Unnoticed and Unknown to Men of Power

When Mary went to visit Elizabeth, her ancient cousin‚ÄĒlong past the years of child bearing‚ÄĒshe came out to meet her. Elizabeth deepest shame had been that she was barren, but when Mary approached she saw her cousin’s glow, the swell of her abdomen, and delight in her eyes. As Mary approached Elizabeth was momentarily breathless. She put her hand on her belly.¬†The¬†baby¬†had given her a spirited kicked.¬†

She called to Mary, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! Why am I so favored that you would come to visit me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in me leapt with joy. Blessed is the one who believed God would fulfill his promise to her! (Luke 1:41-44)”

This is the setting of Mary’s own song, the Magnificat, where she glories in the Lord for her goodness to her and the coming justice her baby boy would usher in.

Priest and poet, Malcolm Guite imagines the scene, two women on the edge of things, unnoticed and unknown to men of power:

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‚Äėtoo young‚Äô,

Elizabeth with all called ‚Äėpast their prime‚Äô

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

This poem is taken from Malcom Guite’s blog: https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/a-sonnet-for-the-feast-of-the-visitation/

Two women overlooked. The one who couldn’t conceive (Elizabeth), the one who shouldn’t (unwed teenager mum, Mary).The “too young” and the “past her prime.” It is it any wonder that Mary’s song lifts up the poor, the humble, and the hungry, over against the powerful, the wealthy, rulers of the age? Even before Mary unleashed her melody‚ÄĒa song which recalled Hannah (1 Sam 1), another overlooked woman‚ÄĒGod was already at work lifting up the forgotten, the overlooked, the outcast.

When the Triune God set his redemptive plan in motion, he didn’t come to the powerful, the strong, or the patriarchy. He came to an unwed teen girl blessing her older cousin also. Both would have boys who would call God’s people to repentance and point to the coming reign of God. One of their boys would be God himself.

Yes, an Angel had visited Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah. The proud man couldn’t accept the angel’s news. Not like Mary. Not like Elizabeth. Favored¬†of¬†heaven,¬†outcast¬†on¬†the¬†earth,¬†Prophets¬†who¬†bring¬†the¬†best¬†in¬†us¬†to¬†birth.¬†

Our Spirits Rejoice With God Our Savior

Nothing captures Advent Joy the way that Mary’s song does:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
  and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
¬†for the Mighty One has done great things¬†for me‚ÄĒ
¬†¬†¬†¬†holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)

Mary’s song bursts. It exudes praise. She recognizes the significance of what God was going to do through her baby boy. Every generation will be blessed because of Mary’s participation in God’s redemption and the things her Son will do.

The song goes on:

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
¬†¬†¬†¬†just as he promised our ancestors.‚ÄĚ (Luke 50-55)

She describes the mercy of God to those who fear (revere)him and how God scatters the proud, brings down rulers and lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty.

This is radically inclusive and subversive!

A had a seminary professor who used to pastor an ex-pat church in the Philippines where it was illegal to read the Magnificat in public, for fear that it would incite riot and revolution. These words are politically charged. The proud are scattered and the rich go away empty. The humble are lifted up while the rulers are deposed. Mary challenges the whole system centuries before the classic Liberals defied Monarchy, the Communists decried Capitalism and the Anarchists denied institutional authority. If you do not hear a poignant critique of the way things are in Mary’s words, you are over-spiritualizing her words and dismissing them. There is raw power here. This is a rallying call!

Unfortunately, even the poets sometimes miss the point, focusing instead on Mary’s high praise while glossing over the phrases that challenge the status quo. Author and activist Lisa Sharon Harper published this poem in Sojourners in 2008. I think it gets at the joyful and subversive hope of Mary:

Mary’s Song: A Poem

Dark times
Regime change.
“How are we gonna make it?”
“How are we gonna live?”
Tomorrow?

Fear for breakfast
Trembling for brunch
Despair for dinner.

Dark thick air
Full of fumes
Can’t breathe.

