mary, christmas

I have not seen the new Star Wars movie yet, but I am super curious about the title, The Force Awakens. First, is awakens a transitive verb (a verb with an object) meaning that the Force awakens something? And if so, what does it awaken? Or is awakens an intransitive verb, meaning that the Force has been slumbering and, by some prompting, wakes up? And if this, how does that happen? What is it that awakens the Force?

It’s this last question that I’m most curious about – what is it that awakens the Force? – because, frankly, I think the world could benefit from a little more of the Force. I know I could.

So Monday, when I ran into the biggest Star Wars fan I know, I told him I had a question about the new movie.

“Dude, I am sick of answering Star Wars questions. It’s all anybody wants to talk to me about.”

“Sorry. I could ask somebody else.”

“No, it’s ok. What’s your question?”

“You sure?”


“What is it that awakens the Force?”

“Huh,” he said. “I don’t know. . . . That’s not really clear. . . . I think it’s a girl.”

Which means the new Star Wars movie is like the W.H. Auden Christmas poem.

Sort of.

In 1944 Auden published “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” It’s a long poem — over 1500 lines, nearly 60 pages in the edition I own – but it is theologically and psychologically quite provocative. It has a readers’ theater format, and the speakers include a narrator, a chorus, all the biblical characters, and Jung’s Four Human Faculties: intuition, feeling, sensation, and thought.

Auden wrote “For the Time Being” in 1941 and ’42, after the death of his mother, in the throes of a romantic crisis, and in the shadow of World War II. The war motif appears early in the poem, when the chorus speaks:

            The evil and armed draw near;     

            The weather smells of their hate

            And the houses smell of our fear;

            Death has opened his opened his white eye. . . .

Evil. Arms. Hate. Fear. Death. It could well be December 2015.

Onto this dark stage come the angel Gabriel and Mary, the girl who awakens the Force. According to Gabriel, Mary has been dreaming of something since she was a child. Gabriel doesn’t say exactly what it is Mary has been dreaming of – being a mom? being Messiah’s mom? the deliverance of her people from the harsh hand of an occupying Empire? – but whatever it is Mary has been dreaming, Love has decided it is a good dream and will now be fulfilled. Here are Gabriel’s words:

            Mary, in a dream of love

            Playing as all children play,

            For unsuspecting children may

            Express in comic make-believe

            The wish that later they will know

            Is tragic and impossible;     

            Hear, child, what I am sent to tell:

            Love wills your dream to happen, so

            Love’s will on earth may be, through you,

            No longer a pretend, but true.

The first time I read these lines, they so electrified me I had to get up and walk around. I thought, Auden is saying Jesus was Mary’s idea. It wasn’t God who dreamed up Jesus. It was the girl.

This is a radical notion.

In Christian Scripture and in most theology I know anything about, Jesus is God’s idea. God sends a messenger, Gabriel, to tell Mary what’s going to happen — you’re going to have a child “who will be called the Son of the Most High” — and how it’s going to happen — “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Mary says yes — “let it be to me according to your word.” An important yes, to be sure, but God is still the brains behind the operation.

But what if that’s not how it happened? What if there’s more to the story than all that? What if God is walking around heaven, stressing and fretting about the mess on Earth, wondering what the heck to do about it, and he overhears a little girl imagining what would happen if she gave birth to God? Or what if God’s not walking around? What if God is sleeping? And what if there’s a girl whose heart is so big, whose ache is so deep, whose longing is so strong, that it awakens him? Or what if, once awake and impregnated with this crazy idea, what if God is afraid to go through with it? What if he needs lots of encouragement? What if the girl has to dream and ache and pray for years before God gathers the will to jump off that high dive? (On this last point, Auden wrote, years later, “May it not be that, just as we have to have faith in Him, God has to have faith in us and, considering the history of the human race so far, may it not be that ‘faith’ is even more difficult for Him than it is for us.”) What if when the girl sings, as she does in the Gospel of Luke, “my soul magnifies the Lord,” what if that is really true? What if her soul actually magnifies God? Magnifies as in “makes larger.” What if the girl somehow makes God bigger?

We don’t know about God, of course. As it says in the Bible, God’s ways are not our ways. But what if, somehow, the things we care and hurt and dream about make more of a difference with God than we know?

Yesterday I attended a funeral for a 31-year-old man who was shot and killed last week. I did not know him – he was the brother of a friend — but it was absolutely heartbreaking.

I will not tell you, on Christmas Eve, how many gun deaths happen every year in this country, or how many wars are happening on the planet right now, or how many refugees there are, or any number of other things that would break your heart and ruin your appetite for figgy pudding.

I will tell you, though, on Christmas Eve, that I am praying for an awakening of the Force. And I will ask you, who are full of grace, to join me. Who knows what difference our dreaming might make?

Have a Mary Christmas.

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(Taruna Rettinger, Mother Mary and Jesus)

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