Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary and Minute Rice

I've been identifying with Mary lately, expecting a boy, the inconvenience of being pregnant and having to travel. Nazareth is 80 miles from Bethlehem, a distance in the first century that she could have covered in one week at best.

Today, Mary's journey to Bethlehem would be tantamount to me learning that a new tax law required Dale and I to fly stand-by to Alaska for registration a week before my due date. The kicker--there's no room in any inn, so we'd have to stay, and give birth to our firstborn son in the janitor closet of a Motel Six.

If that was what God had in store for his son I'd certainly wonder, "Couldn't you, the Maker of all things, orchestrate the arrival of the Son of God a little more majestically?"

Mary only got one dream from the angel Gabriel, only one customized message for her ears only, ordered by God to explain this Holy-Spirit-produced baby in her body.

Joseph got four dreams, explaining where to move, when to leave, how to find safety and what God was up to. I think I would have felt a little gypped, but Mary didn't.

How did she do it?

How did Mary have the strength to bear the Son of God and the serenity to respond to Gabriel's shocker of a newsflash with, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me according to your word"? (Luke 1:38).

Mary was not just a teenage woman pregnant outside of marriage. She was a good Jewish woman pregnant outside of wedlock.

As a Jew, she would have been familiar with one passage in the Jewish Scriptures that must have made her last minute trip to Bethlehem a little easier to swallow.

"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (TNIV, Micah 5:2).

Mary could see how the pagan Roman census was actually accomplishing God's promise for Israel. Mary knew about the God of Israel, the God who was faithful to Abraham, the God who could lift the humble up out of the pit. Mary knew her God, she also knew what her God wanted out of her.

Around Christmas time, I notice women running around with lists of things to do. Minute Rice put together an advertisement in 2008 that summed up the way I often feel around the holidays. Surrounding a package of Minute Rice with a Santa Hat are hundreds of things to do, including things like:

get decorations out of the attic, sew angel costume for Molly's pageant, write annual holiday letter and try to sounds modest while bragging about the kids, drop off food at church, buy poinsettia plants, hang candy canes, try not to eat candy canes, clean house, keep tinsel away from cat, shop online during lunch hour, buy stocking stuffers, drive around and look at lights, plan menu for Christmas Eve, make punch for party, have patience when visiting in-laws, read "Night Before Christmas" outloud, attend candlelight service with family, remember reason for the season, pray for peace on earth.

Minute Rice, however, is here to help.

That last item on the list makes me stop and wonder,"How on earth can you pray for peace when your life has no peacefulness in it? There's no shalom, the kind of peace that envelops every dimension (spiritual, physical, political, economic, emotional, social) in this ceaseless running-around living.

I think that if Mary had a Minute Rice list, she must have scrapped it so she could make time for the Son of God to enter her life.

I recently found that Micah doesn't merely contain prophecies about Bethlehem, it also has a better to-do list. One that I'd like to recommend this Christmas to all those women (and men) out there who find there is just too much to do.

Micah 6:8
"He has shown all you people what is good. What what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."

Three items.

What would it look like if we acted with justice this Christmas?

Even though I'm a fan of all the work for justice and social equality (Many of my posts are about the inequalities I see specifically with regard to women), one way I see women in particular refusing to act justly is in the manner in which we make time for ourselves. Women are perhaps the worst at taking a day off, of honoring the Jewish law of the Sabbath. Womens' souls are impoverished and run down because we try to love others so much we have no idea what Jesus means when he says, "Love others AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF." We don't know how to love ourselves, to let God love us one day of the week so we can love others the other six.

I don't think Mary had this problem with refusing to rest.

As soon as Mary learned she would carry a child without a husband she left her hometown of Nazareth and took a retreat. Not for a weekend or even a week, but for three months. Mary spent this time with her cousin Elizabeth (who was miraculously pregnant in her grandmother years) and I'm sure they cried and talked and grieved and laughed and rejoiced together. I imagine Mary did a lot of processing.

