Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Woman's Water Prayer

Illustrator: Richard Andre   Source: Mary's Rosaries
In writing A Ritual Response to the Shame of Menopause, one of the pieces that was the most intriguing to develop was a water prayer that would reflect faith in Jesus as the primary actor as well as women's participation in significant water stories. It was tricky. There isn't much to choose from, but I knew there had to be enough for a water prayer.

I began with the Spirit moving over the water.  I had hope that I could find an image of Wisdom
incarnate, but I literally couldn't find the right words.  Miriam dancing and celebrating at the Red Sea was an easy piece as was the idea of "waters of birth" for Mary.   The two other female images were more difficult because we do not know their names.  The words needed to be descriptive enough to help worshipers recall the story but brief enough to not disturb the flow of the prayer.

We give you thanks, O God,
for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters
and by your Word you created the world,
calling forth life in which you took delight.

When you led Israel from slavery and through the waters of the Red Sea,
your prophet Miriam rejoiced in song and dance for the freedom that you gave to her people.

Through the waters of birth, your Son was born of Mary
to be Immanuel, God with us.
Throughout his life, Jesus made water to be a sign of new life.
He promised the Samaritan woman at the well,
a spring of living water that would well up within her to eternal life.
And when a woman soothed his tired feet with her tears,
Jesus honored her gift of love and proclaimed her faithfulness.

We praise you for the gift of water that sustains our lives in so many ways.
Above all we praise you for the gift of new life through our baptism in Jesus Christ.
Shower us with your Spirit, and renew our lives with your forgiveness, grace, and love.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Affirmation of Baptism as Croning Ritual

Due to the historical understanding of the word crone, not all women may be comfortable with this term, as it may suggest an image of an old, withered and haggard woman.  As this sense of the word is not intended by the ritual, many may prefer to frame the service differently or simply call it an Affirmation of Baptism.

Women who are participating in the Croning ritual may choose to prepare themselves through fasting and/or meditation prior to the service. This is certainly not mandatory but may add to their experience of the ritual particularly if it is followed by a festive meal.
The worship space should be prepared. Seating should be reserved to accommodate any or all the following:
  •  Those making affirmation of their baptism
  • Wise Women of the community who are honored guests
  • Friends and family who will offer their memories as a part of the ritual
  • Worship leaders which may include a presiding minister, liturgical director, lector and acolyte.
The altar or overall space may be decorated with memorable objects that symbolize important points in the participants’ lives. They may be organized by decade or around major life events. Planners are encouraged to create an atmosphere of abundance. Flowers, greenery, shells, seasonal fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts – all may be used to decorate the altar and worship area.
The font should have central place. If this is not possible, planners are encouraged to create a temporary font which can be seen by all during the ritual. Water is central to the celebration and remembrance of baptism. The sound and the feel of water should be remembered by those who participate. An ewer or pitcher should be filled and placed at the font.
Since it is likely that members of the assembly will be unfamiliar with this type of ritual, it will be helpful for the presiding minister to offer a few brief comments of welcome and introduction. Issues of hospitality such as childcare, location of facilities and use of electronics may be included in the welcome or in a printed bulletin.

All may make the sign of the cross, a sign of Baptism and grace.    
  L   Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, who forgives all our sin, whose mercy endures forever.
  C   Amen

 The presiding minister may lead the gathering in this preparation prayer.
  L   God of all wisdom, you know us inside and out.  You knit us together in our mothers’ wombs long before we took our first breaths. You have seen our missteps and our successes and in all things, you have loved us. Cleanse our hearts, our minds and our spirits that we may love you more fully and serve you in all that we say and do.
  C   Amen

The following or another confession may be prayed.
  L   Let us confess our sin in the presence of God and of one another.

