Juniper hosts this retreat segment, and begins with Mary/Miriam's Magnificat we sing every day at Evening Prayer/ Vespers. I love the Mary icon, and will give credit when I find out the artist's name [here's his site: Scott Ward]. And I love The Message version of the bible!
Luke 1:46-55, from The Message
And Mary said,Juniper reflects:
I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
on those who are in awe before him.
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
I remember the first time I saw a musical. I was maybe 11 or 12, and I went to see the local high school's production of Sound of Music. Everything about it transported me, but the most astonishing part to me (a novice to musicals) was the way in which the characters would, in the middle of mundane speech, be so transported by love or wonder or joy that they just had to burst into song. It was like magic.... In a way, the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth reminds me of some first-century-Palestine Broadway musical. The news Mary has to share is so stupendous, so astonishing, so joyful, that she cant even talk about it, she just has to sing...She suggests questions to ponder:
1. What does your religious tradition have to say about Mary, if anything? How is Mary's journey important to you on your personal spiritual path?
Coming out of the major theological traditions of the Reformation, I need to remember that Martin Luther had a great devotion to Mary, though I still haven't quite learned how to have an attitude of devotion and reverence toward a person or place without making it more central in my life than Jesus Christ. I've been serving on the local Ecumenical Council's Faith, Order & Witness committee, and moderated one of our discussions of the Anglican-Roman Catholic "agreed statement" Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, though when I checked my blog archives I realized that was one I didn't blog. I think Mary is awesome... and as a model for us to follow Mary said, "Yes! I will, yes!" Yet I retain a lot of confusion. A few summers ago one of the times I taught in a bilingual Spanish-English Vacation Bible School, I mentioned to the congregation's senior pastor how horrendous the printed curriculum was. Not only marginally literate; the theology was anything but reformationish, starting with instructions to the teacher to "divide the class into saved and unsaved." As I said to senior pastor, "We don't do that in this kind of church," and he replied, "the problem is, there's so little protestant bilingual material," so I assumed he was trying to avoid high-level Mariology. For the next two years we used VBS material from Concordia's Spanish-language division. Given that it came from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod it was more conservative than ideally I'd have preferred, but still retained a strong emphasis on God's initiative, election and grace. Short answer? I think Mary is awesome but don't quite know where to place her in my own life, but she supremely and superbly shows us how to respond to God's initiative, election and grace...
2. When we hear it, we know how singing is different from talking - how much more deeply emotions are expressed, how the vocal range rises and falls, how freely and effortlessly the notes seem to fall from a good singer. Is it possible to capture that same feeling from reading words on a page? If not, how else might we experience the Magnificat?
Sometimes speech is not adequate. Simply not at all. Just think of how pale "And His Name shall be called, "Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace," invariably and inevitably comes across on the printed page or reading aloud once you've heard "For Unto us a Child is Born" from Handel's Messiah! I believe J.S. Bach's Magnificat definitely does near-justice to Mary's words and I've been enjoying singing – and during Advent, playing – Dale Wood's setting of the Magnificat from Evening Prayer in the Lutheran Book of Worship.
3. Mary does not name her Child, or even reveal her pregnancy in the Song. And yet, the hope of Christ's presence is strongly felt in the themes of justice and mercy expressed. What hopes do you have for the coming of the Christ child in this season?
Until now It hadn't occurred to me that Mary doesn't give her baby a name in this song—thanks, Juniper! What hope do I hold for myself and for the world around me? More than anything to find friends and a community that will burst into excited song or a near-equivalent when they see me. People who will be excited when I offer to do something rather than recoiling in horror or saying, "we're not going to do that any more" or "someone else is doing that." In all these years I've never srsly doubted my abilities, but I've frequently questioned my humanity.
I'll conclude this retreat session with Juniper's simply beautiful prayer:
God of all life, fill me so with your good news that I am fairly bursting with it. Help me to sing your song using the words and the tune that you have created just for me. Alleluia!