Rev. Anna Blaedel at the Iowa Clergy Women’s Convocation

Luke 1:46-55

 

Hear these words of poetry, written by Christina Hutchins, in her poem titled “Magnificat”:


What shall I do
with this quiet joy?
It calls forth the expanse
of my soul,     calls
it forth to go singing
through the world,
calls it forth
to rock the cradles of death
          gently
and without fear,
to collect the rain
in my spread hands
and spill it
          like laughter,
calls it forth
to touch and carry
her suffering, his age
our dense flesh,
          to bear into this world
a place
where light will glisten
the edge of every wing
and blade of grass,
shine along every hair on every head,
gleam among the turnings of every wave,
glorify
          the turning open of each life,
each human hand.

The Magnificat.

Mary’s song.

A song of longing.

The longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament.

A song calling forth the expanse of our souls, calling forth the songs we are called to go singing through the world, calling forth the good news we are called to bear into this world.

 

And mercy, mercy, mercy: what a world we are living in. What a season, what a time. So much brutality. So much beauty. So much viciousness. So much tender vulnerability. So much loss. So much love. So much devastation and destruction. So much delight. So much contempt. So much care. So much abuse of power for profit, and control. So much creative power pouring forth in stories, and songs, and poems. So much pain, in our personal lives, our relational lives, our political and ecclesial and institutional lives. So much passionate blessedness, so much gift, so much generosity, so much connection there, too.  Our world is shot through with holiness. Our world is wholly a mess.

 

Jane Kenyon writes, “The poet’s job is to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, in such a way that people cannot live without it; to put into words those feelings we have that are so deep, so important, and yet so difficult to name.” Mary was a poet. Telling the truth about feelings like:  longing. love. grief. fear. wonder. weariness. pain. tender, tentative, fierce hope.

 

At the University of Iowa Wesley Center, we gather every Tuesday evening to share a homemade meal, and share in sacred story. We gather to be. To be together. To light candles and to pray and to rest and to remember who we are and whose we are. We gather to be fed in body, and spirit. We gather to listen, together. To share truths from our lives, and to encounter the truths told from lives very different from our own. We gather and share and listen because we believe that my story always intersects with your story and your story always intersects with my story when we linger long enough in the telling of truths that matter.

 

Each Tuesday evening, we begin introductions around the table by asking the question: What are you listening to?  Listen to their listenings, from this last week: variations on a theme by Schumann; the Harry Potter soundtrack; the wind; silence; a roommate’s incessant xbox; the Two Dope Queens podcast; election results; NPR; the new album by The Fleet Foxes; a mom’s wisdom; lectures from a theoretical mathematics class; Leonard Cohen; a recording of the psalms; a boyfriend playing the piano for his beloved boyfriend; letters a grandma wrote that a sister recorded; indigenous activists singing about the sacredness of water; the clicking on and off of a heater; my own breath; the world around me.

 

They are listening deeply for stories and songs and poems that sing truth, and call forth the expanse of their souls. What, friends, are you listening to?

 

Then, last Tuesday, we read Mary’s song, together. Hear what Wesley Center students heard after listening to Mary’s song:  longing; anticipation; that feeling of sadness you get when you don’t know how history will turn out; clinging; acknowledgement; delusion; the kind of wisdom that usually comes from being really, really, old; naiveté; love; a German word that doesn’t really have an English equivalent: weltschmertz—feeling the pain of the world, world-weariness; a disconnection between how the world works, and how it should work; questionable hope.

 

Mary sings of Spirit, wild and creative chaos, a gospel good news that is upside down and inside out.  A Spirit who makes a way out of no way, makes a way through us, with us, in us, when we cannot imagine a way forward. It is rarely, if ever, the way we would have predicted. It is rarely, if ever, a way that keeps us comfortable. It is a way that lifts the lowly, brings down the powerful, fills deepest hunger, and sends the rich away empty.

 

Mary sings of belonging that cannot be bought. Covenant that is connectional not coercive. Relationships that meet us where we are and cannot leave us where we were. The countless presences and absences haunting us, here, now, there, then, always, in holy and wholly demanding ways. Mary sings a poem that spits truth and invokes Spirit and blurs temporal distinctions between what has been and what is and what might become. She sings of justice, of mercy, of revolution, of right relation.