Thick over the man on the street
With feet sticking out of his shoes.
Shoes wrapped in muslin.
It does not cover him
He lay cocked to one side.
In a fetal position.
He was a baby once.
Once ‚ÄĒ he cried and cuddled and coo-ed
Now he knows evil of this world.
His eyes have been baptized in the warped world of war.
They stare ‚Äď- numb.
Dead eyes.
Murdered by drugs and guns and blood
Murdered by full metal jackets
Innocent eyes stolen
Stolen, too, the man’s soul.
Now
He lays in a fetal position
Waiting…

And the woman on the train
Across the aisle from me.
Her hand stretches forth
Rests on the carriage
Rocking a sleeping baby.
Innocent in all things.
Deserving of nothing
Deserving of all things
Baby lay waiting
In a fetal position
Baby waits to breathe above 125th street.
Fumes hover in her neighborhood
Where bus depots pepper the map.
Cancer fumes
Asthma fumes
Fumes that shape life
Limit life
Steal life
But for now she sleeps
And her momma rocks her carriage.

And the GM
And the Hedgefund
And the free-market giants
Three of them
Jolly and Green
They lay now
Tears trickle from baptized eyes
Dead eyes
They stare ‚Äď- numb
Ransacked by green greed and time catching up
Now … nothing ‚Äď- or at least it feels like nothing.
They have what feels like nothing.
And for fear of feeling fear
The giants lay feeling nothing.

Darkness hovers over the deep
And we wait.

We watch with dead eyes
Eyes that have seen too much.
Eyes that have known too much evil.
Redeem! Lord, Redeem!

Watch for the light.
Wait for the light.
It pierces darkness
And unfurls curled bodies
It covers twisted limbs.
It replaces fumes with blankets of breath
Mixed with love and sacrifice.

Mary watched and waited
The powerless, harassed young girl ‚Äď- 13.
Barely a foot in the world
On the run
Chased down by power
Death surrounded her
Wrapped in the stench of King Herod’s dying babies

But

Into the darkness Mary sang!

“My soul doth magnify the Lord!
My soul doth magnify the Lord!
The one more mighty than darkness has done great things!”

For resting in her belly
Turning in her belly
Pressing on her belly
Light was being born

“God scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts,”
Mary says!
“God brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts the lowly,”
Mary proclaims!

And the man with feet peeking from his shoes will be lifted up.
He will stand up!
And the baby covered in fumes will be lifted up.
She will stand up! Up!
And the green giants laying with dead eyes ‚ÄĒ yes, even they will be lifted up!
They will stand!
Blessed are they now, for they are ready to be lifted up.
They will lock hands
With their sisters and brothers and …

Our souls will magnify the Lord.
Our souls will magnify the Lord.
Our souls¬†will¬†magnify the Lord …
…¬†together!
And our spirits will rejoice in God our savior!

Amen.

Poem originally published by Sojourners, 12-17-2008 https://sojo.net/articles/marys-song-poem

The homeless, the mother and asthmatic child riding the train, the greedy green giants which lost everything in an economic downturn. All humble or humbled, awaiting the day when they will be raised up. Jesus is coming. My soul magnifies the Lord!

Pain Will Endure. Joy Comes in the Morning.

Annunciation means an announcement of something. When you see the word capitalized and called out, “The Annunciation” it signifies the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus. But there are other annunciations, perhaps, not all so joyful or hope-filled. Some announcements catch us off guard, fill us with sadness and make us anxious.¬†

Madeleine L’Engle, beloved author of¬† A Wrinkle in Time, has two poems entitled¬†Annunciation. The first, I found in¬†The Weather of the Heart(Seabury Press, 1978, 44). It is a short poem which describes Mary’s yes to God :

Annunciation


To the impossible: Yes!
Enter and penetrate
O Spirit. Come and bless
This hour: the star is late.
Only the absurdity of love
Can break the bonds of hate.

Hopeful exuberance and full acceptance of the Angel’s claim.¬† Mary understood, that as whimsical and absurd as it all sounded, God was in the details and this was indeed good news¬†Only the absurdity of love can break the bonds of hate.¬†

The second of L’Engle’s poems called Annunciation (from Cry Like A Bell,¬†Seabury Press, 1987, 45-46)¬† weaves the Lukan image of Mary’s annunciation with another angelic visitation‚ÄĒanother boy to be born. But here there is less a sense of good news. Instead we hear a mournful warning, foreboding of what lay ahead:

1
Sorrowfully
the angel appeared
before the young woman
feared
to ask what must be asked,
a task
almost to great to bear.
With care,
mournfully,
the angel bare
the tidings of great joy
,
and then
great grief.
Behold, thou shalt conceive.
Though shalt bring forth a son.
This must be done.
There is no reprieve.

2

Another boy
born of woman (who shall also grieve)
full of grace
and innocence
and no offense‚ÄĒ
a lovely one
of pure and unmarked face.

