Monday, April 13, 2009

Pregnant with Potential

My apologies for it being such a long time since my last post. Lent has been more a season of reflection than production for me; hopefully that reflection will bare fruit. I have a number of posts planned for the upcoming month or so. First, however, is my overdue, promised post on beginnings.

I have been in a conversation with my cousin Joy (an English prof) over Facebook for some time now, with our conversation mostly circling around christian theology. In her most recent response, she brought up Mary and mentioned something I hadn't considered before - "Mary is... the moment of possibility into which that awareness can come... the mother-potential." For those of you familiar with my terminology below, you'll notice that my notion of a "locality" is similar to how Joy is understanding Mary by way of metaphor. I had considered using the metaphor of a womb with my concept of a "locality" before, but had never specifically considered Mary. I was particularly excited by this since I hadn't discussed with Joy anything about my momentary/potentialist approach. Apparently Momentary Theology need not be such the singular oasis I had originally perceived it to be!

In the context of my post on Christmas about Christ's death, and my promise to post on the birth of Christ on Easter, I had hoped to tie narrative beginnings to narrative endings. A story is contained within every moment, every moment of a cross, every moment of a birth. In my Christmas day post, I wrote about the tragedy of the cross, the unresolved tragedy of a broken world, a broken humanity. I also wrote that in the face of such tragedy, we must refuse to give up. One might wonder: why must we confront tragedy?

Before hearing from Joy, I had considered writing on Mary's Magnificat. The hope of Christ is contained within a "promise," a promised birth. Much is often made of Mary's faith in the face of possible crisis. A stranger comes to her door. She is told that she is pregnant out of wedlock. And yet, she still praises God. Mary blindly trusts God's mysterious ways, or so the story goes.

The story I wish to tell here is not nearly so simple. Mary is not so blind as to be ignorant of the potential before her. For Mary, God's ways are not so mysterious. The Maginificat, after all, is not simply an expression of praise for God; it is a recognition of potentiality. In Mary's own words: "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty," (Luke 1:51-53). God's promise is one of upheaval. The potential before Mary is the birth of justice within a world of tragedy. God stands for the oppressed.

Keep in mind that the Magnificat is in the perfect tense - God's promise is not a past, present, nor future event. Potential is truly momentary. The (event of the) birth of Christ is omnipresent as long as Mary is mother-potential, as long as, in the face of tragedy and oppression, we take a stand. As long as we sing potentialities with Mary.

One cannot justify such a song in the fact of our lack of stability. Just like the confrontation with nihilism, the Magnificat, the song of reversals has no grounds. Out of this undecidability is born responsibility, and out of that responsibility is born potential. Christ has been born. To this extent, Mary's words are an act of faith - but not blind faith. Mary sees just perfectly. And that is why Mary speaks. That is why Mary sings. Potential comes with a soundtrack. Or, every beginning begins with music.

Ultimately, this is no theology of essentialized powerlessness. The powerless do not need to remain powerless in order to remain on the side of justice. After all, every act of potential is an act of transformation. Every song is a promise. The potentiality for justice must become the act(ualization) of justice. Not because it will succeed. Often times our acts will fail to become actualizations. Tragedy is inescapable. Rather, we act because it gives music to our words.

The mystery of God is, in the end, retained in the story. Or, perhaps, I should say in the beginning. We are told that Mary is greeted by the angel Gabriel. Mary does not recognize Gabriel; he is a stranger. Regardless, scandolously, she lets a male into her house at night. She receives him with open arms. Mary is open to the other, to God as stranger (Gabriel is just the messenger, a stranger for a stranger). It is only because of this openness that the potential before Mary's eyes is born. Christ has been conceived within a moment. The impossible has become possible. The impossible has always been the art of the stranger.

Somewhat ironically, Gabriel has become the modern icon for law-driven justiciars. When we read the story of Mary carefully, the stranger before Mary is a very different figure. Gabriel's last words to Mary before he departs are: "For nothing will be impossible with God." Gabriel is not the angel of law. Gabriel is the angel of hope. Hope amidst the tragedy of the world. An impossible event that breaks in upon our fragile visions.

So, our story brings us back to the beginning. The rest of the story has yet to come, shepherds, magi, tale of ancestry. The end told, we still remain in the beginning. In the beginning we find a stranger and Mary. In the beginning we find the other, a promise and a determined mother. With tragedy before her, tragedy behind her, Mary sings. The mother-potential opens herself to the impossible becoming possible. Or perhaps, I should say that on this Easter day, in the end, we do have our songs. And there our potential lies.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

(Promised you a comment, however late it may be in coming!)

Wow. Of all your metaphors of facing the world-void, for me this is the most powerful. No surprises there, eh? As we've learned together, singing for me has the power to open up the spirit-- to let me see the possibilities that exist, even in the midst of crippling fear.

You say that Mary's faith isn't blind, that she doesn't meekly accept God's mysterious decree. (To which the feminist ME says a resounding YES!) But what does that do to her (our) song? How do we sing when we can *see* the fear and the tragedy? Did Mary's voice quaver as she sang her Magnificat? Your Mary is confident, but I wonder if there's room for a skeptical, confused Mary there too... who, despite her doubt, still sings.

Maybe that's why songs made their way into worship-- that even when the singer doubts, somehow the song believes. Somehow the music can carry us from tragedy to hope. By singing, we can keep on saying Yes to the impossible.

And that went in a WAY more mystical and rambly direction than I expected it to. Blame the lack of sleep.