Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B, December 18, 2011
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
Let us try something different. Take a look at that extra sheet of paper you have. It is a prayer called the Angelus. It is a great prayer. Use it. Let’s just say the Hail Mary together.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Anyone who grew up low church Episcopalian or from other more Protestant orientation, you feel funny saying the Hail Mary? Stick with it; it feels good eventually.
“My Soul Proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day on all generations will call me Blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His name.” The Magnificat. It is a canticle, which is an excerpt from Scripture to be used ritually. The Magnificat is drawn from St. Luke’s gospel. Mary is reflecting on what happened in today’s reading, becoming miraculously pregnant under the shadow of God, the Holy Spirit. Quite a reaction for a thirteen year old. That is how old Mary probably was. Girls, young women, married directly after puberty back then.
It is such a striking statement, not only in the gracefulness of it, but that it comes from the lips that it comes from. Mary was very, very low in the social hierarchy of her day. She was a she. She was very young. She was poor. And worse than being just poor, she was landless and was betrothed to a landless tekon, carpenter, probably better translated as a framer, making posts and beams, door frames and the like. She lived in the boondocks of Galilee, a backwater province of a poor kingdom in the Empire. She wasn’t a slave or a gentile, which was good for her, but she was way far down the pecking order. She would have had no reasonable expectation to have a voice or an identity, let alone one that “From this day on all generations will call me blessed.”
The story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, the Person of God that became flesh and dwelt among us, or as I heard a local pastor say, that became flesh and Occupied, it is the story of unimaginable power and glory and honor arising from a place that society does not value. Doesn’t even usually notice. The powers that be, the patriarchy or kyriearchy tells us in so many ways that womb of a girl, particularly a poor girl, bears no good fruit, no fruit worth investing any effort or love into. That that fruit could be called Blessed never crossed anyone’s mind.
But here, in this brave little girl, a girl who did not ask for this task, did not ask to take on this burden, did not ask to take on the mantle of bearing, raising, loving, nurturing, a son, the Son of God and her also witnessing His torture and death, holding His dead body, burying Him… she did not ask for that and yet she did it. She rejoiced in it, AND she wept over it, AND she walked countless miles with Him in his life and work. And as soon as she was no longer perplexed by the messenger, her soul proclaimed the greatness of the Lord for it!
In thinking about Mary and the Magnificat and the Angelus, I was reminded of a talk by Eve Ensler that Windy shared with me recently. Eve Ensler wrote the Vagina Monologues. It is one of the TED talks, recorded in India in 2009. It is called “Embrace your inner girl”. It is on line. Watch it.
Ensler posits that we, all of us, men, women, boys, girls, all have this little part of ourselves, a cluster of cells that she calls girl cells. Our inner girl. These girl cells are where we carry compassion. Empathy. Our passionate self; openness, balance and relationship. It is intuition. It is Sophia. Wisdom. It is vulnerability and the understanding that vulnerability is our greatest strength. It is taking things personally. And it is, in her words, emotions, which “…have inherent logic, which lead to radical, appropriate saving action.”
Are these traits that are valued by our society? Do over achievers get kudos for their vulnerability? No. We are told that vulnerability is weakness. Is compassion something we put on a resume? No, compassion hampers our judgment. Do our political or business leaders brag about being emotional people? No, emotions cloud our thinking. They certainly were not teaching us about our inner girl when I was a young Marine Corps lieutenant at Quantico. You cannot build empire on empathy. You cannot concentrate wealth or exploit natural resources guided by our intuition. Resistance to structural adjustments is not suppressed by right relationship. Therefore these traits, the girl cells, are suppressed. And violently.
The suppression of our girl self means that we cannot feel what is going on. Good feelings, bad ones or indifferent, when the compassion, joy, emotionality, and relationality that Ensler calls our inner girl is squashed, we do not have the radical saving response in the world that that we need. Our girl self does not dig strip mines or do clear cuts; it farms organically. It does not pollute rivers or the air; but works cooperatively. It doesn’t force people into slavery or figure out how little someone can be paid; but makes sure everyone has enough. It does not hit or slap or punch or cut or shoot anyone, ever. It does not touch when not invited, particularly not children, or women, or anyone less physically capable than yourself, ever.
I am not down on men. I rather enjoy being one, we talked about that a few weeks ago. But for me, one of the signs that my inner life is in order is when tears come to my eyes easily. That is kind of girly. When I encounter something sad, or particularly beautiful… “This American Life”, on NPR. If I am a weepy mess, but not depressed after hearing that radio show, things are good. When I feel that I can ask for help, and I do it, that is me as a better person. When I can share that something is hard for me to do, or, God forbid, that I do not know something… when I do that I am being a better person, I am more the girl that I need to be. Really, I am that much more like Mary.
The Magnificat, the testimony of Mary reflects this inner girl. She is the essence of the inner girl that Ensler speaks of. The proud are scattered; the mighty cast down; and, the rich are sent away empty, sure but the greatest strength of God is God’s mercy. God’s mercy raises up the lowly. God’s mercy feeds the hungry. God’s mercy keeps promises. Mary witnesses not God Triumphant, but God the servant, God the Savior. A tender, loving God. God was alive in her 13 year old, probably malnourished body. Her intuition made this possible. She birthed Our God into the world in the form of a tiny baby boy born on the floor of a barn to parents too poor to afford a room. Her compassion made this possible. Her girl self rings through the ages. Her relationships made this possible. All generations have called her blessed. Her girlhood made this possible. And for that baby, that epitome of dependence and vulnerability, for Him, for our God, all of our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord, our spirits rejoice in God our savior. AMEN