This blog is part of Mennonite Church USA’s Advent 2022 series. A version of this post was originally published in the Mountain States Mennonite Conference Zing! newsletter. Reprinted with permission.
Rev. Amy S. Zimbelman is the conference minister for Mountain States Mennonite Conference.
Ever since I was preaching during my first pregnancy, I’ve been especially drawn to Jesus’ mother, Mary:
Her pioneering spirit as the first disciple, the first human to say, “Yes!” to inviting Christ’s life to weave into hers.
Her ability to calmly ponder things in her heart, as opposed to what I would likely do — totally freak out (a.k.a. stay in the “perplexed” state of mind that she felt at first).
Her courage in leaving home for the sake of her loved ones.
Her flexibility with her birth plan, which definitely didn’t go as expected.
Her ability to endure some of the most intense physical pain that humans can endure, squeezing Joseph’s hand tight, in unsanitary conditions, with no meds and no reassuring doctors in sight.
And then, her care for new life — not only in the early moments of nursing little Jesus, but in day-in-day-out teaching, bathing, feeding, cleaning up after him, dealing with his two-year-old tantrums and his 12-year-old independence, and singing him worldview-shaping and power-upending songs, as he fell asleep. I imagine that those songs might have started with lyrics like, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior …”
And so for the last few years, I’ve lamented that those of us who are not Catholics have not always given Mary the respect she’s due (fear of deifying her, perhaps?) …
So in order to enhance our contemplative practices this Advent/Christmas season, here’s a Mary roundup of a few things that honor this exemplary disciple and mother, whose legacy of care belongs to all of us.
See stained glass above. My mother (also named Mary) brought back Madonna and Child from Kitengela Hot Glass in Kenya, in 2011, and it’s been hanging in the kitchen window of each place I’ve lived since.
An article by Nate Rauh-Bieri published last week by Sojourners compares the words of Mary’s song to the words and deeds of climate activists, especially young women and girls. Nate describes “the revolutionary power of language and the way it can ignite a shared desire for a just world.”
Yale Center for Faith & Culture has a couple podcasts on Mary. This one is pretty interesting: Mary Theotokos.
From my childhood: Sister Act’s “Hail Holy Queen.”
Artist Janet McKenzie. See her prints here. Pieces like “Holy Mother of Comfort and Solace,” “Mary Mother of Mercy,” “Holy Family” and “Madonna and Child with the Origami Angels” feature diverse images of Mary. (Christmas gift idea: get someone in your life who loves Mary the greeting card set #4 of all Mary images.)
Classic “Ave Maria” with Andrea Bocelli.
From John Donne’s circular poem “La Corona”:
“Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou are now
Thy Maker’s maker, and they Father’s mother
Thou has light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.”
A Madonna and Child painting by our very own Mary Ann Conrad, current congregant and former youth pastor at Albuquerque Mennonite Church. She says: “I recommend painting a Madonna as a spiritual exercise that has most likely moved people over the centuries … As I worked on this painting, I was amazed at how moved I was — first as the mother and second as the child in her arms. And when the mouth of Jesus just would not take shape and turned into a pacifier — well, that was a moment when the humanity and vulnerability of Jesus became real to me.”
And finally, a blessing from Joanna Harader’s “Expecting Emmanuel: Eight Women Who Prepared the Way,” a new book that I highly recommend and that inspired some of my reflections here.
“My fellow travelers—
you who flee danger,
and you who return home;
you who make a faithful pilgrimage,
and you who search for what is lost:
“I cannot tell you where the road will lead,
who will accompany you,
or what stars might guide you.
“I cannot promise ease or safety.
I cannot say whether you will have to turn around
to go back for something left behind.
I cannot guarantee that every blessing you receive on the way
will be a blessing you want.
“But I hope this blessing is one you will carry,
a blessing to ride comfortably in your pocket,
or rest softly in your hands;
a blessing to accompany you, whatever the journey brings:
“May you know God in your own heart
and in the heart of your faith community.
May you be brave toward your fear
and persistent through deep difficulties.
“May you hold your responsibilities faithfully
and lightly—with grace and joy.
May you teach well
and learn well.
May you give attention and compassion
to the lives that surround you,
and to your own hard and beautiful life.”
(From “Expecting Emmanuel: Eight Women Who Prepared the Way” by Joanna Harader. Illustrations designed by Michelle Burkholder. Used by permission of Herald Press. All rights reserved.)
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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