IMG_0871I loved the Christmas story growing up.  It  was the one time of  year that church seemed to center around the children.  We sang songs without hymnals and performed pageants where the costumes were more important than the words we  memorized.  There was a sense of mystery in all of this and perhaps, besides the candle light, it felt mysterious that Jesus had actually once been a baby and a little kid just like me.    When I was a teenager I still liked the baby’s birth but the “virgin” birth was troubling.  My questions were answered by adults who quoted Gabriel who explained it to Mary, “With God all things are possible.”   I began to think that believing in the “Virgin Birth” determined whether one was a real Christian.  You can imagine my relief when I asked my New Testament professor  in college what he thought.  His response was simply, ” Certainly you don’t think you are the only Christian in history who has questioned the meaning of virgin birth?”  I felt a bit embarrassed by his short response but I left his office with a great sense of relief.

In Seminary the “virgin birth” was addressed by current scholarship:  being born of a virgin was a popular myth in the Roman Empire therefore the Caesars claimed to be born of virgins.  Since the myth was used to connect the throne of the Caesars to the throne of the gods we can’t help but ask why the writer/s of Luke wouldn’t use the myth of the Virgin Birth to usurp the power of the Roman Empire that had dehumanized the existence of their community?   I could hardly contain my excitement regarding the implications of this information.

In the spirit of  the Hebrew prophets who had gone before them, the early Jesus community risked their lives and used the story of Jesus birth to address the greed of Emperors, wealthy patrons and political priests who claimed God as their refuge while at the same time refusing to provide refuge for the widows, orphans and the poor.  Reframing the “virgin” birth in the context of Roman Culture, the Gospel of Luke opens up the story of  the “little people” (represented by Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds) who live as the “expendables” in the Great Roman Empire.  Mary’s Magnificat becomes a political protest; the poor are lifted up rather than disposed of by earthly political power.

I am excited that the children and youth of Wellspring are putting on the play, “The Version Birth“, by Dot Saunders-Perez; Music & Lyrics by Janet Allyn.  I am deeply grateful that they will not grow up wrestling with an outdated doctrine of the church, but a radical story of the expendables who believed and were transformed because God showed up in their neighborhood in the flesh of one who looked like them!

Pondering the meaning and mystery of Christmas……..Naomi   (Luke 1: 26 -56)

I direct gender specific programs at Children and Family Urban ministries.  The Whyld Girls program is in its 9th year.  Watching girls grow and find their voices always brings a deep joy to me that has few words for expression.  Each year we create a program theme that layers and weaves itself through expressions of writing, poetry, performance and artistic expression.   “About Face” is this year’s program theme.   The girls are beginning to name the pressures of media and a culture of consumerism that attempts to dictate the perfect shape of each face and body.  There are few places to celebrate the unique shape and face of each girl.  This is what we work to do in the Whyld Girls.

Linda Lewis, an Iowa Artist who specializes in clay sculptures, provided the girls an opportunity to shape their person and face in an original sculpture. Through the week  clay girls, who were giddy, grounded and wise, begin to take shape and rise out of the creative movement of the clay.

We started cutting large skirts textured with designs and words.   Then we learned to shape bodies, breasts and butts.  Next were the arms positioned to show an attitude and necks that held heads that were turned to the sky, or perhaps gazing straight ahead.  The clay girls evolved through the week.  The shapes came from the creative imagination as well as the connection of hands to clay, subconsiously shaping the figure .  The hair crowned each sculpture: flowing, curled, stacked high, short, tucked under  but the focal point of the piece remained fixed on that large skirt….those words and designs seem to find their expression in every other part of the clay sculpted body.    Scarves, hats, jewelry, glazes highlighted the personality of each figure. Not one looked alike.  All were stunning and beautiful.

Each night I walked into our make shift art studio to find a life of liberation evolving under the plastic covering of clay girls.  The plastic kept the clay soft so that it could continue to be shaped through the week.  During our journaling time the girls shared about how easy it was to change the clay and the shapes with just a drop of water.  They didn’t have to worry about mistakes.  One of the girls reflected that she had to learn to follow Linda’s instructions to handle the clay gently rather than kneading it with her fists.  We learned that if you keep kneading and pressing the clay it will break down and you will have to start again with new clay.  She reflected, “That is how it is with my life sometimes.  I knead it to death rather than being gentle with myself.”

