Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whirls, Twirls and Walkovers...Just Imagine!

Luke 1: 46-56
It was in a sleepy little village just west of bustling Jerusalem that spring when Mary came to visit Elizabeth.  Today we call the place Ein Karem and it is nestled in the rolling Jerusalem hills where stone agricultural terraces echo the natural contour of the hills. 

Imagine Mary and Elizabeth sitting on an open porch on a cool morning watching the sun rise spreading out its glorious rays upon that holy land.  The natural woods surrounding Ein Karem today are called the Mediterranean Woodland because cypress, oak, carob, olive, fig and almond trees grow abundantly; no doubt they are descendant vegetation offspring of those that lived when Mary did.  

Elizabeth and Mary are both excited.  Soon they are to become mothers because they are incubating and growing a prophet and a messiah. In Israel spring is after the first rains so the greening of the browned and dry plants was just beginning.  Like a new life inside of an empty womb so too the fallow land begins to show signs of life. 

Waters flow.  Buds appear.  Expectations arise.  As a good friend of mine in Israel says, “None of that "in the bleak midwinter" here[i].  Verdant hope comes to pass and Elizabeth and Mary rejoice in their womanhood and the very unexpected gifts given to them from their God above.  This is the occasion for Mary’s Magnificat.
Hear now once again the Magnificat, the Song of Mary from the Gospel of Luke: 

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

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.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." 

And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.
Charles McCollough is a theologian and artist.  He was artist in residence at the time when I was a seminarian at Andover Newtown Theological School, back in the day. One of his sculptures that made a lasting impression on me is entitled, “Spirit Rejoice”[ii].  It is the first of an eight piece panel that illustrates, through sculpture, Mary’s Magnificat.

What is striking is that it is not your typical iconographic Mary sitting down and looking lovingly at her burgeoning belly. She is not donning a blue embroidered head veil nor is there any hint of a halo in sight. 

We tend to make Mary an adult in our portrayals of her but she was young and she would have reacted in a teenage way, not in an adult way.  Today, by all accounts, she would have gone on Facebook or texted her friends with the news!  If you were giving birth to a savior that had been promised for years wouldn’t you jump for joy or immediately Tweet your friends and the entire world for that matter of the joyful news??

So Mr. McCollough has depicted Mary in a much more imaginative way.  He envisions a very young Mary doing a gymnastic walkover…believe me….something that only the young can perform.  Her hair flows over her head as her arms hit the ground and her supple body follows, one leg after the other.  The continuous momentum of the walkover guides her entire young teenaged body to once again stand upright. 

Charles told me that that is how he sees Mary responding to the news of her pregnancy.  She is thrilled and she does what every other young teen would do that has just received good news – jump for joy, do walkovers and sing out praises to God.  My soul magnifies the Lord!
But really, what’s up with that?  Mary thrilled?  As compelling as this image is we have to wonder if Mary was really this overjoyed.  Let’s face it; it was a horrible time in the life of a Jewish woman in first century Palestine occupied by Rome.  Look at the facts.  She was young. She was not rich, she was probably not even middle income. She was pregnant.  She was not married.  This, my friends, is nothing short of a disaster and worse than that, probable cause for stoning.

However she conceived this was her unbelievable reality.  Her betrothed, Joseph was ready to ditch her, which in his mind was the honorable thing to do.  Folks, it can’t get any worse than that.  It is a lose-lose oppressive situation all the way around for Mary.  Why would she sing? 

Yet she is overjoyed.  Like Hannah hearing the news of her impending birth of Samuel, she sings, my soul magnifies the Lord.  She visits Elizabeth, her relative and mentor and; she sings that very same a song of praise, perhaps she does walkovers, and in that very act her hands mingles with the dirt of the land of her ancestors and the great hope of a savior.

Mary understands and believes the promises and covenants that God made to her people.  It is within her collective Jewish consciousness that, with the advent of a messiah blind people will be sighted and the deaf people will be able to hear.  Disabled people will be fully restored to wholeness and in the desert there will be streams of flowing waters.  A grand reversal was about to begin.  Hope, you see, was built into her DNA.

That is why Mary has great expectations for this little heart beating within her.  She would overcome her obstacles and he would be the Messiah who could effect this change. Mary can do walkovers all people will have the opportunities for growth and dignity.  World priorities will change.  Understanding, tolerance and inclusion will trump the status quo.  Mr. McCollough was right on, walkovers are in order when you have been given hope that life can change for the better. 

I suspect that there might be things in your life that are in need of transformation.    There are in mine.  Where do you seek change in your life? Are there demons from the past that need to be laid to rest?  Addictions in need of being tamed and arrested?  Are there relationships that long ago had been put on the curb for trash pick up; and are now in need of bringing back inside?  Do you hold a grudge so deep that it is killing you rather than the person it is intended for?

How might the advent of this baby really change your life? 

We carry our ‘hopes and fears of all the years’[iii] with us during Advent and we await the time when we can place them all at the manger. We come to the manger and lay down our heavy loads and live unencumbered into the love of God.  We come year after year to the manger of love and justice, equality and assurance, healing and hope.  We come because we believe that in Jesus Christ we find God’s grace and forgiveness, we find hope and inner peace.  We come because we can and because we must. 

We don’t know how Mary acted really but we do know that her context is not unlike ours.  Broken lives in a broken world.  And yet she rejoices with hope.  So must we. 

When you have hope you can sing or maybe even perform whirls, twirls and walkovers…..just imagine!


[i] Dina Tsoar, email correspondence December 5, 2010.
[ii] Charles McCollough, “Spirit Rejoice”, part of an eleven piece sculpture at Drew Theological Seminary.
[iii] “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, Brooks.

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