© Rev. Nicole LaMarche 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 8, 2011
Audio Version (mp3)
When she heard the news she went quickly to her sister's house. Maybe you have heard this story before - the story of Mary and Elizabeth: Mary, pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth pregnant with his cousin John. Mary rushes to her sister to delight in the fact that soon they will both be mothers. Elizabeth tells Mary that she is blessed and in response, Mary bursts into a song, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name..." Her song goes on from there praising God for the fact that she is with child, praising God for the fact that God has made this happen in this way, in this time, with her.
But the text does not include what I know must have happened that day as well. The story doesn't capture the two women sitting at the kitchen table exchanging remedies for nausea and vomiting. The story doesn't capture their sharing about how exhausted Mary was. The story doesn't capture the real conversation about how it feels to have her body totally taken over by another project - a project that it deems far more important than her own well being. We don't hear them expressing anxiety about the kind of world in which their boys will have to find their way. We don't hear any fear about all that awaited them as mothers. We don't hear anything about where they really are emotionally, spiritually, physically. Instead, we hear, "My soul magnifies the Lord..."
But as I read this I can't help but wonder if Mary's song says more about her relationship with God or at least how she saw God than it does about the fact that she would soon welcome a child into the world. Maybe she saw God as a bit untouchable, perhaps too perfect to hear a song that was full of her deep angst about the possibility growing inside of her. Perhaps she would have worried about offending God if her song was more like, "My soul is wildly restless at the thought of bringing a new life into this messy world. My stomach can only handle crackers and Sprite and how can I grow a healthy baby on a diet like this? My body is exhausted and quickly becoming something I hardly recognize. O Lord, what if the kid has all my faults? What if I make all of the same mistakes my parents made? My soul wants to magnify you Lord, but get back to me at another time."
How could Mary be real with a God she deemed too far above her? If that was Mary's view she wasn't alone. God, for many in the First Century, was like a king - removed, royal, literally above them. Immutable, omniscient, omnipotent, perfect. And how can a king possibly empathize with two lowly women whose bodies were in the midst of a radical transformation, whose hearts were full of faith, whose hopes were as vast as the stars?
For much of my life, I saw God this way too, although Christian theology formed long after Mary sang her Magnificat. Like many Christians, I thought God to be all-powerful, all-knowing and unchanging and I deemed God to be perfect because of these things. It turns out that we get much of this way of thinking about God from Plato. In his work Symposium, Plato writes about beauty and perfection. The presupposition within his definition of perfect is that, to quote Charles Hartshorne in Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, "God being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since 'perfect' means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse - to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt - is a weakness, an imperfection)." According to this aspect of theistic philosophy, in order for God to be perfect, God cannot change.
A few years ago, I was introduced to a different way of conceptualizing God, a way that might have offered Mary and Elizabeth the chance to sing to God the real song about being pregnant. This image of God is grounded in Process Theology, which originates from the philosophical writings of Alfred North Whitehead. God, in the Process View, would invite Mary and Elizabeth to look down at their bellies and feel their hips widen and know, that like their bodies, God changes to be able to respond to new life. God changes to be able to usher forth the most beautiful outcome in any given circumstance. God changes so that God can be in the business of welcoming new possibilities into the world. Christians, in particular, struggle with the idea that God changes, thinking that it somehow makes God less. But if I claim that God is first and foremost Love and that Love is the essence of who God is, I know of no profound love that is static. For me, the only way that God can truly be a loving presence in the world is for God to be able to be added to, to be able to adapt, to be able to change the way this essence of love is present in any given moment.
And as I sit on the cusp of motherhood, as I watch my body undergo wild transformation, as I prepare for this incredible new piece of creation, I am more mindful now than ever that God is perfect and that God is Love. But in order for both of these to be true, God must be able to change. I believe this because if I claim that part of God's role in the world is to make new possibilities emerge from any situation, then God must be able to respond to the particulars of whatever happens.
As I think about the baby that will soon enter our lives, I imagine that suddenly there will be more love, simply by the presence of a new creation. And I think that by having this increase in love, Jeremy and I will be forced to love more fully, forced to grow more deeply, forced to change more profoundly. Giving birth itself is an act of bringing a new possibility into the world and I can't imagine how it would be feasible if I couldn't adapt to whatever unfolds in order to safely usher her from the womb to the world. Being pregnant might be the time in my life where I can feel more like God than any other. I get to do what God does in each moment and now I understand fully that the act of giving life means that I cannot be static. So I wonder: how can God, the ultimate giver of life do what She does without being able to change?
It seems to me that the most powerful concept in Process Thought is the notion that the world, that God, that we are always becoming. This is a more nuanced way of speaking about change. Aristotle wrote about becoming as any change from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality. In any given moment, God aims to bring out the highest level of actuality. Or, more simply, God aims to help the most beautiful possibilities move from the possible to the actual or from the womb to the world.
Surely Mary and Elizabeth and pregnant women everywhere - mothers with young children, mothers with grown children, even mothers who have let their children down; all mothers have this hope - this aim of ushering the most life-giving possibilities into the world. So I can sing, "My soul magnifies the Lord," because I believe that God isn't removed from the messiness of this world. God is Love. And the only kind of true Love I know is a Love that can move, a Love that can increase, a Love that can change, a Love that is becoming.
May this Love find each of you today. Amen.
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