The assembly kneels or stands. Silence is kept for reflection.
  L   Gracious God,
  C   have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned from you and followed our own will. We have sinned against you, but we are truly sorry and humbly repent.  In your great kindness, forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have left undone.  Turn us again to you, so that our lives might show the power of your grace.  Amen

The presiding minister announces God’s forgiveness with these or similar words.
  L   God, whose mercy is never-ending, loved us even when were dead in sin and made us alive in Christ. By grace you have been saved. In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven. May the power of the Holy Spirit strengthen you, that Christ might dwell in your heart and mind and soul.
  C   Amen

The assembly stands.
Gathering Song
Having a musician lead the assembly’s song is always preferred. However, if that is not possible, planners should choose music which will be familiar and identify someone who can lead the singing prior to the event.

Suggested Songs for use in the ritual.  ELW: Evangelical Lutheran Worship; WOV: With One Voice
All Are Welcome, ELW 641
Baptized in Water, ELW 456
Bind Us Together, WOV 758
Borning Cry, WOV ELW 742
For All the Faithful Women, WOV 692
For All the Faithful Women, ELW 419
God is Here, ELW 526
O Blessed Spring, WOV 447
Take Oh, Take Me As I Am, ELW 814
Waterlife, ELW 457
Baptismal Hymns, ELW 209–217, 442–459

  L   God be with you.
  C   And also with you.

The following prayer or another prayer for the day is used.
  L   Let us pray.
        God of the beginning and of the end, you are the source of holy wisdom, and the fountain of all truth. We give you thanks for the wise women among us, especially…  We have been enriched by their wisdom and seasoning. We are touched by their knowledge and faith. Bless them, O God, as they are a blessing to us. Pour out your Spirit, that all our elders may continue to dream dreams and bear witness to the light they know in Jesus Christ. And may each of us be inspired to lead lives of service and faithfulness. 
  C   Amen
As this is a specifically Christian ritual, one or more readings from the Bible should be read. These readings may be chosen by those who are affirming their baptism.  They should be encouraged to select readings which particularly speak to their faith journey.  If a psalm is chosen, worship planners are encouraged to involve the gathered assembly through word, chant or song. Some suggested texts are:

Psalm 23   The Lord is my shepherd
Psalm 27 The Lord is my light and salvation
Psalm 46   God is our refuge and strength
Psalm 71 The Lord will revive me
Psalm 90 Our dwelling place in all generations
Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills
Proverbs 8  Wisdom’s call
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 For everything there is a season
Romans 5:1-5 Justification by faith gives peace
Romans 14:7-8   We do not live to ourselves
Philippians 3:12-16 Pressing on to the goal

The readings may be announced:
A reading from __________

The reading may be concluded:
Word of God, word of life.

The assembly responds:
Thanks be to God.

The assembly is invited to stand for the proclamation of the Gospel.  The person giving the proclamation may choose to process to a place central in the assembly. An Alleluia or Lenten verse may be sung prior to the reading.

Some suggested gospel readings include those listed, however worship planners are encouraged to work with those affirming their baptism to choose readings which are reflective of their faith and which create a cohesive gospel message for the day.

Matthew 6:25-34   Do not be anxious
Luke 12:6-7   The hairs of your head are all counted
John 3:16-21   For God so loved the world
John 14:1-3   I prepare a place for you
John 15:7-11   Abide in my love

The gospel is announced:
The Gospel according to _________
Glory to you, O Lord.

The gospel concludes:
The gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

A homily may be offered. The homily should be brief and can help to frame other readings and remembrances offered during the Croning ritual.

Worship planners are encouraged to choose a song which speaks to the scriptural texts that have been chosen or to the affirmation of baptism. There is wisdom in making effective use of hymn concordances found online or in print.

This section of the liturgy moves the focus more directly onto the persons affirming their baptism. It is a time to bear witness to the gifts of faith and wisdom that have been shared by individuals. Some possibilities for directing this portion of the ritual would be:
1.     Celebration of the Decades: Invite someone from each decade of the person’s life to give a brief reflection.  These should be limited in time, 1 to 3 minutes at most.  If this model is chosen, worship planners should keep the overall service length in mind.
2.     Her Story: Those women affirming their baptism reflect on what the ritual means to them.  How do they envision themselves within the role of wise woman?
3.     Voices of Wisdom: Worship planners may invite elders from the assembly to share readings.  Possible readings are found in Appendix 1.