One things is certain, after her time away, resting and thinking, Mary sings a song that has gone down in history as Mary's Magnificat--a testimony to Mary's experience with the God of Israel (read it in Luke 1:46-55). It seems likely to me that Mary's time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificant to just bubble out of her.

So my challenge to women: take time to do justice to yourself by accepting God's gift of rest. At least one day in seven, 24 hours of true rest. If you have questions about what this might look like, write me a comment.

Number 2- Love Mercy

Isn't it interesting that Micah writes that we ought to love mercy? This means an ongoing relationship with mercy, not a one-night-stand, or even a hot/cold relationship. Loving mercy means steady dating, maybe even marriage.

I've lately been musing on what kind of relationship I've cultivated with mercy. With others? With myself? Do I love mercy as a friend? Or do I just use it when it makes me look kind and "Christian-like"?

Number 3- Walk Humbly with Your God

I've been doing a little more walking than usual lately, not much jogging at the moment. And often our three corgis come along for the walk. When we are walking together we encounter the same sights, smells and obstacles. Walking with God means much the same thing, bringing God into our days, our hours, our minutes.

So, for instance, Mary noticed that surprising events surrounding her son's birth and Luke says she treasured these things, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).

This year I learned that I was pregnant with a boy the very same day I learned my husband has a form of skin cancer. I felt torn with two very opposite kinds of expectation. My hope clouded with fear. In sharing how anxious I had been feeling with a friend, I heard some wonderful advice from her.

She suggested I pray, "Jesus, I receive your peace." And then wait for God to show what this "peace that surpasses comprehension" is really like. I've had to pray that hundreds of times, inviting Jesus to walk along side me during the valley and the mountain top of expectation.

In the process, I've found that walking humbly with your God is a gerund, which, for you non-English nerds, means that it's an active verb, we're constantly doing it. There's always a new sight or smell or experience to share with our God.

We all need more of the Son of God in our lives. I imagine Mary as she walked the long road to her next destination (remember it was in Egypt), praying that God would help her do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with him.

Her son gives us the power to do just that this Christmas. Make this list your new to-do list for the next week!

An abbreviated version of this post can be read at Fullfill
"Mary and Minute Rice" originally appeared at the Christmas Banquet at North Coast Calvary Church in Carlsbad, Christmas 2009. To hear the talk visit after the New Year.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. I hope Dale's cancer was taken care of? (Removed? or is it more complex?)

Mary blessings,

mellow roc said...

Jonalyn, I discovered your blog by accident as I was searching for Messianic Jewish music avaialbe from B&N. My family had given me a gift card for Christmas, and as I have an interest in the Jewish Roots of Christianity, purchased Every Man's Talmud by Cohen, possibly containing some of the same teachings Jesus would have heard, and was looking for some Hebraic music to spend the rest of the card on. Your blog was a result, title, weekend with some Messianics. I read your entry for December 9 and found it very uplifting, encouraging, interesting and informative. Please keep it up! I want to come back as an occasional visitor in 2010. I also have a similar blog, any may come visit me if so motivated. Interestingly, one more observation on Mary whose Hebrew name is Miriam, God through the angel Gabriel assured her that she would be protected from execution, protected from being ostracised by family/community, and protected loved by her husband Joseph. I cannot imagine what it would be like for anyone, let alone a teen-age girl to experience a visitation like this. That alone is worth a post or 2. Thanks again, and may you have a restful blessed 2010 and congrats on your expanding household too.

Anonymous said...

Great thoughts, truly. I've spent a lot of time myself this season reflecting on the truly remarkable faith and courage by both Mary and Joseph. But, observing Sabbath...while I know in my head this is necessary and expected of does one accomplish this? What does this look like? Is it truly a full day with no work at all? If that is so, how does a working mom with a large family and church obligations make this work?

Lindsey said...