 

Mary was a poet. And, Mary was a prophet. She sings of salvation as the radical, unsettling, mercy and justice of God.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, before he was executed by the Nazis for his resistance to their rule of fascism, racism and xenophobia, recognized and responded to the power in Mary’s song. In an Advent sermon a decade before his execution, Bonhoeffer wrote, “The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung.”

 

Bonhoeffer was not alone in recognizing and responding to the revolutionary power and lure in Mary’s song.

 

In the final days of British rule in India, the Archbishop of Canterbury banned British missionaries from reading the Magnificat in public, including singing it in church. The colonized were rising up and resisting, and Mary’s song posed too great a threat to colonial power. And, in the 1980’s, Guatemala’s government (backed by our own) banned any recitation of Mary’s song because her words of God’s preferential love for the poor were deemed too dangerous and divisive. Her song was inspiring the Guatemalan people to believe that change was indeed possible. Similarly, the military junta of Argentina outlawed public displays of Mary’s song after the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War—placed the Magnificat’s words on posters through the capital plaza. Their own deep longing, grief, and hope were resonant with the words Mary sang.

 

Are we listening to Mary’s song? Can you imagine a church, a community, a congregation, a denomination, a nation, an immigration policy, a tax plan, that proclaims and practices the mission: filling the hungry with good things, and sending the rich away empty.

 

Calls for justice are dismissed as divisive by those with power to lose.  Proclaiming unity without justice will never do justice to Mary’s song.

Are we listening to Mary’s song?

 

Mary proclaims the impossible as an already established fact. The 15th century theologian and mystic Nicholas of Cusa nicknamed God posse ipsum—possibility itself. God emerges in the possibilities that are impossible, in the possibilities emerging at the brink of what we can barely bring ourselves to begin to imagine. Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote that prayer begins at the edge of emptiness. At the edge of emptiness, a felt need, a yearning, a hope, a possibility, a longing. For something more, something different, something deeper, something real, something transformative. The healing salve of salvation. The advent, the coming, of the One we call Christ.

 

Alfred North Whitehead described God as memory and longing. God, present and participating and dwelling in what was, and what is, and what can become.

 

Mary bears the Divine, and bears witness to the ways of God, divinity becoming flesh, and coming to dwell. Incarnation. In the flesh. The Divine coming to dwell in flesh. In female flesh. Poor flesh. Young flesh. Vulnerable flesh. Aging flesh. Disabled flesh. Undocumented flesh. Cancer-ridden flesh. Addicted flesh. Brown flesh. Indigenous flesh. Incarcerated flesh. Black flesh. Queer flesh. Trans flesh. Refugee flesh. Asylum seeking flesh. Flesh that bears the wounds of trauma and violence and abuse. The Spirit calls us forth, to touch and to carry, our dense, entangled, interconnected, interdependent, messy, mortal flesh. The Divine is always showing up in unexpected places, unprecedented ways, unseemly people: the very people and places and stories and songs deemed suspicious, unworthy, incompatible, impossible.

 

Mary’s song is only one song, but her song bears a story that connects us with The Story. Our stories always intersect when we linger long enough in the telling of truths that matter.

 

Truths like love, and justice, and peace, and joy coming to dwell in the midst and mess of our world.

 

Physicist and feminist philosopher of science Karen Barad writes, “Justice, which entails acknowledgement, recognition, and loving attention, is not a state that can be achieved once and for all. There are no solutions; there is only the ongoing practice of being open and alive to each meeting, each intra-action, so that we might use our ability to respond, our responsibility, to help awaken, to breathe life into ever new possibilities of living justly. The world and its possibilities for becoming are remade in each meeting.”

 

Breathe with me, friends, companions on this journey. The laboring we are called to do is hard work. It is holy work. It is heart work. Heart, from the word coeur. Courage. Heart work is hard work and hard work is heart work and heart work is holy work and holy work requires courage, courage so deep and abiding that it dares to believe in the impossible, while laboring to make it so. There are no guarantees. It might not be, or become, possible. The future is not determined. The story is being written. We, friends, are writing the story. With one another, with the Spirit, with the Divine who is dwelling among us, drawing near to us, breathing in and with and through us. What story are we writing? What song are we singing?

 

Listen…listen…listen…  The Spirit comes in sighs too deep for words:

 

calling us forth to bear into this world

a place

where light will glisten

the edge of every wing

and blade of grass,

shine along every hair on every head,

gleam among the turnings of every wave,

glorify the turning open of each life,

each human hand.

 

May it be so.

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