An assembly song or special music may be offered.  At this time those affirming their baptism should move to the area of the font.

The presiding minister addresses the assembly.
Joined to Christ in the waters of baptism,
we are clothed with God's mercy and forgiveness.
Let us give thanks for the gift of baptism.

Water may be poured into the font as the presiding minister gives thanks.
We give you thanks, O God,
for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters
and by your Word you created the world,
calling forth life in which you took delight.

When you led Israel from slavery and through the waters of the Red Sea,
your prophet Miriam rejoiced in song and dance for the freedom that you gave to her people.

Through the waters of birth, your Son was born of Mary
to be Immanuel, God with us.
Throughout his life, Jesus made water to be a sign of new life.
He promised the Samaritan woman at the well,
a spring of living water that would well up within her to eternal life.
And when a woman soothed his tired feet with her tears,
Jesus honored her gift of love and proclaimed her faithfulness.

We praise you for the gift of water that sustains our lives in so many ways.
Above all we praise you for the gift of new life through our baptism in Jesus Christ.
Shower us with your Spirit, and renew our lives with your forgiveness, grace, and love.

The leader addresses the assembly with these or similar words.
Dear friends, we give thanks for the gift of baptism and for these women, who are making public affirmation of their baptism.

Those making affirmation may be presented by a friend or family member with these or other words:
I present name/s who desire to make public affirmation of their baptism.

The presiding minister may continue with prayer.
Let us pray.
Merciful God, we thank you for these sisters,
whom you have made your own by water and the Word in baptism.
We have been graced by their wisdom and seasoning.
We are touched by their knowledge and faith.
Pour out your Spirit upon them, that they may continue to dream dreams
and live lives that speak of your grace and saving power.
Uphold them in the gifts and promises of baptism,
and unite the hearts of all whom you have brought to new birth.
We ask this in the name of Christ.

Profession of Faith
The presiding minister addresses those making public affirmation of baptism. The assembly may stand and join in the responses.
Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.*
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

The presiding minister addresses those making public affirmation of baptism.
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?
Each person responds:
I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.
The minister addresses the assembly.
Let us pray.
We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give us new birth, cleanse us from sin, and raise us to eternal life.

The blessing may be repeated for each person. The minister may lay both hands on the head of the person and say:
Stir up in name the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.
Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake, stir up in name the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm her faith, guide her life, empower her in her serving, give her patience in suffering, and bring her to everlasting life.

Those making public affirmation stand and face the assembly. A representative of the congregation may address the assembly with these or other words.
Let us rejoice with these sisters in Christ.
We rejoice with you in the life of baptism.
Together we will give thanks and praise to God
and proclaim the good news to all the world.

Those who have affirmed their faith may be presented with a reminder of the ritual.  Some possibilities include:
·  Baptismal or water symbols such as shells, sea glass, candles or artwork.
·  Symbols of wisdom or initiation such as a staff, garland, crown of flowers, a cloak or shawl.
·  Shroud or kittel. A kittel is a traditional Jewish garment worn by a male at ceremonies marking life changes, at Passover, Yom Kippur finally at his burial.  Some Jewish croning ceremonies include the presentation of a kittel. The idea is similar to the notion of the Christian funeral pall reflecting the baptismal garment.


May the God of all graciousness guide you day by day, giving you what is needed. 
May you always travel with the one who is  +  the way, the truth, and the life.  
May the Spirit give you good companions to cheer your way
and a clear vision of that which God is calling you to do.


Portions of  this service are from the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship. Augsburg Fortress.
The Water Prayer was written by Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath.

