Here’s the reflection I gave at St. Mary’s on New Year’s Day for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In the course of my week, I feel closest to worship between about 5:30 and 7 in the morning. When I can get myself out of bed for it, this is my quiet time—the time before I wake Finn up and start the process of getting him to preschool and myself to work. I spend that quiet hour and a half at my desk with a cup of coffee, a little lamp, three prayer candles, and a glow-in-the-dark statue of Mary that my friend Alex gave me when we were both baptized.
With the candles lit, I offer my prayers and fears and hopes and longings for the day or the week, read a Psalm, sometimes write a poem, sometimes reflect in my journal on a sentence or two from the gospel. Then I wake Finn up, and my day starts. I like to believe that the fruits of this silent time are everywhere in the rest of my day: I notice that I’m less crabby, neurotic, and exhausted by dinnertime if I’ve taken the silence of the morning to draw myself closer to God and just quiet down.
Mary’s power and receptivity, her prophetic gift and the holy dignity she brings to our human body, are at the heart of my understanding of my faith. I’m obsessed by the Magnificat, her prophecy at the beginning of Luke; I’ve been trying to memorize it line by line on my morning commute, and I’m about halfway through. The fire and timeless beauty of those words burn my heart.
But in today’s gospel, I’m drawn not to Mary’s words, but to her silence. “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” What is it, I wonder, that Mary is keeping in her heart? We hear that all who heard the shepherds were amazed: I can only believe that Mary, too, was dumbfounded at the confirmation of the visit of the angel, at the suggestion that this tiny, quiet person swaddled in her lap would make real her own prophecy. This silence of her reflection continues long after the astounded shepherds go back to their flocks. How can we know what sort of thoughts must be turning over in her? How can any of us fathom the impossible gift of Christ to the world?
Today in Numbers, we heard the blessing: “The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.” This blessing, it seems to me, is precisely what Mary assented to: the Lord shone upon her, in her “yes” to the angel, in taking on the bodily work of carrying the child of the Holy Spirit, in accepting a love and trust that will ultimately pierce her like a sword. And here it is, unbelievably, coming to pass nine months later.
In the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, instructs me with her prophecy of a world turned upside down—of God’s timeless fidelity and burning justice and disruption of all established hierarchies. But here in the second chapter of Luke, Mary, holding her astounding baby in her arms, instructs me not with her prophecy, but with her silence.
2016 was a devastating and heartbreaking year for me, and for many of us. As I enter 2017, I’m tending to my own grief. I’m looking for ways to make real the prophecy of the Magnificat—in serving the poor, in empowering those subject to state violence, in standing up for immigrants, in welcoming people persecuted for their faiths.
But in this first week of the year, I hope to also tend to my own silence. This silence can be my strength when I’m hopeless, and my rest when I’m overwhelmed. We live in a culture that values individual productivity, output, measureable results. So it’s easy for me to lose heart when I see the persistence of injustice and suffering and arrogant power. Is our work worth it, if we’re unable to cure the world of these things? But in silence, I feel the refreshment of knowing that it is God who is at work in our labor for justice, and God who completes what is out of our hands to complete. I hold Mary’s example in my heart as I keep time for awe and longing and gratitude for life, for the Spirit’s presence in both hardship and joy, for wondering—as I’m sure Mary must have wondered, on the first night of her son’s life—what this magnificent news of his birth could possibly mean.