Advent is the season of waiting. And, yes, at the deepest level of my being, I wait for a new celebration of Jesus’s birth in Nazareth so many years ago and for an ever-deepening consciousness of the presence of the Cosmic Christ in our hearts and in our universe (John1:1-8). But at the immediate level, what I’m waiting for is the end of COVID-19 and of social distancing! It is in that context that the story of Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth and her Magnificat most engages me today, with renewed poignancy.
In extraordinary circumstances, a young Galilean woman finds herself pregnant and rushes off to the Judean hill country to visit her cousin, who the angel has told her is also pregnant. We can only guess at Mary’s motivation. Does she want to help her much-older cousin? Is she seeking some psychic and physical space to absorb the angel’s message and to sort out what to do about Joseph? Is she escaping the rumor mongering of her small village? Whatever our speculation, we do know that she finds affection, joy and contemplative insight in Elizabeth’s greeting: “Blessed are you among women …” Artists through the centuries have captured the exuberance and the tenderness of the embrace between Mary and Elizabeth.
I include some of those images here for your contemplation.
COVID-19 has renewed our appreciation of the importance of intimate human contact. We long to hug a friend, shake hands with an acquaintance, kiss a grandchild. But it has also brought us to a new understanding of the global inter-connectedness in which vast injustices play out. On the one hand, we have an intimate encounter between two pregnant women contemplating the new and mysterious (in the full sense of that word!) life growing within each of them. On the other hand, Mary mobilizes our hearts and minds to embrace the Mystery of a God who “raises up the lowly and fills the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53).
We wait for COVID to be over and for the chance to once again reach out to hug, to embrace, to touch one another. We wait, pray and work for more just societies in which those abusing power will be brought down (Luke 1: 51-52). We wait in this Advent season to celebrate once again the fruit of Mary’s womb, the Word made Flesh among us. And we join Mary’s exuberant Song of Praise: “My spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46).
“My Soul Proclaims” by Suzanne Toolan, RSM