By Sr. Doreen, SSJD
Zeph 3:14-13 Ps 113 Col 3:12-17 Luke 1:39-56
There are several steps to this Feast Day! Luke tells the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, how God comes to them by an angel with the news that in their old age they will have a son, fills them with generally mysterious and astonishing news about the child and then gets very specific: call him John. Then God comes by an angel to Mary with the news that she, a virgin and unmarried, will have a son, fills her with generally mysterious and astonishing news about the child and then gets very specific: call him Jesus. This story of the Visitation follows: Mary hears God’s greeting and news, and also is told of Elizabeth’s news – and she hurries to Elizabeth.
This is such a personally familiar gospel story I am sure for all of us. What happens when we receive life changing or astonishing or unexpected news? Most often we do what Mary did, we hurry off to someone whom we respect, trust and love to share the news, eager, joyful or shattered depending what that news was all about.
A ‘visitation’ …. Any visitation, and this one that we are celebrating today, sees the meeting of two women in mutual awe … in this visitation that mutual awe breaks into song. In any visitation. I believe, there is mutual awe at our news – and depending on the news – that mutual awe breaks into song or lament.
I’d like to share two reflections that I believe for me lie at the heart of this story, and our own stories.
Mary makes her journey, an arduous and dangerous journey – a young women alone. Young Mary seeks the community of friendship with the older cousin Elizabeth. In her book “For Everything a Season”, Joan Chittister talks about scripture being full of the coming together of people – and she says: “people – modest, ordinary, confused, and very unlike people, find strength in one another to do what is beyond their simple selves. They meet and embrace. They meet and their souls touch. They meet and feel strongly. Then because of that embrace and those feelings, the world changes on the spot.”
Our need of community, our seeking for it, is something that we all understand. There we find a kindred spirit or kindred spirits to understand us and we them in the realm of our inward journeying and find the strength to do what is beyond our simple selves. And we know we can always turn to them and take up where we left off with them.
Herbert O’Driscoll writes: “We speak so casually of the presence of God. We assume certain things of it, that it is nice, that it is soothing, encouraging, affirmative. This of course is a reflection of our wishes, and indeed there are times when the presence of God is thus. But to describe the presence of God in this way is like describing the ocean as calm, the wind as a whisper, or fire as warming. There can be terror to the presence of God. The fact that we sometimes feel this terror, its demand, its vocation, its cost, is precisely the measure of how clear is our understanding of God. For those who say yes nothing is ever the same again.” For Elizabeth, for Mary, and for ourselves – our yes – nothing is ever the same again.
The rest of my reflection is my own imagination of what might have happened during Mary and Elizabeth’s visit with each other.
For Mary and for Elizabeth this visit was paradox moment: they were overcome with joy at seeing each other, they were both perplexed and puzzled and probably scarred at what they had heard and of what had been asked of them, they were both women of faith with a strong heritage and deep love of God. Both of them were aware of the mystery of life within in them – that most precious of life’s beginnings, both facing a future that was unknown and unguessed at. I can imagine that it was a time of joy and laughter, a time of tears and loneliness, and perhaps there was much nervous giggling about the future too. And here was a time to embrace – both physically and emotionally and spiritually. Here in mutual awe with Elizabeth, Mary – met by Elizabeth’s love and held in her arms, I am sure that Mary feels less frightened and lonely, accepted and understood for the first time since the astonishing news of the annunciation. Here in mutual awe with Mary, Elizabeth – met by Mary’s love and held in her arms, I am sure that Elizabeth feels less frightened and lonely, accepted and understood for the first time since the astonishing news was given to her. And both women burst into exclamation and song!
Indeed today is the Feast of Songs: at morning prayer we sang Hannah’s Song and Zacharius’ Song – we have heard Elizabeth’s greeting song and Mary’s song and yet to come … Simeon’s Song! The gift of any visitation in our life is a call to that mutual awe that breaks forth into song. How do we sing our own personal song?
So this visit of Mary and Elizabeth, like it is for each of us … I am sure they talked, and talked, cried and puzzled, and talked. I am sure they prayed for the quiet strength and patient wisdom to nurture these children in all that is good, true, just and pure. It was a symbolic act – this visit – an outward sign of a deep inward mystery and search for understanding and a means of grace: a sacrament moment: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. You and I perhaps have experienced a visitation moment or several visitation moments in our lives: sacrament moments.
On this feast of the visitation – we are invited to another visitation: to a time to embrace, to hold the child Jesus in the arms of our hearts for the life of the world … and to hold each other in the heart of God, and with each other hold out in praise and joy the light of the world for the world.