God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation, says Mary. NOT “God’s mercy is for the rich”. She didn’t say that. NOT God’s mercy is for the upper-class. She didn’t say that either. And neither did she congratulate the selfish who are increasingly rewarded in our society and by our politicians (and apparently, by our votes): the influence-peddlers and the professors in their offices and the business-people in their downtown towers. For the mighty one of Israel, Mary said, has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Notice that word: empty. You and I –we’ve already had enough. Advent is about who we see and who we ignore, an announcement about place and privilege. It’s about justice. It’s about how much a cup of coffee costs, and who manufactures our shoes, and whether some government committee paid for by our taxes cuts funding for social programs. And it’s about our political and economic and environmental opinions just as much as our religious opinions. Because the surprise we’d better learn now, is that those things cannot be separated.
I know a woman, my age, who told me that when she was fifteen she and a young boy of her acquaintance, shy as her, spent a whole hour in her basement. 60 minutes. Exquisite, painfully adolescent, effervescent minutes. faces pressed together, lips and noses so close they were breathing each other’s air. Never once kissing. But their breath, back and forth, back and forth. Giddy with the excitement, the carbon dioxide of it all. And then she smiled, and looked over at her husband of 25 years, and said: “Do you remember Stew?”
Breath to breath. Oh there’s got to be something to that.
And God took clay, and formed it into the shape of a man, but it was empty. A ragged, lifeless doll, until God breathed into that doll, took a long deep breath and blew, Michelangelo had it wrong. Not Sistine Chapel fingertips at a distance, but this Adam, this man so close, cheek to cheek with the creator, chaos and nothingness, tohu webohu, face to face, the image of God in something new, receiving life. Do you remember Stew? Earth to earth, ashes to ashes. But then what of the spirit, that returns from whence it came?
In olden days, or so it says in our scriptures, the disciples of Jesus were locked in a room by fear, dead on the inside, or as good as dead with dread. Until, in the midst of prayer, flames appeared above every head, sucking the air out of that room, and leaving only the new breath, of power and might, of courage and of the fear of the Lord. the breath of joy, the sharp intake, the shock, the short sharp inhalation in that moment of divine wonder. Breath to breath. Spirit to spirit. And it was dark that evening, the dark of things hidden, or hiding, sweet sandlewood hanging on heavy summer air, How can a man enter into his mother’s womb, asked the elder, his face in the shadows. Careful. Those who have much to lose sometimes have trouble breathing. How is one born again? How is that possible? And Jesus leaned in toward that shadow: with God, all things are. And have been. And will be. The blessed breath moves where it will. It passes, yet no one knows where it has gone. Will it be long? asked the elder. Any moment now, Jesus answered. And then, spent and empty, on a cross, in pain he cried out: “receive my spirit!” And it was hard to tell in that moment – and sometimes still – if it was a blessing, or a curse.
Where I grew up, the wind blew so hard sometimes that as a young child you could open your coat and feel it billow like a sail, or perhaps like wings, And lean into it, and dance, and feel it carry you. But that was then. This is now. When I was a child, said Paul, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, Then when I grew up, I gave up childish things. But: we all have to breathe. So: May we open our coats and let them fill, to that breath that goes where it will, that sometimes takes ours away that sometimes fills us to overflowing, that spins us around, and sends us elsewhere. May we lean in, and breathe. May we learn, and dare. 60 minutes would be fine. But a lifetime better. And more than a lifetime, longer. For now we breathe into a mirror darkly, but then, nose to nose, cheek to cheek with the blessed, giddy with excitement, the spirit of it all, in the presence of our Creator, may we breathe like Stew, back and forth, back and forth, Breath to breath. Spirit to spirit. Face to face.