On Mary & Elizabeth (Rethinking Advent, Days 6 – 10)

We meet somewhat biweekly over home-cooked food for conversation. I’ve been piecing together small lessons and discussion guides on womyn in the Bible; we started with Eve, my notes guided from “Eve and Adam” by Phyllis Trible. Then there was Hagar and Sarah, and last night we did one of my favorite pairings: Elizabeth and Mary, mother of Jesus.

In the wash of Christmas, i think the conversation documented in Luke 1:26 – 56 gets barreled over. Marked as less radical, less important than Mary about to pop on a Donkey in the City of David. I think our neglecting of this passage is because we focus on Mary’s “virginity” rather than her willingness to rebel against society for the sake of her faith. This text, when we grapple with the incredulity of the conversation and the context, is revolutionary. What happens between these two womyn causes us to pause in our assumptions. Forces us to realize that womyn are going to play an instrumental role in the ministry of Jesus, going to challenge and subvert systems of patriarchy that the religion founded in Jesus’ name itself will uphold.

Day 6: Awake.

Day 6: Awake.

Mary, an unwed teenager is pregnant – and her life will be on the line when people find out. Elizabeth, whose husband has gone mute at the announcement of her conception, is apparently in her 90s and plump with her first child. Both womyn are in extraordinary, and painfully marginalized, circumstances. I’m reminded of Kierkegaard, who wrote of Mary in Fear and Trembling: “Has any woman been as infringed upon as was Mary, and is it not true here also that the one whom God blesses he [sic] curses in the same breath?”

Mary may have chatted with an angel about what she is now carrying, but that angel certainly didn’t ensure everyone in her community knew she wasn’t some philandering whore. Elizabeth may have long awaited this child, but her youth is clearly long gone and her husband has such disbelief he cannot even speak with his wife.

Day 7: Ready.

Day 7: Ready.

And yet the conversation in Luke is one of nothing but elation; “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth greets her cousin (Luke 1:42). Words later that will be woven into rosaries, laid at the feet of Mary’s likeness in cathedrals that are literally named “Our Lady.”

But Mary doesn’t get to know all that, in this moment. All she knows is that she is with child, and definitely not by the usual route. She’s young, she probably knows how unlikely her story will sound to her fiancé, and she has been chosen to live up to an enormous task.

And still, still she is filled with wonder.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is  meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus' lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

Day 8: Wisdom. This is meant to be a sheaf of wheat, symbolizing Ruth & Naomi and their role in Jesus’ lineage, put on a Jesse Tree by the children at church on Sunday.

“This is like, sisterhood at is absolute best!” commented one of the participants in our discussion. The fact that there are two named womyn having a conversation without a male present is radical enough when looking at the scope of Scripture. But this? This companionship, this fearless faith in each other and that God provides even when the rest of society does not? This is revolutionary.

Day 9: Delight.

Day 9: Delight.

I think this is the sisterhood Mary Daly wanted us to embody, the kind of witnessing and loving and supporting that is needed amongst womanists and feminists. Being unafraid of wonder, even when such wonder is at odds with the world.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class' project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Day 10: Holy. A piece from the Psychology of Racism class’ project: (Re)Defining Racism.

Elizabeth is the first to know whom Mary is carrying; an old, pregnant woman is the first to see the promise given to a teenage girl – a promise then given to all.

And that, that fills me with wonder, too. 

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current jam: “christmas is all around” billy mack.

relevant resources: enuma okoro’s beautiful piece, “when a christian and a muslim meet in paris,” my first post on the rethinking advent photo-a-day project.

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Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: a Review.

It’s no secret i am a voracious consumer of Young Adult fiction. I have yet to start what surely will be the brilliant The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, but this is only because i have been utterly enthralled and consumed by another YA novel for the past three days. When not running around Manhattan, i have been glued to my recently acquired copy of Libba Bray’s most recent masterful work: Beauty Queens.

I’ve been a fan of Bray’s writing ever since i checked out A Great and Terrible Beauty from the local library some five years ago; she is fresh, manipulates a story with ease, and has one of the most wry and clever senses of humor i’ve yet encountered. Having read a smidget of the review for this book on Spark, i knew it promised to be a book of equal calibar to her other works, if not completely different in its setting and style (A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in Victorian England, as i recall).

