Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: john

How Jesus Says “Woman”

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Every word can mean I love you

Last night in my cell meeting we read John 2:1-11. We were reading with the intention to see what Jesus is like (That’s the best reason to read the Gospels in my opinion). After we read the passage through three times, one brilliant cellmate, who I, immediately after this eloquent, lyrical observation, strongly encouraged to pursue a life as a poet, told the group that every word can be spoken to mean I love you. He listened to us read the word Jesus says to Mary, woman, and the memory of this capacity we have to speak I love you into every word came back to him. Yes, every word can be spoken to mean I love you.

Every word: “potato”, “Nashville”, “kitty cat”, “‘sup?” All these can mean I love you.

It has to do with how the word is said — the amount of breath used in sounding it, the shape of the mouth as it is sent,  the familiar pattern of pitch and intonation — that does this lingual alchemy. It works best to actually communicate I love you in the context of love itself — in relationship (by the way, this is really the only place I love you  means I love you as well). In a love relationship, the shared meaning of potato really can mean so much more than root vegetable. For example: “The potatoes are extra crispy.” “You substituted the potatoes,” “We made potato stamps,” “French fries are made of potatoes.”

John says elsewhere that God is love. And John records Jesus saying in John 14, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Doesn’t it make sense then that, somehow, every word that Love speaks would mean I love you? If we ourselves know just how tenderly we can use these words we have received — how much they can mean — how well they can be wielded for building one another up — how much more must Jesus mean I love you with every word he has ever said? Yes to this, but yes especially to this word here in John 2, woman.

How I said woman

My cellmate heard us read it and heard some kind of rebuke in most of our readings. I know I wasn’t careful to speak love into the word, and so it is likely that anti-love leaked right through my lips. The word woman must be gentled with the utmost tenderness, because it is so often launched as an attack. The very nature of half of humans is so quickly crafted into critique. The personhood of womankind is so easily stolen away. The fact of our existence together has made this un-love meaning of the word automatic, assumed. Womanhood, which requires no apology, is always being apologized.

When Jesus says woman, he must be saying something else. He is not tired, perturbed, frustrated or inconvenienced by Mary’s request. Otherwise, why would he have answered her prayer? He was going to reveal himself soon, why not now? His plan was to make himself widely known as the Son of God who is love, and to train a group of disciples enough to carry on speaking his Father’s love language when his mouth was no longer here on earth to shape words with breath, lip, tooth and tongue. Mary helped him choose the moment. This woman participated in designing the occasion. “Woman!”

If with Jesus, why not also with me?

I am convicted to be more careful with every word belonging to Jesus. His words, every one of them, must mean I love you. Even when he rebukes people harshly, for there are many octaves and melodies that sing the same message. Love can be consuming fire and demand, but Jesus’ words will always mean the same. And if his words, why not also all of mine. You cannot depend on mine so well as his, but I am seeing in this cell-meeting-revelation that I have but barely begun to try.

Jesus, Mother, Please

Jesus, mother me, as your mother mothered you in that moment. Make my moments ready, and me ready in them, to soak every word in love. Anselm, a 12th century Benedictine Monk, makes a nice attempt in this prayer below. He is uplifting a woman-adjacent word: mother.

So many things can be said with this one word as well, mother. I won’t list the seven that fly to the surface of my mind but you might pause again to consider the infinity living inside words like this one. Anselm means Jesus with it, which I believe is one way that he said I love you to every mother ever.  He speaks from many centuries in the past to confirm the always-true nature of Jesus’ forever-gentleness and constant love. Let this prayer shape your heart and words. Send them to your mother this weekend for Mother’s Day, whether she is alive or not, or send your own words, whatever means I love you  in ways that mean for you and her.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you:
You are gentle with us as a mother with her children;
Often you weep over our sins and our pride:
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds:
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life:
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness:
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead:
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us:
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness:
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.


Anselm (1033-1109) More about him on Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body Blog

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

We Know More Than We Comprehend

I was on retreat trying not to question my instincts too much, because retreats are basically practice for listening to the Spirit and your instincts and the Spirit often sound the same. Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” came to mind. I’m a big Gerard Manley Hopkins fan and there are kingfishers on the lake near the place I was retreating. I pulled up the poem and decided to memorize it. I sat in front of a window and watched the sun set into complete darkness as I read and repeated my way through the poem.  By the time I went to sleep that night I had it in my heart.

