I am so often looking in the wrong places. For answers, for direction, for validation, for meaning, for inspiration, for value, even for hope. I look at circumstances (a lot), I grub through memories, I skim history, I watch TV and scour the Internet, I talk and muse and look out the window and wish…. Or I withdraw and go silent, I shrug my shoulders and exclaim, “What’s the point?” I caress regrets like a pet cat on my lap, and I am reluctant to risk anymore.
What I have discovered will be obvious to many but I won’t pretend to be anything other than very human – after all these years. I have discovered that the more I look for answers, hope, meaning, and redemption in the world around me, or even people, the greater my sense of despair, cynicism, or hopelessness. I’m sure there are many who experience something similar as we watch the news covering wars, elections, climate change, greed, and the unbelievable political antics around the world. Humanity seems to be is a constant state of chaos and turmoil, heaving like a beached whale without hope of rescue. It’s almost impossible to not choose to turn one’s back and build a sandcastle, or bury one’s head in the sand and pray for the tide of time to wash it all away.
But, I have also discovered that when I turn inward and upward, outside of myself and beyond the reach of grasping human hands, there is a different perspective. It is not always easy – our present reality is strong, well formed, overwhelmingly real and convincing. Nevertheless, there is a pulse that beats throughout history from the beginning of time into the very midst of our ‘today’ that no generation has managed to strangle, stamp out, or overpower. It is the heartbeat of God, the giver of life, the suffering servant, the personification of integrity and truth, the one from whom authentic love flows – no matter what. When I look in his direction I discover all those things that I couldn’t touch coming into focus and filling my empty void. I’m reminded that there is nothing new under the sun and that God never changes. Jesus is life, truth, historical, and resurrected – for all generations.
I read Mary’s Song this morning and that’s what I was reminded of. The greatest revelation and solution in human history was planted like a seed in the midst of indescribable human corruption and power-playing. Often I look around me and wonder if God has gone to sleep or at least appears to be indifferent. But that voice is a lie. God’s ways are not like mine. In the midst of the ordinary, the humble, the inconspicuous, the poor, the weak, and the unimportant – God breathes. Into this nobody of a peasant girl in a rural mud and wattle hut he planted the seed of his Son. One man filled with the Spirit of God who will change the world. And yet still be crucified and vilified – such is the way of things around here.
As I sit and muse and am tempted to despair the voice of this peasant girl whispers through the many generations that divide us reminding me of what she knew and learned. Her first question when she heard that she would ‘be with child’ was “How can this be?” Nothing made sense, circumstantially everything was inconvenient, wrong, and impossible to imagine. In the end she could not wrap her mind around the revelation, it was too big. As she reminds me now….. take a deep breath and a step of faith; look to God. Let him be your starting point, not what surrounds you. This is not positive thinking, an escape into mind games, or whistling in the dark. This is not normal, life as usual, rational and predictable. This is miraculous, amazing. Beyond your comprehension. It is our source of hope and life – much like a newborn babe nestles into the arms of a parent and trusts because they are close and warm and safe. The parent is in charge – and trusted.
Then Mary sings her song as if to underscore her whisper. A song transcribed and penned before her pregnancy becomes a bump to show and tell. She has felt nothing change in her body, yet she sings as if everything has already come to pass. Her faith soars with the melody of faith and the promises of God alive in her that make no sense from the outside. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior….. he has been mindful of me (who am I?). He has done great things for me, his mercy extends to all who fear him… through all generations. He is mighty and his army is strong. He scatters those who are proud and he has brought down rulers from their thrones. He lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things while sending the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-55)
“That’s where I find my strength,” Mary sings. Even though what is conceived in her will take another thirty years to begin to make an impact. Even though these amazing promises will leave her distraught and brokenhearted at the crucifixion of this one and only Son. She too, will experience the betrayal and cruel corruption of her generation. She will sing that song many, many times throughout her life to strengthen her spirit and to release light into darkness. She knows the light will always win, eventually. Sometimes she will sing with passion and joy, confident in the declarations. On other days she will wrap her shawl around her shoulders, buffeted by the bitter winds of life’s circumstances; and the song will be more of a lament in tears courageously affirming truth in the face of a hurricane of lies.
Mary knew where to look for her meaning and hope. I will follow her gaze and perhaps join the choir that gathers around her. Together we will sing the same song and find joy in the knowing of Him who is beyond, above, behind, and before all things. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Even today, in the midst of the chaos of our generation in November, 2022.
(I sang “Mary’s Song’ from the age of ten in traditional versions (there are many) as a treble in a boys’ school choir. It was called the Magnificat and somehow the words eventually sank deep into my spirit. But I didn’t understand the relevance today. And so began my long journey of trying to bridge the gap between yesterday, today, traditional and contemporary. Traditional elevates God and excellence – the experts participate and perform for the rest. Contemporary includes everyone perhaps at the risk of losing excellence and the majesty of God. Pursuing contemporary always has the danger of sacrificing what is rooted in the past into something trendy that loses the depth. While tradition alone can become merely a form of music or phrase we admire but it fails to resonate for life today. We need both. Attempting to convey these thoughts into visual format inevitably falls short but I think it still helps if we’re not hyper-critical. Here are two versions… contemporary and traditional.)
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”