Beauty Queens is unlike anything i’ve ever read; in its concept, it is nothing unique, and yet it somehow manages to achieve exception both through the quirky narration style and Bray’s masterfully interwoven social commentary. The book begins with an enormous, devastating plane crash: the contestants for the Miss Teen Dream Beauty Pageant have fallen on an unknown island somewhere south of Florida. Hell breaks loose, as the collection of the surviving teen girls try to survive the unruly and unimaginable jungle they have found themselves in. Peppered with hilarious footnotes written by ‘The Corporation,’ the apparent official sponsor of the book (by which Bray is making a pretty snarky commentary on product placement and the cult of the celebrity) and rich character development, the book stands incomparable to most other YA i’ve read.

Unmistakably, the premise reeks of Lord of the Flies; and while the fact that the characters are stranded on an island with no adults to supervise certainly lends credibility to the parallel, the commentary Bray is making on humanity is far different from that of William Golding’s (in my humble opinion). To begin with, the characters are women – and women who embody a spectrum of sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and religions. These women may at first appear to be nothing but vapid products of a consumerist beauty aesthetic impossible to achieve, but as the tale weaves on we learn that not all is as it seems with the pageant wannabees.

In this, Bray has created a beautiful (pun intended) portrait of the expectations forced on men and women in today’s media.  Through hysterical allusions to contemporary pop culture icons like Larry King and Sarah Palin, Bray has created a not-so-alternate universe from our own. She handles such ideas with charm and humor, but simultaneously manages to give space to the gravity of what she is speaking about. Hair removal creams can become explosives, gender lines and expectations are blurred, and no sex ed program will ever be thought of as a scapegoat for “loose women” in her saga. Oh, and pirates. As if feminist theory told in a stranded-island form was not enticing enough!

I adored this work; i recommend it to anyone and everyone to read, be you a teenage girl seeking for some supremely well executed feminist theory or an intellectualist wishing for a more creative vessel by which to consider the implications of the reality TV-like quality governmental elections seem to have taken on.

current jam: ‘heard them stirring’ fleet foxes.

best thing in my life right now: books books books.

how far a little candle throws its beams!

Day 13: Something You’re Grateful For

“How far a little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.” William Shakespeare

Part of simple living is enjoying simple pleasures- or, rather, dealing with the lack of luxuries absent when one lives often without electricity. In the Yellow House we subsist on solar energy to charge our computers and, when there is abundant sunlight, give power to our small refrigerator. It is a wonderful way to utilize the brightness that envelops these plains and utilize renewable resources.

However.

Solar energy can also be quite finicky, most particularly during the rainy season. Which is now. Thus, some days we three find ourselves rotating through charging our computers enough to use for an hour, enduring the grating beeps from the inverter warning us we are using too much power.

And when we’re over-exuberant, the power goes and we spend the evening by the light of a plethora of candles. I actually really don’t mind- I like candlelight and am comfortable enough in the house now to navigate my way around in the dark without too much trouble. When the darkness does fall within our walls I am most grateful for my candle-holder; it is the perfect size for writing in my journal or reading. And, call me foolish, the shape and size of it looks a whole lot like the candle-holder Scrooge carries in the Muppet Christmas Carol. (What, you thought I was all indie and foreign films? Psht. This is a family classic- a must-watch for the McMizzies every Christmas Eve). So I kind of feel like I’m living in a storybook when the power goes and we exist by the beams of a candle.

And speaking of things to be grateful for…

In the upcoming week, an entire nation of people will have something incredible and new to be profoundly thankful for: independence. On July 9th, South Sudan will become its own nation.

And I’m going to be there to celebrate with the Sudanese!

On Wednesday, the three Kotido-dettes are departing for Gulu with a crew from the Diocese. From Gulu, where we’ll be joined by a slew of nuns and other MCC folk, we’ll head north to Juba (the capital to-be). We’ll be staying with some friends and fellow MCC people in Juba for the big day!

Now, because I have a sneaking suspicion some of you might be a tad worried about me heading off to Sudan, I shall quell your fears: the violence ongoing is mostly occurring in the Abeyi region, far north of Juba. The conflict is truly a north-on-north one, and the people with whom we’re traveling/staying with are Sudanese, nuns, clergy, and MCC volunteers who live full-time in South Sudan. So I will be in confident, knowing, and safe hands.

That being said, I’m not sure how frequently I will be able to post in the next week and a half, as many a long day will be spent on buses and in cars and in a nation where I’m not sure if our internet modem will work. I will most definitely try to post at least once while in Juba, but as of Wednesday the 30 Day Photo Challenge will be on a temporary hold.

current jam: “england” the national

best thing in my life right now: clean sheets!

fantas consumed: 10

last film: stardust…again. it might be one of my favorite movies of all time. no judgement!