April 13, 2011


“The Mystery of the Future”

Luke 2:1-20; 41-52




Tim Perry asks us to consider two stories at the same time.


The first account is as normal and as human as any story I’ve read.  It is the story of the birth of Jesus.  The second story, although completely different than the first, is also an account of normal human activity: Adolescence.


Ok, so the birth may be normal.  It only gets a sentence or two.  But the announcement, made not to Joseph or to the inn keeper, nor even the Governor, but to shepherds, is as Cecil B. Demille as it gets!


There is a wonderful line at the end of the encounter between the Angel and Mary where Luke says “And Mary pondered all these things in her heart, wondering what they might mean.” What an understatement. I bet she pondered these things. Not quite sure what she is being asked to do, surely not confident that she is up to the task, there is a lot to ponder. But she does the wise thing and seeks out Elizabeth for support to help share the dream. How important that really is.


Renita Weems says,


I couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old myself when, standing over me with a hot comb in her hand, my stepmother turned my face toward her own and said, peering into my eyes, ‘Neetie, God’s got his hand on your life.’ Her words were completely unexpected, and I don’t recall them having anything to do with what was going on at that particular moment in my life. I was getting ready for my very first date. Nothing could have been further from my mind than what God had in mind for me. But I knew enough to keep silent. It would be years, almost twenty to be exact, before my stepmother’s words would mean anything to me. It would take that long for me to work my way out of the dungeon of self-loathing, self-doubt, and low expectations I had wandered into. It took that long before I stopped looking to romance to redeem me as a woman and a human being.


I look back on those days now, and the fact that my stepmother passed along her words during the sensual ritual of a mother coming, brushing, braiding, and pressing her daughter’s hair is not lost on me. In an act symbolizing love, closeness, and (inner) beauty, by straightening and adorning my hair my stepmother passed down from one generation of women to the next ancient wisdom, warnings, and dreams. My stepmother saw something I could not. I remain grateful to her for planting a little seed of identity and purpose in my fifteen-year-old consciousness, even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to grab hold of it at the time. But when I did grow up and learn how, her prophecy was there embedded in my memory waiting for me to harvest it. Sometimes it takes the mind and body years to catch up to what the soul knows already. It helps for a girl to have elders surrounding her to help her see new possibilities. You don’t throw away the old, wise souls in your midst. You may need them for their ability to see what you can’t see. Every girl needs her mother, grandmothers, aunties, godmothers, church mothers, and the women and older girls in their community to help them dream positive, wholesome, sustaining woman dreams for themselves.[1]


That, I think, is what the idea of the Church is all about. It is a place, a sanctuary where people from really different places come together to awaken and encourage one another. This is as important for men and boys as it is for women and girls, although it may occur in different ways.  I’m deeply aware that this doesn’t actually happen very often. When it does, there is something mystical that is shared through common exchanges.  The spiritual calling of the Church is like that. It is about real life, flesh and blood encouragement from odd quarters.


The church is about a community that holds these texts, keeps them close to our hearts, memorizes them even, so that when we need them they return to us uninvited.  In the midst of a difficult day the faith of a friend carries us through when our own faith falters.


Of the many titles for Mary, my favorite is that by which the Augustinians call her, Our Mother of Good Counsel.  See, just like Mary, we are not given the Gospel, the words of Jesus, nor the tradition of the church for the purposes of the past, but for the future.  We, like her, “keep them,” so that we might learn what they mean.


The beautiful image that emerges is one of Mary watching her son, all the while reflecting, pondering, knitting, narrating, hoping to make sense of all the things she sees and hears as the future gives way to the past.[2]


What Mary receives during these first two chapters of Luke’s gospel is the truth about Jesus.  It is a little overwhelming at first, just look at the shepherds and the Magi that respond gleefully to the good news and then eventually exit, stage right.  Even Joseph is eclipsed by the story.


And then there is this idea about contemplation.  Rumination.  Keeping these things in our hearts.  It is not a spiritual practice for the past but something to illumine the future, to cast light in dark corners ahead.


Mary somehow makes it all the way through.  The stamina she finds seems, as Tim Perry says, comes from her silence, her rumination, on these thoughts.  She is one of the few that is able to make it all the way to the cross, which is something that every mature disciple wishes to do. 

[1] Weems, Renita Showing Mary (West Bloomfield: Warner Books, 2001), pp. 31-33.

[2] Perry, Timothy Blessed is She: Living  Lent with Mary, Moorehouse, 2006, p. 68