A Ritual Response to the Shame of Menopause

...I looked down at my underpants and I couldn’t believe it.  There was blood on them.  Not a lot -  but enough.  I really hollered, “Mom-  hey Mom – come quick!” 
When my mother got to the bathroom she said, “What is it? What’s the matter?”
“I got it,” I told her.
“Got what?”
I started to laugh and cry at the same time.  “My period.  I’ve got my period!” My nose started running and I reached for a tissue.
“Are you sure, Margaret?” my mother asked.
“Look-  look at this,” I said, showing her my underpants.
“My God! You’ve really got it.  My little girl!” Then her eyes filled up and she started sniffling too…
“Are you still there God? It’s me, Margaret.  I know you’re there God. I know you wouldn’t have missed this for anything!  Thank you God. Thanks an awful lot…”[1]

Written in 1970, Judy Blume’s novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret has offered countless readers insights into what it is like to be a girl transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Along with the books and pamphlets they received from parents, teachers and the school nurse, girls learned from Blume that a lot of their joys and concerns related to menarche were “normal.” Even so, starting one’s period can still be a source of embarrassment.  As a twelve-year-old girl, I was at school when my period started for the second time.  I wasn’t prepared and I was frightened that I might have an accident. (There is a ridiculous amount of shame that girls feel when their menstrual fluid leaks or when someone sees them carrying a tampon to the bathroom. It is unnecessary but it is real.)
After a whispered conversation with my teacher I was given a pass to go the Office to see the school nurse.  More whispering followed, as I did not want Mr. Donato, the principal to hear my request.  I was given the necessary supplies but when I came out of the Nurse’s Office, one of the secretaries brightly proclaimed, “Welcome to womanhood!”  I was mortified. I was not a woman! I was a twelve-year-old girl whose secret had been shared within earshot of a man!  I whispered my thanks and left as quickly as I could.
Although feminists have championed a variety of tactics in an attempt to end the taboos about menstruation, feelings of shame and embarrassment persist.   We avoid discussing our period in mixed company.  We hesitate to use the words tampons, menstruation, vagina and uterus. We worry about the mess, the smell and the inconvenience it may cause to a lover during intercourse. As civilized as we may claim to be, we continue to hold onto taboos.
“Until about fifty years ago, Italians did not allow women to enter the kitchen while menstruating.  In India, women are considered impure, sick and cursed during their period.  Nepalese traditions include banishing women during menstruation, often expelling them to unheated and unclean shelters (such as animal sheds.)” [2]
Lest North Americans start to feel superior about their attitudes towards menstruation, consider the 2015 incident when Instagram removed a photograph posted by artist Rupi Kaur of a woman in gray sweatpants whose fluid had leaked through her pants and onto her bed. [Illustration at right.][3]  A complaint was registered that the post was offensive and Instagram deleted the photograph, not once but twice..[4] Later that same year when  Apple released its Health app, “the company came under fire for omitting a woman’s menstrual cycle from the many body-related things a user can track.”[5]
 Religious taboos frequently discuss menstruation in terms of cleanliness, but it is important to remember that cleanliness, particularly in the Hebrew Bible, is not just an issue of personal hygiene.  The laws connect the physical to the religious and spiritual. Leviticus 15:19-24 says
Whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening. Anything on which the woman lies or sits during the time of her period will be unclean. If any of you touch her bed, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. If you touch any object she has sat on, you must wash your clothes and bathe yourself in water, and you will remain unclean until evening. This includes her bed or any other object she has sat on; you will be unclean until evening if you touch it. If a man has sexual intercourse with her and her blood touches him, her menstrual impurity will be transmitted to him. He will remain unclean for seven days, and any bed on which he lies will be unclean.[6]
