my life I have known as Sinéad MF O’Connor, thank you for living! Simply put, without you and your music I might not be alive today. Your music, has been a healing balm throughout most of my life! I really, truly hope I get to meet you while we both still share air and space on this earth. I give a huge shout out to Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson made me feel like me and my Dead Beat Club friends were going to be okay (someday). Thank you, thank you, thank you to Ani Difranco for teaching me that I didn’t have to be In or Out.
Last but certainly not least, thank you to Amythyst Kiah for this beautiful artistic statement. I hope do right by you. And I hope you have a beautiful, awesome, amazing, fanfuckingtastic Birthday! Celebrate you today! All day! And every day! Thanks one & all for reading. Until next Sunday, peace to you.