June 23 2019
A few months ago, one of my spiritual direction clients returned from a week in Taize France,
at the Taize community. She had been looking forward to this week of singing, silence and
worship for a very long time. She brought back a small token for me. A wood plaque with a
replica of one of the stained glass windows. This one was of the moment when Mary goes to
visit her relative Elizabeth, and John leaps with recognition of Jesus…from inside the womb.
Pictured here like toddler beings in their becoming. One woman is reaching wide, the other
woman is reaching out, and the two enwombed figures reaching toward. The gift giver said that
this was how she saw spiritual direction; a recognition between two souls of something deep
within, holy connection.
Our text today, normally a December text, reaches backward to Zacharia, a priest, on duty in
the temple, setting the incense to smoke and scent. And wouldn’t you know it, the Angel
Gabriel shows up. The word spoken by this cosmic being is powerful and fearful. First, the
angel gives us its name. Maybe to ease the fear? The news is an answer to Zachariahs
prayer. A son is to be born to old Zachariah and his old wife, Elizabeth. Unbelievable, really.
And he will be for a purpose. A purpose that will have weighty implications for the people of
Israel, and his upbringing will not be normal.
The texts lets us know that not only is Zachariah a priest, but Elizabeth is from the line of
Aaron. From a priestly line. I want to read between these lines. I want to read the possibilities
of what it means for the text to record that Elizabeth is from the house of priests. And not only
that, but of Aaron, who Moses tried to foust his call onto because he himself could not speak
well, so let Aaron speak. And here we have the angel Gabriel, announcing something
spectacular, and then silencing the recognized priest Zacharia.
But not his wife Elizabeth, the decendent of priestly lineage of Aaron.
We dare not miss this. It is easy to do. We read these well known and well worn texts, which
beg us to slow down, and explore word for word anew. We go from Zacharia to his silence, to
Elizabeth, to Mary, then to our text today. It is easy to stay on the broad surface and see the
greeting of Mary and Elizabeth as a couple of women visiting during pregnancy, going about
their day to day.
There is a bit of connecting happening in this text. Larger to the particular. The scholars from
the new interpreters commentary make a bid deal that Mary traveled from a region to a town
the home of Zachariah and then to Elizabeth. Like links in a chain or a funnel to guide our
focus. And then there is both Mary and Elizabeth, carrying Jesus and John. And then, I can’t
help but wonder about what is within John and Jesus.
The larger story nests the next, and the next, down to their very atoms and hopes.
It feels important to notice the layers, or the elements within one and another. Like striations in
the earth, telling stories of even more ancient realities of earth experience, soil to coal to oil
and dinosaurs, striations within us telling stories of even deeper essential parts of ourselves.
What was it that caused John to leap at the presence of Jesus? It caught Elizabeth by joyous
and maybe giddy surprise, like a catch of breath, causing her to proclaim the elements of the
moment “blessed”. Elizabeth is the prophet. A prophet in her home. She is the proclaimer of
blessedness. Her son will be the prophet in the wilderness, the proclaimer of repentence that
turns us to what saves us. Both turn our faces in new directions, to see God where God will
John, who is still in formation, recognizes Jesus, also still in formation. Elizabeth recognizes
greatness in this young girl, who we know from other extra canonical stories, may have been
being prepared her whole life for this role in the world. And Mary. Mary recognizes God and
the lowly and the irony. Mary recognizes her own greatness. Each recognition goes deep
into the essential core, becoming rich fuel for the next revealed layer.
These images of women gaining their voice, of raising the next generation to their own
greatness, is happening in this text. And it is happening all around us. Our biblical text is a
shared story, and when we open our eyes, we see it being played out again and again, in
recognizable ways and in new ways. Women are being seen and heard as proclaimers that we
might wake up.
In many Orthodox churches, iconography surrounds sanctuaries as larger than life murals of
the patriarchs of faith. Yet, rising from behind the iconistasis, the holy of holies half-wall of the
alter where only the male priests and deacons enter, is the image of Mary, known as
Theotokos. God bearer. Larger than all, looking down tenderly over every woman, child and
man, priest, deacon and cantor in that sacred space.
Women of today, like Elizabeth, are proclaiming an arrival of sorts. This past April, a 22 year
old female student named Alaa Salah in Sudan, stood on top of a car, in her white cotton dress
and flashing full moon earrings, arms raised amidst protests of the harsh regime of President
Omar al-Bashir. She sang the word for revolution, connecting a moment with a movement
toward something better. All of this has been caught and documented on hundreds of cell
phones. From many websites, including the BBC, we read that these women who were leading
the protests are being called Kandaka,' which is the title given to the Nubian queens of ancient
Sudan whose gift to their descendants is a legacy of empowered women who fight hard for
their country and their rights."
Closer to home: This week, Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscokee Creek Nation, is named our
national poet laureate. Her poetics, filled with images of cigarette smoke, whiskey spills, loss of
identity and the erasure of indigenous culture in the United States, tells a revolutionary story
that we might set what has been tilted, upright. If we listen with a holy listening, we will connect
in silence and allow the indigenous voice to proclaim.
And closer still in Fort Wayne is Sally Segerson. I was tuned into Sally and her foundational
work with Street Reach for the Homeless by Sid Gauby, former pastor of the Agape Church of
the Brethren. Every week Sally scans the Goodwill bins for boots, socks, sleeping bags, tents
and winter coats, and feeds 100+ gents and ladies several times a week with nourishing, belly
filling food. I follow her revolutionary seemingly one woman show on facebook. I don’t know
the full story of funding or founding or volunteering, but her agenda is clearly to proclaim the
good news that each person fed is loved.
Elizabeth proclaims the moment blessed.
Mary, like these women of today, takes it one step further: for she knows who she is, who she
has been raised to be, and what upside down, turning, revolutionary message she now sends
out into the world:
And Mary said, “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.”
In our today news and in our scripture scene of Mary and Elizabeth greeting one another,
silent father Zachariah, of John recognizing Jesus, is a rising of what has been deep in the
human story and what is yet to be. There is a rising in your own spiritual journey from before
your birth, through your upbringing, to this very moment. What is within you to proclaim?
These are stories of Theotokos. God bearers, bearing God, again and again and again with
silence, with exclamation, with leaps, with food, with poetry, with full moon earrings. From large
exclamation to the tiny particular, we see the holy born.
The Universe bears God
The planet earth and her moon bear God
The waters and land bear God
The plants and animals bear God
The humans on each continent, unified and without borders bear God
The Miami Nation of Kekionga/Fort Wayne bear God
We are God bearers
You are a God bearer
This scriptural scene, these scenes all around us are awakened examples that have been
happening through all time. The voice of the lowly rising.
We who already have a voice,
can flip the message of being a voice for the voiceless.
And like Zacharia, stand aside in attentive silence and hear those
once silenced voices,
once dismissed voices,
once erased voices….
proclaim a holy moment,
to voice wisdom that has waited to be heard,
to rise up and proclaim the arrival of the Gospel
And when they do, oh, how our whole insides will leap with joy. Amen