Based on Luke 1: 46-55
Fiona was just four years old when she asked that I include in her bedtime prayer the request that God would not make her have a baby like he did with Mary. Explaining to a four-year-old that this wasn’t something she needed to lose sleep over turned out to be a theological nightmare for this seminary-educated mother.
Though the innocence of my daughter’s concern is received with a humorous levity today, it remains a subtle reminder of my own struggle with the premise of Mary’s Song. How could the recipient of such a gift, a gift coopted with so much conflict and chaos, be received as a “blessing,” when it could arguably be labeled as a completely horrifying experience.
While I do not live in constant fear that God will force me to bear a child, I do admit that I would wrestle with identifying Mary’s circumstances as a blessed experience…were I ever to be placed in her shoes.
Had I been placed in Mary’s shoes, the lyrics of this song would inevitably sound very different. I would write them down for you, but I imagine they would be both inappropriate and nonsensical. Generally speaking, there would be a lot less celebrating and a lot more nervous breakdown-ing.
This spiritual dilemma, in which we thank Mary for her gift to us in the same breath that we thank God that such an invasive blessing isn’t expected of us, is the adult version of the child’s prayer. A prayer we never speak in words but a prayer we exemplify in our daily actions: “Thank you for the birth of Jesus which releases me from the fear that I, myself, would experience the laboring pains of divine birth.”
But the blessing Mary receives, and the promise we inherit through her acceptance of this blessing, is not the free pass we may wish to unwrap on Christmas morning. The blessing of Mary, the birth of Jesus, does not exempt us from the unpleasantness of spiritual procreation. As uncomfortable as it is to imagine, this blessing of Mary, this birth of Christ, requires the reimaging of ourselves as eligible candidates for the call of birthing God’s blessings into the world.
Given this reality, I have compiled a list of preferred ways to experience God’s blessing. In the case that God should ever ask me my opinion. This list, I created, in spite of the overwhelming amount of evidence showing that God rarely seems to ask our opinions. Rather, it seems, God persistently prepares our hearts for the birthing work we were each created to do so slowly it could easily go unnoticed. Each day stretching our hearts, kneading our minds until, like Mary, the blessing we are to birth arrives like a surprise we realize we should have expected all along.
It is in Mary’s Song that witnesses such an example of divine preparation; her praise unfolding within the holy embrace of a historical knowing of a God who now physically grows in her womb. “…for the Mighty One has done great things for me,” she sings, “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
It is the song of Mary that reveals her deep connectedness to a God who has prepared her to see evidence and example of the divinity which she will birth in human form for the world. We see in her knowing of this God who now lives within her that, although the story starts at divine conception, there has been a long and intentional time of divine preparation resulting in the celebration of a blessing we may likely be reluctant to receive. Her words witness to the work that had taken place before the blessing was bestowed. She knows, and so trusts, the divine being living within her. She recognizes, and so responds with gratitude, to an objectively horrifying experience with a heart filled with hope.
I imagine it could be in God’s noticeable presence in our own lives that we could grasp a glimpse of the blessing we too are being prepared to birth into the world. Miscellaneous details that turn out to be unexpectedly linked together. Serendipitous encounters and suspicious coincidences. Slowly our lives open to receive our own angelic message, our own unique calling to birth Christ in the world once again.
With a good deal of resentment and bitterness, I remember the lies I was told in the birthing classes I took as I awaited the day when I would finally become a new mother. “You will have breaks,” they told me, “in the pain. Breaks to catch your breath and begin again. These breaks will make the pain manageable,” they said. “Put this clothespin on your ear,” they said. “Keep it on for 10 seconds and now take it off for five and then repeat. This is what labor will feel like,” they said.
This was not what labor felt like. In addition, I assure you there were very few (drug-free) breaks. The motivation to accept the blessing of giving birth was not a courageous, heroic act but a result of zero alternative options. And, it is because of this experienced reality, that I am grateful for the ignorance of my entrance into the experience itself.
Even though none of what the class taught me was true, everything that I heard was necessary for me to believe at the time that it was taught to me. In the face of such a life-changing, heart-breaking, high-risk blessing, I required a preparation I could comprehend. I needed information that would comfort me and shared wisdom that offered me the confidence that I had what it took to do something that felt completely impossible and totally horrifying.
The truth regarding the birthing of any blessing is that Truth is wrapped within the experience itself. Truth is that which cannot be told or taught because it is a living, evolving experience that we saturate and then embody within our eternally evolving spiritual DNA. The truth of the experience, the receiving of the Truth, is the blessing itself. Until the experience consumes you, until the birthing pains come, and the promise of new life waits in the next push, the Truth remains unbelievable. The Truth of the divine labor required for any blessing, is that it is terrifying and beautiful and unpredictable and, often fatal …to our careers, our relationships, our established understanding of the world and everything around us. In the experience of divine labor, we learn that blessings push back, rip us apart and gift us with the birth of a Truth we would otherwise never know.
Mary’s Song may witness to the presence of God throughout her life, but Mary’s Song is noticeably absent of the storyline that would follow the experience of her divine blessing and the release of its truth into the world. Likewise, neither do we know the result of the experience of our own divine blessings, planted in us and nurtured, until the time comes for a new Truth to expose itself to the world.
What we do know, is that Mary is not alone in her experience of blessed discomfort. Every day, each of us have the opportunity to push ourselves further into the possibilities of laboring divine blessings. In every moment, we find the potential to birth Christ into the world through a commitment to maintain a peaceful presence in an anxious world. To know Christ, to follow Jesus, is an acceptance of our role as recipients of blessings manifested in radical, challenging, painful experiences that push back against the walls of certainty built around us.
Mary’s experience is not an anomaly; it is an example of an expectation of a committed life to Christ. As Judith Jones so beautifully articulates in her commentary on this passage, “In Mary’s song we see a God who loves us, but does not leave us as we are.” May this too, be our hope, as together we are prepared for the blessings of new life this Advent Season.