In the morning I made some coffee and went down to the deck on the lake where the kingfishers live and I recited the poem to the waking day.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This guy describes it so well on Youtube

There was an exhileration to preaching this sermon to the lake, trees, stones and birds who stirred in the early morning. I felt like I was really selfing, as the poem proclaims all mortal things are made to do. I might have even been justicing as the just man, or dare I say Christing as the one in whose face Christ plays. It felt true what John said in the beginning of his gospel; that without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. There is a completion of purpose in enjoying the world as it is — with it’s beautiful sounds resounding in wells, and love resounding in faces. Christ plays through it all. I was feeling that as I recited Gerard Manley Hopkins words and it inspired me to fill my heart up with more.

So I decided to memorize the prologue to John. Only the first 14 verses would fit on the piece of paper on which I neatly wrote it out so I stopped at “Full of grace and truth”

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning;
Through him everything was made.
Without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
And that life was the light of humankind.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John
Who came as a witness to testify about the light,
So that through him all might believe.
He himself was not the light;
He came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone
Was coming into the world,
And though the world was made through him
The world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
And his own did not receive him.

But to those who did receive him —
To those who believed in his name,
He gave the right to become children of God,
Children born not of natural descent
Nor human decision or a man’s will
But born of God!

The word became flesh
And made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
The Glory of the one and only son,
Full of grace and truth.

I learned this poem before the thin paper was completely soaked with sweat, as I was holding it in my hand puffing up Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap as fast as I could. Maybe the heavy breathing and cardio impressed the words deeper into my heart than usual, but it has had a powerful impact on me. It was like I was full of grace and truth too. It was like the glory I was seeing on that beautiful day was the Glory of the one and only son. It was like my body bounding up the rocks was part of it all.

Getting scripture down into me feels more like communion than regular Bible Study. Choosing a passage like John 1:1-14 was probably a good idea because I’m not sure it is best to comprehend. It is designed for an understanding of a different kind. Want to join me in my memorization project. Let’s fill our heads and hearts with the grace and truth God filled Jesus with!

Here are a few other passages I recommend memorizing

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 15:1-17

Genesis 1:1-31

Psalm 23:1-6

Luke 2:46-55

1 John 3:1-24 (I’m working on this one next)


Making Friends on Passyunk Avenue

Passyunk and Tasker (a photo I did take)

Passyunk and Tasker
(a photo I did take)

So, I’m discovering the skills I’ve gained as a hospital chaplain over the past few years are really helpful (not surprising but refreshing).  I spent Saturday afternoon on Passyunk Avenue seeing if I could make some friends and I think I did… wow!  It felt a lot like I was on the 3rd floor of the hospital meeting all the new patients and keeping up with those who had been there.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my time striking up conversations with strangers and going deep.  I wasn’t sure if that could work on the street, but essentially, I’m deploying the same strategy.

While I worked at the hospital I developed my thinking about  myself and my work at the hospital.  Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE requires you to do this and I’m glad because the theory is mapping onto my new calling.

I wrote:

“I have developed my own theory of pastoral care, or at least my own image of pastoral care. Robert Dykstra wrote, “Having access to a variety of metaphors for ministry provided a modicum of courage and guidance when … I could not possibly have known what I was doing.” (Dykstra, Images of Pastoral Care, 2005 p.8) To the many of the metaphors he compiles in this book, I have added the image of myself as friend.

I connect it with Jesus’ command to his disciples in John 15. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

I have taken my needed “modicum of courage and guidance” from Jesus himself. This image lines up exactly with my values, basic assumptions and personhood. I value Jesus above all else and I live out of his love to the best of my ability. Psychologically, it seems I am especially wired for relationship and much of my motivation for a lot of what I do stems out of my desire to be accepted and loved by others. I desire to do with those I encounter what I most deeply desire to receive.”

I went out and did this on Saturday afternoon.  Looking for people who wanted someone to listen and offering my love and friendship to them.  There were several who wanted to connect.  The best story was this guy who collects old bottles.  He digs most of them out of the ground and knows tons about Philadelphia history and the history of bottle manufacturing.  We talked for a while and I was completely fascinated.  Eventually I shared that my grandfather owned a bottling company in Southern California called Bireley’s… and then BAM!  Dude pulls out two Bireley’s bottles and straight up gives them to me.  Talk about receiving!  This is the sort of blessing that needs to be told far and wide.  I love this guy now!  I love Passyunk Ave. (such a cool place with lots of cool people)!  I love Philadelphia and all the potential friends she offers me!