One who was unclean could not fully participate in community life.  They were unable to participate in worship, commerce or fellowship. Additionally, menstruation was used as a symbol for sinful behavior.  In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet proclaims that God spoke to him saying,
… when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity.[7]
The Christian New Testament does not specifically address healthy menstruation but the Synoptic Gospels do tell the story of Jesus coming into contact with a woman who had been suffering from an unhealthy discharge of blood for twelve years.[8]  Although the cause of her hemorrhage goes unstated, it is clear that she is seen by her community to be ritually unclean.  She has lived as “an exile among her own people.”[9] In an acknowledged act of faithfulness, she is healed by touching Jesus’ cloak.  There is no discussion of whether her actions were seen to make Jesus ritually unclean, but it is certainly not an unreasonable assumption.
Menopause gets only the briefest of nods in the Bible.  Genesis 18:11 reports that “Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years [and] the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.”[10] Although they had tried unsuccessfully to conceive for many years, Sarah finally became pregnant at a time when Sarah described herself as being too old.[11]  This is the only mention of menopause in the Christian Bible and one of a handful of references to infertility.
Most men experience getting older with regret, apprehension. But most women experience it even more painfully: with shame. Aging is a man’s destiny, something that must happen because he is a human being. For a woman, aging is not only her destiny…  it is also her vulnerability[12]
While menopause is as common as menarche, there is far less preparatory discussion. Most women are aware before they enter perimenopause, the time when a woman transitions to menopause, that they will have hormonal changes that may result in mood swings, hot flashes and changes in sexual appetite. What is discussed less frequently are the various symptoms which may bring about the same embarrassment felt at menarche. 
All the same nonsense that comes with puberty occurs again during perimenopause—the hormone surges, the moodiness, and the hair appearing where there wasn’t hair before. Except instead of filling in under the arms and on nether regions, these coarse follicles of hate are showing up on our freaking faces. [13]
After decades of being fully tuned in to the rhythms of her body, a woman may find that nothing works quite the way she expects.  A predictable monthly cycle can change in timing, duration and intensity.  The pre-teenage fears of having an “accident” return and until a woman misses her period for a full year, she lives in that in-between land known as perimenopause.  Or as Celia Rivenbark described it, “I'm what is known as perimenopausal. Peri, some of you may know, is a Latin prefix meaning ‘SHUT YOUR FLIPPIN PIE HOLE.’”[14]
Given the stress of the months or years leading up to it, it may be surprising to know that menopause can be a source of grief. Even though a woman of fifty may not want to have another baby, the fact that “the way of women has ceased with her” is a loss.
FRANKIE:  It's just one minute, you're driving around with your kids, listening to Elmo sing I Don't Want to Live on The Moon, and the next minute, your doctor's telling you he can't find your ovaries.  And it was all just funny to him, but it's not funny.
            That moment should be marked in some way.  No, I mean it.  I mean, everybody makes a big deal when you get married and have a baby, but nobody's having a ceremony for your shriveled ovaries.  You know what I mean?
MIKE:   Like when a player retires, and they hoist his jersey into the rafters.
FRANKIE:  Yes! Exactly.  They just-  they deserve more respect.  [Sniffles] You know? I mean, they may not have been the     flashiest ovaries, but they got the job done.
MIKE:  Hey, they gave us three great kids…

