Advent Post #18

“My soul glorifies…” (Luke 1:46)

There is a load of material in this passage, Luke 1:46-56. A lot worth thinking through. Even more worth, simply, accepting and trying to live.

What stands out to me as I sit to write is the way these words lift up the simple human tendency to exalt some thing, to raise above oneself some deity, to worship and glorify some lord. I think Mary’s words are everybody’s words. Even if we don’t call our deity “God,” even if we’d never use the word “soul” in a sentence to describe anything other than music, we raise and exalt and glorify things.

It is often a subtle behavior, this lifting. But it is there. It’s in our schedules, in the company we keep or refuse to keep. This raising is in my own proclivity to draw and turn inward for strength when my best help comes from someone else.

Mary’s words are a kind corrective. She is not harsh here. After all, she’s singing. Her poetic lyrics themselves lift and inspire. “My soul glorifies.”

When I was a child, I sang with the Soul Children of Chicago. We would gather each week on Saturday mornings to rehearse. We’d study and, after warming up our vocal chords, practice our parts. We’d hear the band and combine with them to make music. We would sing. After a while, I’d come to expect my Saturdays to have a sound. Singing and Saturday went together. When I thought of the day, I’d think in musical terms. Singing was normal, natural.

Wednesdays became like Saturdays. During the summers and from the fall season and through the winter, we’d have the second rehearsal date and it would feel like we were filling our days and weeks with music. After a three-hour session on a Saturday morning, Wednesday night came quickly. Getting ready for a trip, practicing for a performance or a recording or a concert, my mind was given to music. My soul was too.

Those rehearsals and all those performances shaped me and my life. With all those other Soul Children, my soul was influenced, shaped, and made. I was made into a singer.

Come back to Mary’s words in her song. All those days she spent with Elizabeth impacted her. There was Mary with her kinswoman, being made into a mother. She watched this other mother through the last days of her gestation while awaiting the fulfillment of whatever God was doing. And Mary’s soul was influenced, shaped, and made. And in her words, her soul glorified.

Like the music we naturally made when we practiced first alto and second tenor, giving glory was what Mary naturally did. It wasn’t effortless. Any singer or poet or writer will tell you of the countless days behind a phrase, the long experiences underneath a line or flat or sharp. There was effort but there was also nature.

I wonder what my week would be like if I accepted that as fact. This is what my soul naturally does. Without toil, without increasing skill, without rigorous instruction or preparation or particular stress. There’s no sweat involved anymore, but nature. At this point, after these days, I commonly do this. I glorify.

So who will get my glory? Who will benefit or receive what I commonly do? What God will be for me a “Savior”? These feel like the pressing, relevant questions of the season.

Miscarriage, Marriage to a Bear, & Expecting a Daughter

My name is Nate Noonen and I am going to be a father in about two weeks, give or take two weeks. I have always dreamed of being a dad.  That sounds odd, but children were a huge part of my life growing up.  I married my teddy bear, Tabitha, in a ceremony performed by my father, an ordained minister in the Nazarene church.  I don’t think the ceremony was legally binding since I was three years old at the time.  From that point on, every teddy bear brought into my house was a child of Tabitha and me.  Having four younger sisters meant that Tabitha and I had children fairly regularly.

Tabitha now lives with my mom and the rest of my family back in Ohio and I have since married a beautiful non-ursine woman named Kimmy.  We live in an apartment in Logan Square which used to be populated by a series of pet rodents until the last one died a year or so ago.  After that we were going to get a dog but that was stopped by landlord intervention and a realization that what we really wanted, and felt God had prepared us for, was a child.

Kimmy had a miscarriage a year and ten days ago (July 5, 2011).  We confirmed pregnancy and knew she would have a baby for less than 24 hours before the miscarriage.  People don’t tell each other about those things, but they are all a part of being a parent.  The joy of the positive pregnancy test followed by the agony and shared pain of having to wait that much longer for the first, second, or third child.  I don’t want to get into a discussion on abortion, but I know a God who weeps for every living thing, regardless of age, and sometimes I weep with Him.

Through that sadness and the discussions we have had with other parents, we were prepared to try again, with a more in depth understanding of the fragility of life.  That fragility expresses itself in every offer of genetic testing, every “this is nothing to worry about but,” every realization of just how not in control we are and how petrifying that is.  A belief in a loving God does not shield us from that fear, but it does make the fear subject to the reminders of just how much He loves us, how much He loves my daughter Charlotte and knows her in her inmost being, regardless of the age at which she leaves this realm for another.

My daughter will be born at some point.  That is the only fact that I know right now.  Michael has asked me to write a monthly article for his blog which I will do everything in my power to fulfill.

I look forward to seeing what God has in store over the next year.

Nate

From Migrations of the Heart

I’m reading Marita Golden’s autobiography, Migrations of the Heart.  Her story is compelling and thoughtful and beautifully written.  Can I use beautifully?  It’s hard at times and yet still somehow beautiful.  Her writing is striking and full and lively.

In this passage, she’s writing about a very powerful loss.  Her first pregnancy ended with what her doctor called a spontaneous abortion.  Ms. Golden is “taking me to school” in her writing.  I’m learning.  I’m listening.  As she’s talked about her experiences in this autobiography of loving Femi, a Nigerian, and moving into his culture after having lived for years in the US, I’m learning, through her, of what it took for her to adjust.  New expectations, new rules, spoken and unspoken.  I’m learning of how manhood and womanhood was seen and expressed in her life.  I’m learning about being a husband.

At home I recuperated, confined by the doctor, Femi and my own desire to bed.  Almost immediately I began to write furiously, with the fervor of a long-awaited eruption.  I filled page after page with an outpouring the loss of my child released.  The writing affirmed me, anointed me with a sense of purpose.  Most of all, it slowly began to dissipate the sense of failure that squatted, a mannerless intruder, inside my spirit.  The writing redeemed my talent for creation and, as the days passed, made me whole once again.

In the evenings Bisi came to visit, and for several days under her hand I received a postpartum “native treatment.”  Filling the tub with warm water and an assortment of leaves, grasses and herbs, her hands pressed and gently kneaded my stomach in a downward motion.  “This will bring out the poisons,” she explained.  The water was the color of strong tea and the steam rising from it made me drowsy.  Drying me with a towel, she warned, “Tell uncle to let you rest.  Let your body heal.  Tell him to be patient.”

“I will,” I assured her, “I will.”

Mourning the loss of his child, his son, Femi inhabited the house with me but was dazed with grief.  As I ate dinner from a tray in bed one evening, he said, “We lost a man.”

“No, Femi, we lost a child.”

“We lost my son,” he insisted.  “And we must find out why this happened.  What went wrong, so that it won’t happen again.  Next time you will not drive; the roads alone could cause a miscarriage.”

“Femi, the doctor told me that sometimes a weak or defective fetus will spontaneously abort.  That perhaps if the child had gone nine months, it may not have been a healthy baby anyway.”

In response he quieted me with a wave of his hand.  “We will be more careful next time.”