Too much to ask / Opposing parallels

It seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
All she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
flutterings
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction–spirit
with flesh.
Who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable
defense.

And it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing–
God’s shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven’s hopes
and summon God’s glory. -Luci Shaw

A group of us from Regent and Vancouver School of Theology went to an excellent production of Much Ado About Nothing at Bard on the Beach. I’ve always loved the play because of Beatrice and Benedick, Beatrice being one of the best, funniest, and warmest of Shakespeare’s women’s roles.

Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, and Claudio come off much less well. Hero is set up by the villain to look as though she is being unfaithful to her fiance on the eve of their wedding. Claudio believes the cruel hoax without question and then, with vicious cruelty, allows the wedding to take place as planned until the moment when the friar asks if anyone knows of any impediment, at which point he publicly denounces the innocent Hero.

It reminded me of another man whose fiancee seems to have betrayed him at the last minute. Instead of denouncing her, having her stoned–the customary punishment for adultery–he lovingly decides to send her away to some safe place.

And then he is willing to believe the angel who tells him not to be afraid to take the young girl for his wife, for the child within her is from God.

I wonder if Shakespeare was aware of the opposing parallels? -Madeleine L’Engle

Each year, it seems that I stumble upon a different angle from which to approach the Christmas story. As more and more of my friends had children, it was easier to see things from Mary’s point of view. What a brave, amazing girl she must have been, to accept what the angel told her, to bear the burden of her scandalous pregnancy, to travel with Joseph and give birth in a stable. And the things she must have gone through later on, as well: What was her life like during Jesus’ ministry? How much did she understand about his crucifixion?

A few years ago, inspired by Andrew Peterson, I was inspired to think a little bit more about Joseph. He was, as my pastor said, the first person in the New Testament to see life through the new lens that Jesus brought. He, too, must have been extraordinary, full of love and faith. He was certainly someone whose imagination was widened.

This year, I find that I gain insight by seeing things not from the perspective of one or the other of these central characters, but from the perspective of their relationship. I don’t know about carrying a baby, let alone the Son of God. And the things I have been asked to bear in this life are, frankly, rather ordinary (I am not complaining about that. Just calling it like I see it). There are no angels, no public scandals, no dreams from God. However, I do know a little bit about marriage and facing difficult tasks with my spouse. And so, this year, what strikes me the most is how amazing they were together, what an extraordinary couple they must have been. For years I have been thinking about them as individuals who were chosen to bear these impossible things, but I have been neglecting the fact that, in order to complete the tasks that were given to them . . . they needed each other.

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