“bringing love, where love is absent”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a person who fascinates me. She scares some, and attracts others, but she rarely fails to have an impact. I have learnt so much by spending time with her, imaginatively. There are so many hidden depths to her character.  As probably a very young teenager, she faced a near impossible ask, and had to face the potential of losing her life, never mind her reputation, by her obedience.

She said Yes-

but suppose the answer had been NO?

and Heaven held it’s breath

as in that startled moment

a teenage lass

looked an angel in the face.

Cascades of questions

in tug of terror and of trust

as wide eyed in wonder

it dawned on her

the choice was hers

and hers alone.

Yet the choice was not to choose

to surrender choice itself

taking the gift

God gives with life and breath,

to lay it down.

Her Yes was all that she could give

took all she had

to hold the angel’s eye.

‘Let it be to

me as you have said’

and Heaven’s gate swung wide..

 

What a journey that nine months must have been!  It is for any woman, expecting a baby, but the emotional roller coaster Mary went on, from that Yes, to the moment she held her son in her arms, is almost beyond imagining. Facing possible stoning , certain divorce, and having to explain  the unexplainable. Spending time with her also-pregnant-in-miraculous-circumstances cousin, Elizabeth, and finally having someone understand, must have been a huge comfort and relief.

A  long, weary journey, at the height of pregnancy, is never recommended.     (trust me, I was a midwife, once upon a long time ago). A long weary journey with no accommodation provision, let alone medical cover- Mary didn’t even have a friendly face to greet her in Bethlehem. The labour and birth itself, scary to almost every first time mum, must have been a lonely, frightening experience. Then the precious, never, forgotten moment of holding her baby for the first time. This son, who had turned her life upside down.

Upside Down Miracles

Exhausted, yet wide awake,

my body spent, yet every nerve alive.

we one have become Two.

He who lately stirred in me, moved

more than limbs, whose spirit sang

with mine, filling my soul with wordless awe:

now like a lamb, lies in the straw.

God’s perfect lamb…that shepherds knelt to see.

my tiny lamb…so vulnerable

that I would hide him from the fears that lurk, and

what the future may require..

Who then is he, whose soft breath on my neck

nuzzles me close, and with his

fingers in mine, I wonder with a kiss

just who is holding who?

The poems above, are mine. Recently, I came across someone else who has spent time with Mary, and expressed their thoughts in poetry. Frances Croak Frank came up with an insight on Mary that took my breath away.

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,

After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,

‘This is my body, this is my blood?’

 

Did the woman say,

When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hilltop,

After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,

‘This is my body, this is my blood?’

 

Well that she said it to him then,

For dry old men,

Brocaded robes belying barrenness

Ordain that she may not say it for him now.

Allot has been written on the priesthood of Mary, the Christ-Bearer, an angle I had never considered – and yet the association with the words  “This is my body, this is my blood” is so startlingly obvious, that I cannot believe I have never made the connection before.  The poem is about women in the priesthood, but this was not what primarily grabbed me.  Mary’s pain, watching her son die an agonising death, and then holding his lifeless body in her arms is unbearable.  When he was a tiny baby, being presented in the Temple, Simeon had told her that “a sword would pierce her heart” . Those words must have haunted her through the years, and I am sure would have played loudly in her head as they came true, before her heart-broken eyes. How do you begin to deal with something like that?

But deal she did, and her journey continued, round the awesome bend of meeting her resurrected son, come back from the dead. Scripture doesn’t describe that meeting, or even tell us that it happened- but I can’t imagine that it didn’t. That she wasn’t allowed that privilege, along with the disciples. What a moment that would have been! We find her next, with the gathered faithful in the upper room .

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

She will have received the Holy Spirit, though I imagine that the experience had a feeling of deja-vu, flames alighting on her head, small fry, compared to angels appearing with life- shattering news.

We hear no more of her by name, in Scripture, although tradition has her travelling to Ephesus with John,  ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ and the one into whose care Jesus had  entrusted her.  Historians, Irenaeus and Eusebius of Caesarea, write of John ‘The Evangelist’ travelling there, which is probably the basis of the association.

When I was licensed an Anglican Reader, the preacher took Mary’s obedient Yes, as her subject and gave us each a postcard of The Walking Madonna – a bronze by Elizabeth Frink, which stands in the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral.  She quoted the words below, which come from a sermon preached by Revd Professor Frances Young at the Easter dawn service in Salisbury.