3
How much can one woman bear?

4

Pain will endure for the night
but joy comes in the morning.

His name is Judas.


That the prophets may be fulfilled
he must play his part. 
It must be done.
Pain will endure.
Joy comes in the morning.

We aren’t accustomed to thinking about Judas in Advent. We tell the story of Jesus coming and how kings are toppled from their throne and the lowly raised up. We celebrate the child born, full of possibility and promise.¬†A baby changes everything!But not all news that finds us is good.

I am a father of 4 with all kinds of hope for each of my kids but I can’t tell you what their future holds. I fear unwelcome annunciations. A vexing diagnosis, traumatic experience, difficult circumstance may each derail my heartiest hopes for them. Or maybe, like Judas, they may each choose to walk from the light and go their own way.¬†

A baby does change everything. With each birth comes hope and worry, sleepless nights and heartache. Even joyful Mary was warned a sword will pierce your heart too (Luke 2:35). 

Judas, the betrayer, played his part in delivering up Jesus to be crucified. But he was also loved by God, chosen by Jesus, welcomed as a friend. He dies desolate and alone, overcome by shame, lost to himself. Such a sad end for one so-well-loved. 

Pain will endure. Joy comes in the morning. 

‚Ěá

There is a third annunciation poem by L’Engle entitled After Annunciation¬† (The Weather of the Heart, 45):

This is the irrational season

when love blooms bright and wild.

Had Mary been filled with reason

there’d have been no room for the child.

The joyful hope of Advent, defies our reason and reasonable expectations. I do not know what hope there is for Judas. I both worry and dream about the futures my 4 children will inhabit. And God is at work redeeming the world. The Pain endures, joy in the morning.

The Thirteenth Station

Jeus is Taken Down from the Cross

I rush in my mind to Resurrection.

This moment is uncomfortable

You are dead and

all that love you are stricken with grief.

Your mother mourns.

Your disciples wander disillusioned.

There is no hope and little

comfort.

But your sacrifice was finished

and in some profound sense,

we were set free–

our debts paid

in full.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Third Word from the Cross

Jesus’ mother was standing next to his cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing near by.

Jesus (to Mary, His Mother): Dear woman, this is your son(motioning to the beloved disciple)! (to John, His disciple) This is now your mother. (John 19:25-27-The Voice)

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus’ relationship with his mother seemed strained. When he was twelve he ditched his parents to go to temple(Luke 2:41-49). As an adult, Mary approaches Jesus to help with a wine shortage at a wedding, he responds, “Woman, what has that to do with me?(John 2:4)” I know, from years of Bible studies and commentaries that ‘Woman’ was a common address during the time, something like “Dear woman.” But try as I might I cannot make this phrase of Jesus sound like he’s being nice to mom.

mary&JohnOnce when his mother and brothers came to get him, fearing he was off his rocker, he virtually disowned them. “Who are my mother and brothers? You here are my mothers and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my true family (Mark 3:33,35).”

And it is this Jesus who uttered the words that warm every mother’s heart, “If you come to me without hating your own father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and yes, even your own life, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

But on the cross, Jesus took a moment away from dying for are sins to focus on the family. “This is your son. . .this is now your mother.” What does this mean? What is the significance of this little interchange?

Was Jesus taking time to make sure his mother is cared for in his absence? Was he giving his mom and disciple shoulders to cry on in their grief? Certainly there is an element of provision here for his grieving mother. A good Jewish boy would see that his mother was properly cared for in her old age. Augustine observes as much:

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. cxix. 1) This truly is that hour of the which Jesus, when about to change the water into wine, said, Mother, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. Then, about to act divinely, He repelled the mother of His humanity, of His infirmity, as if He knew her not: now, suffering humanly, He commends with human affection her of whom He was made man. Here is a moral lesson. The good Teacher shews us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents. The cross of the sufferer, is the chair of the Master.

But this brief episode also invites reflection on the significance of Mary. As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Mary, the Jew is in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of the faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget without God’s promise to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.

Jesus therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is seperate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between the Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 53-54)

Mary’s yes thirty-something years before inaugurated the events that led to this moment. Her son, the God of the universe, was stretched out on a cross. With dying breath he honors her for her role and her love for him. He gave John to her as a son, reconstituting family. It is not an overstatement to say, that church is born at the foot of the cross. And the hopes of Mary, and with her all of Israel, are bound up in the Son she saw die.