FRANKIE:  They deserve something, some sort of send-off for all their years of service. They deserve more of an ending.  They deserve a goodbye.  [Sniffles, sighs]

MIKE: They had a good run.[15]
Of course, not all perimenopausal women are mothers.  Some have chosen to not have children and some have been unable. Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, a network for childless women, describes childless menopause as
…a kind of death, one which we survive. It transforms us, whether we like it or not, whether we’re in denial about it or are prepared to face it. Childless women are perhaps more acutely aware of the ‘death in life’ nature of the menopause because they know that they’re not going to ‘live on’ in their children. They are the end point of millions of years of evolution. That shit is sobering to ponder on and you can either run from it or let it transform you.[16]
A woman’s menstrual history is not just biological. It is a core part of her identity.  Despite all the taboos that surround menstruation, its cessation at menopause is equally problematic. It has been argued in various arenas that what is needed is a framework within which women can see menopause as a time of transformation. Or as Frankie said, “our ovaries deserve…  some sort of send off…  They deserve a goodbye.”  In her book Thinking Woman, Allesandra Gillis Drage writes that
the needed framework must recognize that this is not just ‘another new beginning’ in a life that is already full of new experiences.  Menopause is a difference.  More than that, it is a difference that is anticipated by women throughout their lives in thoughts of their future.  Menopause is a long-term event that is symbolic of ending and beginnings…
[Furthermore] …menopause is something that resides in a woman’s future, something she is aware of as an upcoming event in her life.  It casts over her living a symbolic aura. Hers is a life with an immanent new beginning…  Menopause, seen as a new beginning, provides women with the opportunity for personal growth, ‘elder wisdom.’ [17]
There are certainly myriad ways that one might create a symbolic structure within which a woman could celebrate this new phase of her life.  One possibility is a Croning ceremony. For many the word crone has both sexist and ageist connotations.
Crones are assumed to be old and therefore automatically ugly and probably ill-intentioned, if not downright malevolent.  Today’s feminist spiritual tradition has rescued the word. Within this tradition, the Crone reclaims her ancient identity as one of the three aspects of the Goddess, along with the Maiden and the Mother. These three aspects also represent the three phases of a woman’s life, as she moves from childhood, through puberty and her time of fertility, and then through maturity to old age. Traditionally, the third phase has always been as important and honored as the other two…  [Crones] are the preservers of knowledge and the bearers of wisdom. They are the healers, mentors, and advisors. They are wise women.
A croning ceremony therefore celebrates the woman who has reached this new stage of her life, honors the contributions she has made… and welcomes her to the new role she will play as a wise, experienced, and valued elder. It is not about loss – loss of youth or attractiveness or fertility – but about gain and growth – in wisdom and experience and compassion and beauty that is both inward and outward.[18]
Menopause in this context becomes a blessed rite of passage, encouraging women to take their rightful role as leaders in their community.
A search of available literature results in a variety of croning ceremonies and retreats, developed primarily by Wiccan or feminist spiritual groups. There are also some fine examples of Jewish rituals which hold within them a variety of traditional Jewish symbols while embracing a feminist croning ceremony. These include the reading of scripture, the wearing of the kittel[19] and the making of a covenantal vow. In considering the development of a Christian croning liturgy, these three features were significant.
In Sacraments of Life, Life of the Sacraments, Leonardo Boff wrote “Anything can be a sacramental vehicle of divine grace.”[20] For both Catholics and Protestants, this statement may need to be untangled.  As a Lutheran, I define the two sacraments of Baptism and Communion as being instituted by Christ as a visible sign of an invisible promise.  They are a very specific means of grace through which the recipient receives the forgiveness of sin and new life in Christ. The sacraments are a means to end human disgrace but they are not the only way one can experience the love of God.  Historically the Lutheran church has lifted rites such as Ordination, Confession and Marriage as also being a source of grace.
Whether one limits the number of sacraments to seven or two, new rituals can be developed to ring deeper meaning to a community’s life of faith.  In her article, Rituals in the United States, Shulamit Magnus has said
Ritual is an act or a set of actions that employs symbols meaningful to the participants in a formal, repetitive, and stylized fashion. Ritual frames significant moments and important new realities. It is often used to effect transition from one state of being to another, as in weddings, funerals, or graduations. It is one of the most fundamental ways that human beings mark meaning in their personal lives and in the lives of their families and societies.[21]
The liturgy that is in my following post, places a feminist croning ritual within the framework of a Christian Affirmation of Baptism. It includes many of the features found in other croning ceremonies: storytelling, the giving of a gift and a connection to the abundance of creation. As a Christian ritual, it includes a Baptismal water prayer, the reading of scripture, a covenantal vow, prayer and the option to envision the Jewish kittel as a Baptismal gown.
In conclusion, for too long, women have experienced shame about the natural and life giving process of menstruation. We have been taught to believe it is unclean, which it is not, or a source of embarrassment, which it should not be. We are led to believe that we should not have public conversations about this universally female experience. We treat it like a curse, an illness and a burden. When we reach the age of menopause, rather than celebrating a new phase of our lives, (which includes the blessed end of perimenopause) women often think of themselves as being less:  dried out, shriveled, empty, old.  Through the use sacred rituals, the phases of a woman’s life including menarche, birth and menopause can be celebrated and honored. Croning ceremonies offer a significant means for framing menopause as a sign of wisdom and a transition to a new way of being.