One night I had a dream or a vision.  I am not sure which.   I saw the figures come to life during the night hours, liberating themselves from the sheet of plastic.  They found each other in common hopes and dreams; they celebrated each other’s differences and strengths.  When the sun began to rise they went back under the plastic cover, waiting for a time to be set free to teach their creators the joy of knowing oneself and the possibility of shaping one’s life.

on the journey……………celebrating life….Naomi

“Spring cleaning” was a common household term I heard growing up. It meant washing windows, inside and out, and wiping out the dust in the window sills that had blown through the cracks and collected during the winter.  We took down curtains for washing and blinds for dusting. We paid attention to cleaning corners hidden behind furniture and wiping down the woodwork. We dove into cabinets and closets getting rid of unneeded items as well as the junk that mysteriously showed up.  “Where in the world did this come from?” we’d ask.  Rarely did anyone know the answer.   Whether you were 6 or 60 everyone pitched in to get the work done.  We all were responsible for a task, working together to accomplish a job no one had time to do on their own.   Upon completion we’d sit down and talk about how great the house looked; how good it felt. The house didn’t seem as crowded and we found things we had lost since the last spring cleaning. We took time to admire and congratulate ourselves.  One, because we worked and accomplished a large task together.  Two, because we knew that this moment of satisfaction after our hard work, was just that, a moment.  We’d go back to cleaning with “hitting the high points” as my mom would say, “to keep it up as best we could.”  The prairie dust would find it way into the unseen corners and crevices of the house again.  Items would be lost in the clutter and mysterious things would appear in cupboards. Out grown or worn out clothes and shoes would pile up in the closet.

Spring cleaning was a necessity in maintaining our lives.  We knew that the clutter and dust would become greater than the people who lived in the house if we did not annually sort through the clutter and move the dust and dirt in the corners and windows back outside.

Lent comes every year and it has become for me a bit like a good spring cleaning of my soul.  Physical and spiritual clutter can distract and overwhelm me from what really matters. I dust out the crevices and corners I haven’t had time to pay attention to and clean the windows in order to see more clearly. I get into the back of the closet where old and unused ideas are stashed.  Through practice I appreciate that the cleaning is a necessity or else the dust and clutter will consume the energy of my spirituality. I ask the same questions of my soul as I ask when I clean a closet:  Where did this come from?  Should I even give this away since it is so old?  Can you believe what I found?

Lent invites us to walk with Jesus through the several perspectives presented in the Gospels and cut to the chase of how this life of faith and commitment brings life and light to the world. This editing/cleaning work of Lent can be as troublesome to us as is evidenced by the disciples in the Gospels. Getting rid of old ideas that entomb the spirit of the law rather than liberate the soul is still as essential in following the Jesus Way.  I am completing week two and I am already feeling the load lighten.

Blessings on the journey………………….Skywoman

“Walk in the Spirit way.  Live life in the wisdom way.”   These words were a birthday blessing given to me from a Blackfoot Indian medicine man this past summer when I was at the St. Mary’s Visitor Center in Glacier National Park.  I did not volunteer to go forward in the auditorium for a blessing, but rather I was chosen because no one else in the audience had a birthday within that particular week of August.  Normally I would have found a way  out in this situation but not with traveling companions who were pointing their finger at me.  The medicine man invited me to come forward if I would like and sit on the edge of the small stage. He handed me a large eagle feather to hold over my heart. At that point the audience disappeared and I was caught up in the moment.   He sang my name and the words  of blessing in his native tongue and then in English until the spirit had him stop drumming.  There was a quiet moment as tears welled up in my eyes and the eyes of my women friends.   I got up, offered silent gratitude to the medicine man.  He then hugged me and whispered, “I have something for you.”   I watched him go back up on stage behind the podium and get his medicine bag out of his coat pocket.  He reached inside the healing bag, walked back to me  and silently placed an arrowhead stone in my hand before he continued the presentation.

Six months after the gift of blessing I still take time to hold the arrowhead in my hand and  be present to this moment.   Personal memories fall like water over this blessing bringing clarity to past experiences.  The feelings remain in my heart where the Eagle feather still protects what occurred.  The blessing seeps into surprising crevices, soothing old pain and embarrassment over some past mistakes and naive assumptions about life …..I hadn’t learned the wisdom way yet.   It is amazing how much a blessing can show and teach us.  A blessing can even release us from past shame.   I have been reminded of this:

  • Living life in the wisdom way seems illusive to our cultural and political context.
  • Wisdom is more messy than it is perfect.
  • Wisdom doesn’t come quickly.
  • Wisdom is learned  through practice, shifting, risking the Spirit walk and trusting the Spirit of Grace through the missteps.

When you have lived long enough you will need to know what is in your medicine bag.  When you begin to discover this begin to practice reaching down inside to give a portion of your healing medicine away.  The medicine bag of a Wise One is not empty because One learns the ebb and flow of the healing ways…..through the practice of walking in the Spirit way and living life in the wisdom way.

On the journey…………..Naomi

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© Naomi Kirstein, Skywoman, 2009-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Naomi Kirstein and Skywoman with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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