Many thanks, Jonalyn, for these musings both beautiful & convicting. It's past Christmas now, but I've been feeling a bit frantic as I contemplate the new year, a new season of life, and all the changes I need/want/ought to make. Forgive me, Lord, for again taking on expectations not Your own! Thanks for the reminder, friend. May your pre-labor travels birth lasting fruit in line with Mary's. :-)

With love,

ellyn.myller said...

"To Sabbath or not to Sabbath, that is a question."
I have been searching for what Sabbath means for several years now, a journey for sure and a long one. I am a mom too. I understand your hesitation and the conflict that comes with family responsibilities. Here is some of my story. Not satisfied with some of the ideas that have come across my path or a list of do's and don'ts in the Bible, I recently began an experiment of Sabbath rest. I think when we can't see how something will/can work, trying it as an experiment can help us take baby steps and achieve delight. I wrote in my journal this question, what does it mean to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy? That is what I am seeking the answer to. I understand that it is NOT to include work. What is work? Abraham Heschel's "Sabbath" gave some helpful insights, the first being that God made TIME holy and it is a gift to us. Heschel's definition of work speaks to that which "recreates space" (even chopping vegetables recreates space). First Sabbath: I decided to start with clearing out my Sabbath day of basically anything that recreated space; I laid around, read scripture or writings that focused my attention on God, kept silent and slept. It wasn't easy. A friend shared with me that we have to allow ourselves the necessary time to "sit in the discontent" of resting. Sabbath takes practice, meaning--do it more than once. In our culture work/business has become like an addiction and learning to Sabbath--well, it's like going through detox., it will make you antsy. I felt that way the first day; I even got a headache. I paused and asked questions, what worked, (not the best choice of word) and what didn't. BTW: This was my experiment and some "worky" things got done by my husband and kids on their own initiative and to meet their own needs; they since have joined the experiment. Second Sabbath: This day I added some music to the mix, was conscious of the little things tempting me, like the dishes that set undone, the laundry that hadn't been folded. The experiment includes a lot of observing and noting what is going on, or not, around me and inside me. Sabbath is about trusting God in time and for time. When I run into things that would sure be nice to do or get done, I mentally say, I can trust God for time to do or think about that another day. Third Sabbath: There is an element of preparation to the Sabbath. I am becoming aware that this extra preparation is ordering my choices in the other six days of the week as well as my trust in God for time there too. This has been an additional gift. In the wilderness the Israelites had to pick up an extra days worth of manna, I have come up with Sabbath Soup. It is in a pot, in the fridge, the night before and that is what is available for food on Sabbath (maybe a special bread too). Even giving our bodies a rest from the "3 square meals a day" can be good. Two Sabbaths ago, I had intended to make BB Muffins for breakfast at the request of my husband, but didn't get to it. When the morning rolled around and he asked about them, I offered to get up and make them...he said, "No, there are other things to eat around here." The respect of the Sabbath and what makes it holy is growing in our home. It's really cool. As I mentioned, my family is in on the experiment now too. We are only at the beginning of this, we don't have it all figured out, we are talking about it along the way, but for me one thing is sure, this is some thing that we GET to do, more than something that is expected of us. It is becoming a DELIGHT, please read Isaiah 58:13-14 NIV to find the reward in all this and be encouraged. If you'd like to hear more or ask more questions, Jonalyn can hook us up.

Jonalyn Fincher said...


Dale's cancer has been fully removed as of now, though he will have to be vigilant to keep an eye on his skin for the rest of his life. Thank you for asking.

Mellow Roc,

Thank you for visiting! I appreciate your blogs title and vision. I'm curious if in your Jewish study you've come across the book "In the Shadow of the Temple" by Oskar Skarsaune. This is a book I've just begun studying with Ellyn.

Thank you for sharing from your experience and recommending to me this online article:

for a helpful and balanced perspective for beginning Sabbath observers.

Erica said...

Ellyn...very helpful. Thank you! I'll try heading this way..

Erica (formerly known as Anonymous with Sabbath question)