In the Cathedral Close is the most potent symbol of resurrection – Elizabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna, striding forth to bring Christ into the world – not as the teenage Virgin, pregnant with the new humanity, but an older Mary, stripped down, thin and ascetic, stomach hollow, face pinched and haggard with suffering – one who has been through the experience of the Pieta and held the dead body of her son across her knee, but now is determined and invigorated with resurrection life – “walking with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”

May we tread in her steps, filled with light and love and joy, for the Dayspring from on high has visited us, and Christ is risen – Alleluia. Amen.”

This week has been a very  hard one. I have known the heartbreak of Christ’s broken body in a very real way. The broken body of his church, that is.  A situation that was a microcosm of the global picture. It tore my heart to see it, be a part of it, and know how much more God’s heart must be breaking.  I also witnessed very large portions of Grace- shared like the bread broken for the multitudes. More than enough for all.

I experienced too, the most profound Eucharist I have ever had, in my whole life of faith. A simple service, where every line of liturgy and sermon was  imbued with grace, healing and forgiveness. I cried through the whole of it, and could barely swallow the gifts of Grace and undeserved Love, when they were given to me. They were too costly to take in, on any level.

This is my body, this is my blood” Mary knew the cost, as no one else could. Apart from the Father, that is. My prayer is that I can with her,  walk “with purposeful compassion as a member of the community of the Risen Christ, to bring love where love is absent.”


Come to the Quiet

An invitation to the Quiet. At the end of a busy weekend,  and at the start to the season of Lent, it is an invitation that draws me.  The need to quieten our souls  in God’s gentle Presence is an ever present one.

I have had this in the ‘drafts’ category all weekend,  looking for a link to the music that inspired the following poem.  The poem was written half a life time ago, but is one that seems to re- surface from time to time.

Come to the Quiet

A proffered hand

outstretched in plea of love

a silent empathy of prayer.

I can see

the child inside

that hides behind the man.

Fear stalks behind a laugh

and pain beyond a smile,

for in some deeper place

the child cries

and cries alone.

The bright facade

shown to the world

boasts confidence and strength-

but where I stand, beside your heart,

I cannot see your mask

I only feel your pain.

Speaking at length, in cheerful note

I could not hear your words,

your spirit’s orison of tears

touched a silent place within

and brought my own soul to my knees.

Hush then, and let the silence speak

His balm of Peace awaits us here.

If you will – then take my hand

and let us come

come to the Quiet.

The song ‘Come to the Quiet‘ is by John Michael Talbot, a Franciscan monk, and is based on Psalm 131.  I will add or make a link in the next day or two.

Psalm 131

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 LORD, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
From this time forth and forever.

Creator God, you are there

In the deepest, darkness of night, and in the faintest glimmers of dawn, where Hope starts to shine, Creator God you are there.

I sang this lovely song, along with the college choir, at our Community Eucharist the other evening. We used it as an anthem, picking up the creation/re-creation theme in this weeks lectionary readings. (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 136, Romans 8: 18-25, Matthew 6:25-end.)

The words have  stayed with me. In both the beauty, and the pain- Creator God you are there, in the midst of us. In a week which has seen so much pain and heartache across the world, in New Zealand and Libya, particularly, they seemed to speak ( to me anyway) .

 

 

In the darkness of the still night

in the dawning of the daylight,

in the mystery of creation,

Creator God, you are there.

in the breath of every being,

in the birthing and the growing,

in the earth and all its fullness,

Creator God, you are there.

 

In the homeless and the hungry,

in the broken and the lonely,

in the grieving of your people,

Creator God, you are there.

in the tears and in the heartache,

in the Love through which we serve you,

in the anguish of the dying,

Creator God, you are there.

 

In our hearts and in our thinking,

in the longing and the dreaming,

in the yearning of our heartbeat,

Creator God, you are there.

In the love for one another,

in the sharing of our being

in receiving and forgiving,

Creator God, you are there.

 

In our joys, our hopes, our healing,

in awakening to revealing,

in your call and our responding,

Creator God, you are there.

In our prayer and in our service,

in our praise and in our worship,

in your love that is eternal,

Creator God, you are there.

 

The author of words and music, is Margaret Rizza, and you can listen to the song, by clicking on the link below: