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“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened (Luke 13:20-21). Jesus likens this pedestrian image to the kingdom of God, an image unique in his teachings and often expressed in parables.

During the time of Jesus, Palestinian women always put aside moldy bread or leaven—a kind of poison—for the daily baking for their families. Only the smallest amount was used for their loaves that ballooned in the morning sun.

But Jesus speaks of this woman hiding leaven in three measures of flour, enough flour to fill a warehouse with bread—an absurd exaggeration, until his listeners catch on. Jesus is referencing humankind’s relation with God, in all his disguises. Such parables inflamed the imaginations of his listeners: they would remember.

I, too, had a similar response to the parable, one that recasts my terminal illness in a different light.

Like the leaven hid in the flour, terminal disease hides out in my lungs, imperceptibly hardening their airways and compromising my breathing—a slow process, admittedly, but relentless in its damage. Yet, paradoxically, this disorder continues expanding my passion for communion with God, within this mysterious kingdom.

Just as the fire of the bake oven transforms the leavened dough, the fire of diminishment transforms the psyche: both, critical processes to be endured. This is Kingdom living, both here and hereafter.

A small fire at night.

The experience of joy quivers our existential depths with sweet wordlessness, then casts an afterimage of longing within its waning. Then, it’s gone altogether, and the humdrum returns—another paper to correct, or a bathtub to clean. Yet we have been visited and pine for its return.

This universal experience, from time immemorial, still raises questions: Is there an ultimate Source of Joy—without ending? How regard such moments when they erupt from our psyches, then disappear? True, major world religions have affixed stories to such intrusions and developed corresponding myths for the inspiration of its adherents.

The Christian myth has held my imagination since baptism; its response to grief, integral to the human condition, has sustained me on this arduous life-path, at times, interspersed with splinters of joy. Only with the discipline of Twelve-Step living in later life, have I been able to stand apart from organized religion and experience the full impact of Jesus’s message of salvation. Therein, lies the fullness of joy, bursting to be shared.

Such bursting undermines today’s liturgy for the Third Week of Advent, especially ringing in Mary of Nazareth’s canticle of praise in Luke’s gospel—her finding greatness and delight in the Sacred:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior…  Because He who is Mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Because she saw so clearly, we are invited to pray in like manner, despite our grungy stuff. In the big picture, that does not really matter.

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