[1] (Blume 1970)
[3] (Kaur 2015)
[4] Go to to view Kaur’s full photographic series period.
[5] (Gray 2015)
[6] Leviticus 15:19-24, New Living Translation
[7] Ezekiel 36:17, English Standard Version
[8] Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
[9] [9]
[10] Genesis 18:11, English Standard Version
[11] After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Genesis 18:12). 
[12] (Sontag 1972)
[13] (Lancaster 2015)
[14] (Rivenbark 2011)
[15] (Patricia Heaton 2017)
[16] (Day 2012)
[17] (Drage 2006)
[18] (Payerle 2016)
[19] A kittel is a traditional Jewish garment worn by a male at ceremonies marking life changes, at Passover, Yom Kippur finally at his burial.  Some Jewish croning ceremonies include the presentation of a kittel which the woman will wear at the time of her burial.
[20] (Boff 1975)
[21] (Magnus n.d.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

It was the Sabbath.

I am currently taking a class on Parables and Healing Stories.  This is my homework for the story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Come walk in the light!

"Woman at the Well" - Diego Rivera
For the last two weeks we’ve been hearing stories of light and dark; seeing and not seeing. Two weeks ago it was the story of Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the dark.  He asked Jesus a lot of questions but at the end of the story he went back into the shadows having come no further in his faith journey than when he arrived. He just couldn’t see the truth.

Last Sunday we heard about the Samaritan woman who came to see Jesus in the bright light of day.  And as she talked to Jesus she was able to see him for who he truly is;   the chosen one sent to save the world.  Having seen Jesus, she literally dropped everything to share the incredible news of the one who sees us truly and deeply. She shared with everyone she met the good news that Jesus can see it all! He knows everything we’ve done.  He is aware of every good choice and every bad step.  And he loves us just as we are!
Come and see!  She calls to her neighbors.  
Come and see!  She calls to her friends.
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In the gospel according to John, seeing is about more than just our physical sight.  It’s an important theological activity. It’s connected to faith.  If you see – you believe.  So when Jesus calls his disciples to be a part of his ministry, he says, “Come and See.”   When the woman at the well said that she could “see” that Jesus was a prophet, it was a declaration of faith.  And when Nicodemus left Jesus to go wandering in the dark, his lack of vision wasn't caused by the shadows of the night. It was a lack of faith that kept him from seeing Jesus’ true identity.

And now today, we have one more story about seeing and believing.
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It starts with the disciples wanting to know whose sin resulted in the man being born blind.  Was it his parents?  Did the guy do something before he was born?  There had to be a logical explanation.  Human beings crave logical explanations when things go wrong.  And in those days any kind of illness or disability was seen as being a punishment for somebody!  Jesus explained straight off that sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness.  Instead, he said that it was an opportunity to see God at work.

Now that may sound kind of odd.  Was Jesus saying that the man’s blindness was some kind of elaborate set up so that God could do something amazing in just the right time and in just the right place? 

I don’t think so.   The God I know isn’t that manipulative or mean spirited. So maybe the truth is this.  That man was no better or worse than anyone else.  God knew him inside and out and loved him just as he was.  And like all of us, this guy had limitations.  We all do.  None of us are fit together perfectly or without flaws.  But despite our frailties and imperfections, we are called to be in relationship with God and because of that connection to God, things happen.  Good things.
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"Blind Man's Family" - Pablo Picasso

My husband was treated for cancer a few years ago.  It was awful.  He had chemo and radiation and surgery.  He was out of work for a year.  It changed his life in so many ways, but in the midst of all of that, good things happened.  Because of his relationship to God, his faith became stronger that year.  We experienced the love of our God and the care of God's people.  It wasn't an easy time, but God made good use of that time in our lives. Other people could see that God was at work in our lives.

