Sunday, April 6, 2008

Friday five: Theotokos

That's a name, used mostly in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for Mary, the God-bearer. I first read this term in Penguins and Golden Calves, a spiritual memoir by Madeleine L'Engle. Theotokos is usually translated with sort of a maternal cast, with the emphasis on the "birthing" sense of bearing.

But there are so many definitions of "bear." lists 33 of them; here are just a few:
  • to produce by natural growth (bear fruit)
  • to hold up under, be capable of
  • to press or push against
  • to carry; bring (esp. in the mind or heart)
  • to render; afford; give
  • to have and be entitled to
  • to tend in a course or direction; move; go
  • to be located or situated
There are many ways to bear God. It's with that in mind that I join in the RevGalBlogPals' "Friday Five" meme this week. In the spirit of today's Gospel lesson, where the disciples on the road to Emmaus encounter a friendly and wise stranger who, it turns out, is the resurrected Christ–this week's Friday Five asks us to list how God has made Godself known to us through the following:

1. Book
The tower of books that would fit this question is so tall that its top is a tiny speck from down here. :-) Wendell Berry's fiction is a current favorite (see this post for further comment), but I've always loved Madeleine L'Engle's poetry and memoir, which describe her experience of a God so vast that God's voice echoes among the nebulae, and yet so intimate as to comfort a lonely child who's riding a train home (alone) to her father's funeral. There is music in her spirit, and it dances across every sentence. Its melody bears God into my own soul.

2. Film
There are many–any time there's a genuinely honest, human moment, I'm moved by a feeling of connection with my fellow travelers and, by extension, with God. The aching loss at the end of Brokeback Mountain, the joy of discovery and of listening to your own inner music in August Rush.

There's another, though–the image of Christ on the cross, filled with "what-if" questions in The Last Temptation of Christ. That one was a big nudge for me–God prodding me to dip a toe into my pool of theological questions, to not try so hard to color within the lines. It was the beginning of my journey into a more honest relationship with God and with myself. It allowed me to acknowledge that wisdom requires risk–that life must be lived in order to be understood (and that's still no guarantee of wisdom!). It had never occurred to me that Jesus might have had doubts, even in that last moment. That he was marked by both his choices and by the shape of his character within his context, and that I needed to be willing to be marked, as well. To bear God, in perhaps the more difficult sense. Transformational.

Also, the series Planet Earth from the Discovery channel never fails to fill me with wonder. Fearfully and wonderfully made, indeed.

3. Song
I heard a local choir perform Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque in concert last year (video clip below). The translated text is thus:

warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn baby.

I refer to that hearing as my "near death experience" now, because I closed my eyes and it was a moment of purest communion. I swam up from the darkness of the concert hall into ever-expanding light and love and color and warmth–and a feeling, as Julian of Norwich said,

that all shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.

And, as I was able to wrap my little consciousness around the beauty of that moment, I caught a glimpse of such joy and grace awaiting us as we cannot yet bear. It was a divine encounter. If I never have another like it, I'll never outlive my gratitude for that moment.

4. Another person
Too many to mention (again), but topmost in my mind today are the two older couples at my church who have lovingly assumed "surrogate parent" roles with Beloved and me, since we've had such difficulty with her blood family–their inability to accept us, the return of her mother's cancer, their absence at our wedding and in our marriage. These four souls have been a clear, loving presence in our lives, in celebration and in sadness. S & J, B & D–thank you. You are God-bearers for us.

5. Creation
S & J have lent us their lakeside cabin several times, and there's a hammock there in which I love to lie, reading a book and hearing the sound of the waves lapping the shore, watching and hearing the birds who visit their many feeders. Last time we were there, a little brown one hopped onto a rope at the "feet" end of the hammock and sang to me for a moment. Lovely, lovely. I was at rest, one tiny part of a much bigger, beautiful creation.

Bonus answer: your choice–share something encouraging/amazing/humbling that has happened to you recently!
I was pretty depleted last Wednesday when I arrived at church for rehearsal. I'd had a difficult couple of weeks: church musician's post-Easter hangover; stalled weight loss; my other choir–to my mystified frustration–still unprepared for our upcoming concerts; lonely for and concerned about Beloved, who had traveled to be with her family for five days, in order to deal with various difficulties; stress at my day job; and, to top it off, a vertigo-inducing virus preventing me from doing securely anything that required large-motor movement. Honestly, I was wishing that I could just go home and collapse on the couch.

But I started the evening with a lovely check-in conversation with Wonderful Colleague, which helped me to switch gears. I was then cared for by S & J, B & D. And finally, I enjoyed rehearsal (conducted from a stool instead of my customary podium) so thoroughly that I was completely refreshed by its end. It was partially the spirit of play that overtakes me in even my most cranky moments as a conductor; partially the lovely human beings who come together to form my choir. This is truly community, and it's a privilege to be a part of it.

So, friends, there are many ways to bear God. Mary did it maternally, but I can't escape the idea that we're all Theotokos sometimes, and that our task as children of God is to become God's bearers in as many ways as possible–to say whatever "yes" (as small as a bird's song or as radical as Mary's Magnificat) or whatever "no" is required (yep, you heard me–no is sometimes the right answer), in order to bear God into this broken, beloved world.

Best of all, to "bear" God according to the last of the above definitions: to be located or situated in God.

May it be so, for each and all of us.


Anonymous said...

what choir sang that song - was it the Rose Ensemble? i love your blog...


Choralgirl said...

Ummm...don't know who was on the clip, but when I heard it, it was the Concordia choir. But The Singers have done this piece, and National Lutheran Choir, too.

Thanks, Rooth! I promise to get back to Scrabulous!