December 8, 2019 – Brave Space

Text: Luke 1: 46b-55

What was the bravest thing you’ve ever done and what was it that made you brave? Don’t think too much or too hard. Use what comes to your mind right now. If you can’t think of anything, just think about one thing you did recently that you would consider brave. I invite you to turn to your neighbour, the person sitting close to you, and share your story.

I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of brave space. It’s a relatively new concept compared to safe space, and therefore requires further experiential learning and reflections. We first have to know who defines brave space. A brave space for a teenage girl, who is trying to find her place in a not so friendly school, would be different from a brave space for you or me.

Some social justice educators introduced brave spaces as a means to encourage students to participate in challenging conversations. They found out that students didn’t engage in meaningful dialogues when they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. For example, they introduced the privilege walk, an educational tool that helped students see themselves in the bigger picture – how their social locations determined their access to power and privilege. So, they created a brave space – instead of a safe space – where students were expected to engage one another with respect despite their differences.

Brave space can also be seen as a movement outside the class room. The movement was initiated by Micky ScottBey Jones, an African American woman. She is a justice doula, healer, nonviolent direct action organizer, and a womanist contemplative activist. It is a movement from being secure to vulnerable, from armored to open, from guarded to curious. She wrote the following poem,
An Invitation to Brave Space.
Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
But it will be our brave space together,
And we will work on it side by side.

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I like how she defines brave space. It’s down-to-earth yet visionary. It acknowledges our vulnerability and limits yet affirms our possibilities and the best version of ourselves – how we can create a deeper relationship, healthier community and better world together. No one is excluded or left out. Brave space requires everyone’s presence and participation.

Everyone has done something brave in their lives. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was moving to Canada. The second bravest thing I’ve done was moving to Manitoba. Sometimes not knowing helps me to be brave. But more importantly there is a sense that I don’t have a choice but to be brave. It’s like rising again by hitting the bottom. There is a common theme in doing something brave. We first experience some kind of crisis in our lives, and we face a decision to make. Sometimes the decision is made after intentional time of discernment. Sometimes the decision is made instinctively.

Sophia LeBlanc was one of the recipients of the Medal of Bravery last week – the youngest Nova Scotian to ever receive the award. On Nov. 11, 2018, 6 year old Sophia was a passenger in her mother’s car when it lost control and landed upside down, submerged in a river near Oxford. She freed her youngest sibling from the car and then climbed a steep hill to flag down help for the rest of her family who were still trapped in the car. The now 8 year old hero was reluctant to talk about the crash when she was interviewed. “I saved my family,” she said, clutching the blue box holding the medal. “It was hard to get my little sister, but I got her out. But I couldn’t get my brother out … I climbed on my mother’s back to get onto the rocks and then I climbed up.”

A single act of bravery can give life to so many. I wonder if that’s the case with Mary. The church praises Mary for her courageous act. In reality, however, Mary doesn’t have much choice. She asks the angel, ‘How can this be?’ The angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy.” I am not sure if such an answer can satisfy Mary or confuse her even more. Mary is in danger because there is a violation of a betrothed virgin as described in Deuteronomy. What seems to be a brutal answer is actually the most realistic solution for Mary. For there is no safe space for Mary and the fatherless child. She must act bravely, and the only way for her to be brave is to trust that she and her child will be held by the power of love.

Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat is the result of creating her brave space. It is the song of liberation – personal, social, moral and economic. It praises God’s liberating actions on behalf of marginal and exploited creation. The powerful memory is evoked of God’s deliverance of Israel throughout its history. Key themes for the Gospel are introduced, especially the proclamation of the good news to the poor. Mary’s song is precious to women and other oppressed people for its vision of their freedom from systemic injustice. In the transformed social order, food is provided for the hungry. The spiritual realm is understood as embedded in socioeconomic and political reality. Focus is on the might, holiness, and mercy of God, who has promised solidarity with those who suffer and who is true to those promises. God is magnified for effecting changes – now and always.

Even if the whole Nativity story is a metaphor, one thing no one can deny is the connection Mary had with her child inside of her. Mary was deeply connected with Jesus from the time he was conceived. She would have felt his first stirring of life, his ‘quickening’ in her womb from about four months into her pregnancy. With each movement of a tiny arm, a small kicking foot– with each inch of her own and her baby’s growth, she knew she was no longer her own; she knew her life had changed irrevocably. She became aware of her inward journey: so much changing in her body, mind and spirit. She realized that the world she lived in, that the baby would arrive in, was not as safe and peaceful as her inward world, now the only choice she had was to be brave. The strong bond she had with her child made her a more courageous woman. The mother and her child created a brave space together. The space might have not been perfect. It might have not always been what they wished it would have been. But it was their brave space together, which gave life to so many including me and you.