And so it was, that God did something unexpected and rather miraculous for a man who was born blind.  Jesus used mud, spit and a quick bath so that the man could have his sight and so that the wonder of God would be revealed to anyone who would choose to see.
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Unfortunately,  as soon as the guy could see, people started questioning the truth that was right in front of them.   The truth just wasn’t to be trusted.
It must be a trick.

What happens next is like something out of an Abbot and Costello routine.
Are you the man born blind?  Yes, I am.
No, you can't be.    Yes, it's me.
No, you like like him, but you're not him.   Really, it's me!
But really, how can you see now?        This man told me to put mud on my eyes and wash and now I see.

Aw, that’s not him.  Where are his parents? Let's ask them.
Is that your son?    Yes, that's him.
But your son was born blind.  That's right.    
But this guy can see.  What happened?                                        Don't ask us! 
We didn't do anything.  Talk to him.  He's an adult!

The people who knew the man suddenly couldn't recognize someone they saw day after day.  They dragged the Pharisees into the whole thing and eventually even his own parents wouldn't stick up for him.  Everyone there could see the change that had taken place, but that didn’t mean that they believed what they could see.

Even the experts were blind to what was happening.  The Pharisees are sighted people but they had limited vision.  They were so committed to keeping all the rules and regulations, that Jesus just confused them.  Why wasn't this new rabbi ignoring the law that they held to be so very, very important.  The Messiah was standing right in front of them, but they couldn’t see him.  The Light of the World was shining bright, but their lack of faith left them in the dark. This story is chock full of people who can see, but don’t.  They are so spiritually blind that they toss the man out on his ear.  Ultimately, the man is the only person who can see AND believe what he sees.
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He has been transformed and being able to see isn’t the most important thing that happened to him that day. He saw Jesus for who he was and began a whole new journey of faith.  And life was never going to be the same again.
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That’s how it is when you’re in a relationship with Jesus.  Things change.  Which sounds good.  Except that, change is disruptive. Change means letting go of the life we know so that we can live into the unknown.

The man could see, but now what was he going to do? His whole life was going to be different.  He had been a beggar all his life.  Now he was going to have to learn a trade.  Find some place to live.  Make a living.  He was going to have to figure out what to do about his relationship with his parents  And then there was all that business with the Pharisees.  Would they let him come back to worship?  The synagogue was the center of community life? If they kicked him out, then what!  He might be better off just leaving town. His day with Jesus was going to impact every facet of his life.
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That’s how it is with Jesus.  When you get involved with him, he changes things. And those changes aren't always easy or simple.  New decisions.  New choices. New places. New people.  But, the changes are also life giving. For what Jesus wants for us is a life that is full and rich and abundant.  By which I don’t mean rich with money and abundant with stuff.   Our lives are full and rich because we know that we are precious in the eyes of God.  Our lives are abundant because we believe that when God sees us-  he always sees a beloved child.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul put it like this.
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light —for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. ..
     "Sleeper, awake!
     Rise from the dead,
     and Christ will shine on you."

Sometimes we resist the transformation that comes from following Jesus.  It’s almost always a disruption and it can be hard work to walk in the Light. 
But our lives are designed for this.  We were made to reveal the love of God.  We have seen and we believe, and so we are called to let our lives show Christ’s love to the world.   We get to follow the example of the man in our story.  We should keep asking questions.  Keep looking for God’s work in our lives.  Keep striving to be the person God wants us to be.

Some days, we’re going to get it right.  You go to bed and you think, "That was such a great day!  I could see God at work in my life and the lives of the people around me.  It was such a good day.  A day to be remembered!"

And some days, not so much.  "God that was a hard day.  I'm worn out and weary and I'm just not seeing the point right now.  Please help me."

It's not always easy, but if we keep walking in the light-  if we keep looking for God's work in our lives, Christ will shine in us and shine bright. It's what we were built for.  It's what we do best!

Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to God.

+ for Katie because she asked.