the things we carry: songs and sacred spaces

Message for Mary Sunday, contemplative service, December 2, 2018

This week, I have spent some time gazing at various artistic renderings of Mary and Elizabeth and Mary singing the Magnificat hoping to glean some insight as to what Mary was carrying with her in that moment of song.  As you can imagine, various artists interpret the scenario very differently—Mary as quiet and humble, Mary as smiling and joyful, Mary as strong and self-confident.  I have been sitting with this vision of a teenage girl, young and pregnant but rooted in her faith and trust in God.  And I’ve been wondering, what was she carrying in her heart?

I see the faces of pregnant teenage girls from my high school years, ashamed and invisible, trying to hide from the whispers and looks of disdain. What were they carrying in their hearts?

I remember the faces of pregnant teenage girls I have ministered to over the years, seeking motherly advice and unconditional love from people who did not abuse or abandon them. What were they carrying in their hearts?

I imagine the faces of pregnant teenage girls fleeing their homelands, dreaming of better lives for themselves and their unborn children, risking all that they have to find safety and peace. What are they carrying in their hearts?

PRAYER:  Let us pray

Oh, God,

Parent to all children,

As we enter this time of sacred space and prayer today,

we cannot know what each of us carries in our hearts.

But you are there, filling us both with silence and song.

May we come to you in this time,

As Mary came to Elizabeth,

Filled with awe of the journey that we will take

To meet you at the manger.  Amen

Let’s take a few steps back and remember where Mary’s journey actually began.  With a visit from an angel who proclaimed that Mary had found favor with God and that she would bear a child, the Son of God.  A holy ruler who would reign forever.

And then Gabriel assures Mary of God’s great power by relaying that Elizabeth in her old age has conceived a son.

Mary’s response?  Here I am.  Let it be with me.

And so Mary begins this journey physically and spiritually holding sacred space for Emmanuel—God with us.  She carries in her heart obedience, faith, and trust in spite of the social and political mores and traditions of her time.  I often wonder—did Mary find favor with God because of her being so rooted in her faith, or did God find favor with her because of her willingness to surrender and obey?  Perhaps both.

Either way, Mary’s status as a pregnant teenage girl serves to remind us that God finds favor with the lowly, the humble, and the unexpected.

PRAYER:  Let us pray

Holy Spirit,

May we encounter you this season

As Mary encountered you

With the humility of trust

And the wisdom of obedience.  Amen

So in Luke’s account, the next part of this remarkable journey takes Mary to Elizabeth’s house, and there, these two women together hold sacred space for their children and for God’s blessing of motherhood.

Can you imagine the conversation?  The air thick with wonder and awe and joy?  Maybe they were sitting around a table or hugging in a doorway.  As we take time to pray, envision this scene of these two women sharing this sacred space together.

PRAYER:  Let us pray

God, from whom all blessings flow,

We envision the inspired connection between Mary and Elizabeth.

We can only imagine what they carried in their hearts as they shared their stories.

And now, just as these women did, we create a sacred space here

To hear the words of Mary, the mother

To hear the words of Mary, the prophet.

May we invite the song to fill our spirits

And prepare us for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  Amen

Our scripture reading for today is the Magnificat – Mary’s song.  Found in

Luke 1:46-55 The Voice

My soul lifts up the Lord!
47     My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48     For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49     For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50     From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.

51     God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52     The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53     The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54     To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55     As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.

This is word of God for the people of the world. . .thanks be to God.

Today, we listen to a song from the lips of a pregnant teenage girl—a song filled with words of God-news and hope and justice. A song from her heart that carries with it joy and confidence and promise.  And yet, also words unexpected from this young woman.

Author Rachel Held Evans reflects that

With the Magnificat, Mary not only announces [the birth of Jesus], she announces the inauguration of a new kingdom, one that stands in stark contrast to every other kingdom—past, present, and future—that relies on violence and exploitation to achieve ‘greatness.’ With the Magnificat, Mary declares that God has indeed chosen sides. It’s not with the occupying force, but with people on the margins. It’s not with narcissistic kings, but with an un-wed, un-believed teenage girl entrusted with the holy task of birthing, nursing, and nurturing God. This is the stunning claim of the incarnation [Evans writes]: God [chooses to make] a home among the very people the world casts aside. And in her defiant prayer, Mary—a dark-skinned woman, a refugee, a religious minority in an occupied land—names this reality.

Not what we might expect from a pregnant teenage girl.

And yet, isn’t it the way of God and isn’t it ONLY God who chooses someone so unexpected, so vulnerable to bear the Light of the world and the Word of God?  It’s what inspires in us – faith.  No matter how ashamed or invisible, neglected or abused, scared or hopeless, each – one – of us can be a light bearer, a God-news proclaimer, an obedient pregnant teenage girl holding sacred space and carrying songs in her heart.

Prayer:  Let us pray

God of Advent,

God of Expectation,

We come to you humbly

We come to you faithfully

We come to you with obediently

Affirming our desire to hold sacred space.

To carry you in our hearts

As we journey with mother Mary, prophet Mary

And prepare for the coming of her child, your son, Emmanuel – God with us.  Amen.

lessons learned: dark and deadly trails

In searching for words of wisdom this morning, I inadvertently came across this older post.  I’m glad it did. ~cameron

Last night on our evening walk as we rounded the bend of the nature trail, I asked my daughter, “Do you want to take the dark and deadly trail or turn around and travel back in the light?”  She laughed and asked, “Why do you call it ‘the dark and deadly trail?'”

I explained how that trail used to be inviting and sunny.  When my daughter was a baby, the path had been recently cut, and bushes and trees had not taken root.  Over time, however, plants have grown up so tall that they’ve created a tunnel effect.  The result is a section of trail that resembles a fairy tale.  Woodland animals live deep in the undergrowth, and at times, we hear noises we don’t recognize as birds or squirrels.  The light disappears and creates an eerie feeling, especially at dusk.  I will admit that sometimes if it’s just the dogs and me, we will jog that section to get through it faster, or turn around and go back the long way to remain on the sunny side. (They’re small dogs, people.  They won’t be able to protect me.)

There’s something about that trail that personifies the darkness of human nature.  I realize that feeling may come to me because of one too many children’s stories with wolves or witches, but truly, it does.  While it is a nature path and is full of beautiful foliage and fauna, it also seems as if something lurks behind the green, a sense of darkness I do not understand nor one that I want to experience.  It is a bit unnerving.

In our lives, we encounter many dark and deadly trails–those that challenge us personally, spiritually and culturally.  It is understandable that we wonder if we will make it out alive, or at least whole and in tact.

What I’m learning as I grow older, however, is that those times and situations help us define what is important to us, help us create a sense of connection with the bigger world, and help us feel more resolute about what it is we believe.  It is that kind of strength and determination that brings about change in this world; change that will make the world seem less “dark and deadly” for others.

And so, when my daughter looked at me last night and with gumption said, “The dark and deadly trail it is,” I followed her lead.  And we never looked back.

the psalm of waiting

Waiting is hard for most of us.  Not necessarily because we have to be where we are but because want to get to where we are going.  We may be perfectly content in this place and time but want to move into something bigger and better, or perhaps, this place and time are challenging us, and we desire to move forward out of it.

Either way, waiting is hard.

But take waiting and compound it with darkness, struggle or grief, and some days, it can almost seem unbearable.  Especially in matters of faith when we have been taught that joy and contentment are “good” and struggle and pain are “bad.”

Or in matters of faith when we are encouraged to “just do” all the time instead of learning how to “just be.”

So how do we wait?  Wait on God, wait on change, wait on reconciliation, wait on new life.

I’m learning that the waiting place offers us a few gifts if we allow it.  It’s a time to problem solve, a time to discern, a time to connect, and/or a time to rest.  Yes, even in struggle, we need time to rest (let me rephrase, especially in struggle).

The Psalm of Waiting

O, Creator, the one who formed

day and night,

earth and sky,

land and sea;

the one who

dances with the wind,

shines with the sun,

cries with the rain,

we pray to you now.

When will you create for us?

When will you invite us forward from this waiting place?

When will you lead us down the path again?

Like impatient children, we are restless and need to move.

But you remind us,

It is in this time, in this space

Where we rely on that which is here waiting with us–

Faith

Hope

Wisdom

Each other

For today, that must be enough.