In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." -Luke I:39-45
On This Week’s prompts for personal meditation
The image of an unborn child leaping for joy in the presence of the Holy Spirit calls us into that same kind of wild and primal instinct. Bounded by water and taut flesh, nearly deaf and blind and without reference to meaning, time, or fate, the little one who will be named John, jumps for a joy he does not yet know. Emulating the babe in Elizabeth's womb, joy quickens in us, for no reason beyond the possibilities of holy Recognition. This is prayer, I think.
This image of waking in the womb begins this week’s prompts (Meditation One). Once awakened, we turn toward allowing ourselves appropriation of those qualities of the One we receive and increasingly give room to (Meditation Two), further recognizing the One hidden in plain sight after all (Meditation Three).
May Christ at his coming, find in us a mansion prepared for himself. -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit)
waking in the womb
Her salutation Sings in the stone valley like a Charterhouse bell: And the unborn saint John Wakes in his mother's body, Bounds with the echoes of discovery.
Sing in your cell, small anchorite! How did you see her in the eyeless dark? What secret syllable Woke your young faith to the mad truth That an unborn baby could be washed in the Spirit of God? Oh burning joy!
What seas of life were planted by that voice! With what new sense Did your wise heart receive her Sacrament, And know her cloistered Christ? …
-Thomas Merton 1915-1968
From The Quickening of John the Baptist (1949)
Visitation, Piero di Cosimo, 1489-90
Mary's Song of Subversion
My soul proclaims the greatness of our God my spirit rejoices in You O God my savior for you have looked with favor on your lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: You, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name. You have mercy on those who fear you in every generation. You have shown the strength of your arm, and scattered the proud in their conceit. You have cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and the rich you have sent away empty. You have come to the help of your servant Israel, for you have remembered your promise of mercy, the promise You made to our ancestors, Abraham, Sarah, and their children for ever.
Magnificat, after Luke 1:46-55
I was months into the heaviness Of child-carrying, swaybacked and swollen, and my husband Mute as an old stone— So that I heard it all the louder when Miriam’s shout Reached me from the dust-choked road outside. I raced out to see her standing there, Glowing with sweat, her body just beginning To take on a mother’s curves beneath her robes. And then the child that nestled sweet Beneath my heart Leapt—not a simple turning, not a kick, But jumped as if some new and secret joy Had set him dancing: and it was then I knew— Knew who it was she bore within herself. Later some would call it solemn, grand; but truthfully, We laughed as we embraced: breast to breast, Cheek to smiling cheek, And I know that both our sons were laughing too, in that way of old friends meeting after years, when all time seems as nothing, and the space between lives collapses into grace.
Madonna of the Magnificat, Detail, Sandro Botticelli, 1480
Meditation Two (insight) room within ourselves
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
Meister Eckhart 1260-1328
Meditation Three (integration) room for others
It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ.Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late.Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives.It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter.And giving shelter for food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ. …
If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, then people would have fought to make room for her.But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for himself, now when he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.
Dorothy Day1897-1980 Selected Writings, ed Robert Ellsberg
The Last Word
Hark! the glad sound!
The Savior comes, the Savior promised long; let every heart
prepare a throne, and every voice a song.
-Philip Doddridge (1702-51)
Hymnal 1982 # 72
Annunciation, Bonfigli, 1455 (detail- St. Luke writes the Gospel near his patient winged ox)
Womb to Womb
Womb to womb, the women sense the drama between their children. Just as Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “mother of my Lord” John the Baptist recognizes Jesus. The Messenger meets the Message.
How does this moment invite me in, as a person of prayer?
A visual image helps me here. Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Our Lady of the Sign, and Eastern Orthodox icon, represents a praying Mary, her hands upraised in the priestly “orans” position. Jesus sits, unborn, within a large circle centered in her body – a child with an older face, timeless, wise, sometimes holding a scroll, sometimes an upraised hand for a blessing. The circle represents Mary's womb, a portal to the infinite, “more spacious than the heavens” (Platytera ton ouranon, another name for the icon). Her gaze, not raised to heaven, meets you, the observer.
Telling you this is like solving a Zen Koan for you instead of letting you discover the answer for yourself. Because icons hold mysteries that ask for a lifetime's work of prayer and presence. But here it is: gazing at Platytera, you eventually discover she is a mirror.
Elizabeth recognizes the Christ without seeing him. The Forerunner leaps in her womb. The Holy Spirit fills her with blessing and she blesses her cousin Mary with the recognition the Holy craves from you and from me. She exclaims with a loud cry, And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
Why me? Why, indeed?
Virgin of the Sign, Alexander Palace
Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.