A Visit and a Song (Part 01/04)

By Debie Thomas

The angel Gabriel leaves, and Mary runs. “With haste,” the Gospel writer tells us on this fourth Sunday in Advent, a newly pregnant teenager makes for the hills, not slowing down until she reaches the home of Elizabeth, her also-pregnant cousin. When her kinswoman welcomes her, she bursts into song — a song so subversive, governments twenty centuries later ban its public recitation.

love this Gospel story. I love it because it’s one of the rare narratives in the Bible that is female-centered. (The priest Zechariah — Elizabeth’s husband, and the man-presumably-in-charge — is literally silenced throughout.) I love it because its setting is domestic, intimate, and earthy. But most of all, I love it because it allows me to view the mother of Jesus as a whole person. To view her, in Nadia Bolz Weber’s language, “without sentimentality or cynicism.”

This is no small achievement, because we (the Church) have buried Mary under so many layers of theology, piety, and politics, she’s nearly impossible to excavate. Some of us pray to her. Others ignore her on monotheistic principle. Some call her “Theotokos,” the God-bearer. Others champion her as a model of holy femininity — ever sinless, ever virgin, ever mother. To some, she is a child prophet extraordinaire. To others, the victim of divine manipulation.

Would the real Mary please stand up? Well, I think she has. I think Luke’s account of the Visitation gives us a portrait of Mary that cuts through most of our assumptions and stereotypes. A nuanced portrait that balances fear with courage, doubt with faith, vulnerability with strength. Along the way, it gives us a portrait of ourselves — of what we, the Church, might become at our very best. Here, then, are three gifts I believe the Visitation story offers us for our Advent meditations.

The gift of community: As soon as Mary says “yes” to Gabriel’s astonishing request, she goes “in haste” to see Elizabeth. She doesn’t isolate herself. She doesn’t keep God’s revelation a secret. She doesn’t play Lone Ranger and attempt to go it alone. Instead, she seeks out a fellow-traveler

Although Luke doesn’t elaborate on Mary’s reasons for visiting Elizabeth, it’s easy to imagine why a girl with a story as crazy-sounding as hers might make such an urgent journey. Tradition tells us that Mary is only thirteen or fourteen years old when the angel Gabriel appears to her. In her cultural and religious context, her pregnancy is a scandal. At best, it renders her an object of scornful gossip. At worst, it places her at risk of death by stoning.

Needless to say, she needs safety, affirmation, empathy, and companionship. She needs someone to recognize, nurture, deepen, and celebrate the work of God in her life. Someone who will receive, not reject. Love, not judge. Nourish, not condemn.

Could there possibly be a better job description for the Church? A better prototype for Christian community? What would it be like if we sought each other out with the trust and openness of Mary? What would it be like if we (like Elizabeth) received with tenderness the marginalized and vulnerable people who dare to come to us, seeking refuge and nurture? What would it be like if our communal worship echoed the full-throated call-and-response of these two kinswomen who find themselves caught up in God’s bold, risky, world-changing work, and decide to find strength in each other’s company?

In this Gospel story, Luke essentially describes the first Christian worship service in history. Mary and Elizabeth — the young and the old, the unmarried and the married, the socially established and the socially vulnerable — finding common ground in their love for Jesus. As Henri Nouwen describes it, “God’s most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community.” What a gorgeous and challenging example for us to live up to.

to be continued…

#MoralStory: Patrick Henry Hughes Story

Born without eyes and without the ability to fully straighten his arms and legs 31 years ago, Patrick is not able to walk and has had surgery to insert two steel rods to his spine to correct scoliosis. He has had artificial eyes fitted and uses a wheelchair. While for most of us, this may sound like the makings of a story of tragedy, instead it is one of triumph.

About his limitations, Patrick said: “God made me blind and unable to walk. Big deal! He gave me the musical gifts I have and the great opportunity to meet new people.”

Along with his remarkable musical talents, Patrick has excelled at school and university, graduating magna cum laude from the University of Louisville in 2010, where his major was Spanish, which he speaks fluently.

After Patrick’s birth, his parents felt confused and upset, and their hopes and dreams for their son began to fade. His father, Patrick Snr asked, “Why us? We’ve played by all the rules.”

It was around the time Patrick was nine months old, that he was placed in front of a piano, and incredibly at that young an age, he demonstrated a natural musical talent.

His mother said, “You could go up and hit a note and no matter where it was on the piano, within one or two tries, he would find that exact note.”Read More »

Make Room

*

Family hiding from the storm
Found no place at the keeper’s door
It was for this a Child was born
To save a world so cold and hollow

The sleeping town did not know
That lying in a manger low
A Savior King who had no home
Has come to heal our sorrows

Is there room in your heart
Is there room in your heart
Is there room in your heart
For God to write His story
You can come as you are
But it may set you apart
When you make room in your heart
And trade your dreams for His glory
Make room in your heart
Make room in your heart

Shepherds counting sheep in the night
Do not fear the glory light
You are precious in His sight
God has come to raise the lowly

Mother holds the Promise tight
Every wrong will be made right
The road is straight and the burden’s light
For in His hands He holds tomorrow

#ShortNews: 1,500 poor people have lunch with Pope

As it has become customary, 3 years from the establishment of the World Day of the Poor called for by Pope Francis to mark the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Pope joined poor people and volunteers in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for lunch on Sunday.

After celebrating Mass for the poor in St. Peter’s Basilica, during which he described them as “the treasure of the Church” and told believers “the poor facilitate our access to heaven”, the Pope addressed  the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus prayer and noted the statistics regarding poverty and society’s painful indifference.

He then joined some 1,500 poor people and about 50 volunteers in the nearby Paul VI Hall for a lunch composed of lasagna, chicken with mushrooms and potatoes, dessert, fruit and espresso coffee.

Before the simple meal was served in the beautifully decked-out hall, the Pope thanked all those present and asked God to bless them and their families.

Source: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-11/pope-francis-lunch-vatican-world-day-poor.html

#ShortNews: Keep your hearts open to God and ‘keep journeyng,’ Pope tells Thai youth

Dear Young Friends,

I know that this evening you are keeping a vigil of prayer, you are praying.  And I know that others are still on their way, journeying here. How beautiful these two things are: to pray and to journey!

There are two things that we have to do in life. We have to keep our hearts open to God, since we receive our strength from him, and we have to keep journeying, because in life one can never stand still. A young person cannot retire at the age of twenty! He or she must keep walking. He or she must always keep moving forward, always going uphill.

One of you can say to me: “Yes, Father, but sometimes I am weak and I fall”. That doesn’t make any difference! There is an old Alpine song that says: “In the art of climbing, the important thing is not to keep from falling, but never to remain down on the ground”.

I offer you these two pieces of advice. Never stay down, immediately get up; let someone help you to get up. That’s the first thing. The second thing is: Don’t spend your life sitting on a couch! Live your life, build your life, do it, keep moving forward! Keep advancing on the journey, get involved and you find extraordinary happiness. I can assure of you of that.

May God bless you. I am praying for you; please pray for me.

Source: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20191120_videomessaggio-giovani-thai.html

#ShortNews: 60 churches damaged by Venice floods

One of the most ancient churches of Venice, a Byzantine basilica established in the year 639, counts among the 60 churches damaged in three exceptional floods last week, officials said Tuesday.

The ancient Santa Maria Assunta Basilica, and the adjacent Santa Maria Fosca church, were “abundantly flooded” three times last week, with the lagoon salt water seeping into mosaic floors and the marble columns, said Alessandro Polet, spokesman for the Venice Patriarchy said.

The basilica and its mosaic floors have been cleaned with fresh water, but the extent of the damage will take time to assess. “Damage from salt water you only see after time,’’ Polet said.

Because the salt water penetrates the building materials, damage is often much higher and deeper than the actual water levels. Due to its position in the lagoon, the water took longer to recede than from the historic center of Venice.

Source: https://apnews.com/15661058ada0425a9ff528fe1383e5f4

Let Your Light Shine

By Dr. James R. Miller

“Ye are the light of the world.” – Matthew 5:14

Every true Christian is a candle shining in this dark world. The Bible speaks of the spirit of man as the candle of the Lord. In the natural state, before regeneration, we are unlighted candles. We are candles, however, capable of being lighted; for God made us in his own image, though sin has put out the flame or left it only a smoking, smoldering spark. But a thousand unlighted candles in a dark room would not make the room light; so when we receive Christ into our hearts, the Holy Spirit touches these candles with the divine flame, and they begin to shine. Thus every believer becomes really a candle of the Lord.

We must remember that we never can shine of ourselves; that we are light only as we are lighted by the life of Christ in us. We are to let our light shine — that is, we are to keep the wick trimmed, so that the flame shall be always bright; and we are to keep the windows of our life clean, so that the beams may pour out without hindrance. We are also to be sure always to have reserves of oil to replenish our lamps when they burn low; that is, we must live in constant communion with Christ, abiding in him, that we may draw always from his fullness.

Then, each one in his own place, we must give light to other lives, and make the one little spot in this world that is close about us brighter and happier with love and grace. The great lighthouse lamp pours beams far out to sea, but it does not lighten the space around its base. Some people send brightness far away, working for the heathen and doing deeds which benefit the world, while they fail to brighten their own homes and the lives close beside them. We ought not to be such lights as these: while we send our influence abroad as far as possible, we should live so that we shall be benedictions to those who are nearest to us.

From “The Vine”.

Saint Edward the Confessor

Edward was the seventh son of Æthelred the Unready, and the first by his second wife, Emma of Normandy. Edward was born between 1003 and 1005 in Islip, Oxfordshire, and is first recorded as a ‘witness’ to two charters in 1005.

The family spent several years in exile in Normandy after the Danish invasion of 1013. Æthelred was briefly reinstated as king but after his death in 1016, the Danes once again seized the crown.

England was ruled by Canute until his death in 1035 when Edward tried to capture the crown himself but failed.

Later, Edward vowed that he would make a pilgrimage to St Peter’s in Rome if he managed to return safely to his kingdom.

In 1042, his dream became reality when he succeeded Canute’s son on the throne. But Edward found it impossible to leave his subjects to make the pilgrimage to Rome.

The Pope released him from his vow on the condition he founded a monastery and dedicated it to St Peter. In accordance with the Pope’s wishes, Edward built a new cathedral in Norman style to replace the Saxon church at Westminster. The cathedral became known as Westminster Abbey.Read More »