Since the angel Gabriel spoke: Mary blessed are you: we have debated “why?” She is the subject of theology, the object of devotion even the recipient of scorn. She is embraced and cast aside. Different cultures create Mary in their own image. She is Indian, Polish, French and African. White, black, brown, red and yellow. She is Mary is of Galilee, called the Mother of God, a spiritual woman, she is Guadalupe.
Why is she special? Many sermons will speak of her faithfulness; despite the unknown journey God has placed before her, she says yes. Theologians will point to her humility and devotion. Never at the adulation of great miracles, only at the first, Cana, yet she stands with her son at the foot of the cross. Mary gave Christ his humanity and his human features. He may have had the same color eyes, the texture of hair; maybe their laughs sounded the same.
Women speak of her liberating qualities. I am startled by her determination. In a time, where women were treated with no respect and little regard, and in many places not much has changed, she stands as a symbol of change and courage. God first had to liberate Mary, before Christ could liberate us.
I find it interesting that the countries that tend to have a strong machoistic culture, Mexico, Latin America, Italy, have strong reverence for Mary; maybe a way to reconcile the feminine with the divine. Think of her strength. Other than Christ, she was the world’s greatest prophet. She delivered the voice that continues to transform the world. Her heart is for the oppressed, the Magnificat sounds eerily similar to the Beatitudes.
Mary for those who are pushed aside, the oppressed worker, those discriminated against, those who society rejects or forgets, embrace Mary’s strength. Thousands of protest marches always seem to have a picture of Mary leading their steps.
In this sanctuary, we have beautiful representations and my favorite is probably the least accepted. In the 1800’s Dante Rossetti painted today’s Gospel, and it seems to answer that question as to why Mary is truly special. Mary is not a grown woman, strong, resplendent in beautiful robes passively gazing upon the divine. She is not smiling, humbly accepting or sitting in prayerful repose. Mary is young, and is recoiling as if disturbed from sleep. She is dressed in a simple gown, and her hair is rumpled.
As Gabriel is handing her a white lily and with the Holy Spirit is in the background waiting to enter Mary, she has this look, that I can only describe as….sheer terror. What makes Mary special is not solely her love of Christ, her faithfulness or strength. Mary is special because despite all the obstacles and overwhelming odds against her; she understood that God was working in her life. Mary… was able to see the beginning of miracle.
This is difficult for me, and I assume many of you. We try to get at miracles from the wrong end. We want the results and not the process. The conversion instead of the pain. We want the butterfly instead of the cocoon. The light without fumbling through the darkness. A new life, instead of grasping the miracles in our own lives.
It is much easier to immediately attribute the events in our lives to the results of something: our intelligence, our actions, bad decisions, even fortune. Yet, we may fail to realize that something deeper in working in our lives, God. We fail to see the beginning of miracles. The start of a new life that none of us had planned.
Mary had no way of knowing, yet she felt the possibility of a miracle. If we lose our job, that relationship ends, or a diagnosis is received, do we see the end or the beginning? Like Mary, can we find the miracle occurring within?
I was once told that Mary had it easy because she was chosen by God. Really? The Gospels point to a life that probably mirrors ours. Gabriel’s message could have been taken as tragic.
A poor, unwed, pregnant teen in 1st century Galilee – it was a death sentence. An angel told her she would bear the Son of God and then he was born in a barn surrounded by animals? Do you think she questioned her judgment or whether the angel was telling the truth? Her entire life was filled with pain, obstacles and challenges. She and Joseph were homeless immigrants running from the authorities, sneaking into foreign land with a small child.
Joseph dies and she is left widowed, penniless and on her own. Her own family believes that Jesus is out of his mind and shuns him, yet she believed in him. Mary witnessed her son’s murder, yet she does not hate, or condemn. Mary has every reason not to believe in miracles, yet for some reason she knew that that cross was the beginning of another miracle.
Where did this come from? Gabriel says two things that become foundational in Mary’s belief of the miraculous in her. Mary asks “how can this be?” Gabriel responds “God is with you and nothing is impossible with God.” She did not know what tomorrow would bring so decided to live for today. Despite the ups and downs, the tears and the laughter; she knew that God was with her. And more than that, she knows that nothing, nothing compares to the greatness of knowing God.
Maybe that is why so many different cultures and colors have made her their own. Everyday Mary, a person no different from each one of us was chosen by God to bring the Good News, to bring Christ into the world. And the beauty of God is that God chooses each one of us to bring Christ into the world.
Since we truly do not know what tomorrow will bring, we must look for the miraculous all around us, like Mary believe in the possibility that we are chosen to bring Christ into the world. When we make that choice, we see God in the everyday.
I imagine that God was present in thousands of burning bushes in the desert and thousands passed by that burning bush blind to the miracle, yet only Moses stopped and said, “here I am Lord.” On that barren mountain in Mexico City, how many did not notice roses in the depths of winter. Far too consumed with the barrenness of their hearts to notice life blooming around them. That cold night in Bethlehem where the voices of billions of Angels bursting through time yet many choose to sleep, while simple shepherds looked up, listened to heavenly song that a Savior is born. Maybe they understood the beginning of the miracle, that angels could sing to sheep and Messiahs could be found wrapped in rags and sleeping in a feed trough.
Large events or small events are the beginning of transformation, at times the smaller the better, constantly occurring around us. Often I find myself complaining about the winds in fall, yet I sit in fascination at the flowers in the spring. Forgetting, that the wind picks up a seed, drops it into a place of new life. Little miracles occurring all around my life.
A diagnosis of an illness the loss of a job, refocusing our attention on what truly matters in life.
The death of my father, truly painful in that December over 30 years ago, a beautiful reminder that his seed of goodness bloomed in me the miracle of true love for my own wife and son. Little miracles occurring all around me.
I doubt that young terrified Mary truly knew her response would lead to a beautiful man’s life, that would lead to a cross that would lead to everlasting life for each one of us. Or the same yes, would bring each of us from different journeys, different faces, different places, to the miraculous celebration of the Eucharist in a small church in the North Valley of Albuquerque. The beginning of all these little miracles.
My favorite poet, Mary Oliver wrote this poem that speaks to the beginning of a miracle.
How does the seed-grain feel when it is just beginning to be wheat? How does the catbird feel when the blue eggs break and become little catbirds, maybe on midsummer night’s eve, and without fanfare.
And how does the turtle feel as she covers her eggs with the sweep of her feet and leave them for the world to take care of? Does she know her accomplishment? And when the blue heron, beaking his long breast feathers, sees one feather fall, does he know I will find it? Will he see me holding it in my hand as he opens his wings softly and without a sound as he rises and floats over the water?
And this is just any day at the edge of the pond, a black and leafy pond without a name until I named it. And what else can we do when the mysteries present themselves, but hope to pluck from the basket of brisk words that will applaud them, the heron, the turtle, the catbird, the seed-grain kneeling in the dark earth, its body opening into the golden world. All miracles.
During this most holy season, what made Mary special was that always believed in the possibility of a miracle occurring in her life, she knew that God was always placing her at beginning of the miracle. God was with her and nothing is impossible with God.
We must keep our hearts open to the miracles are occurring in our lives, the beginning of the miracles that will changes our lives. When we open our heart to God’s miracles, maybe, just maybe where we will hear God calling out to us from a burning bush and respond “here I am.”
Maybe just maybe, we will hear angels announcing that a savior is born. We will awaken our hearts to the possibility that roses can bloom on a barren hillside in December.
When we open our heart to the miraculous, when we open it to God, and this brings belief.
And blessed is she or he who believes.
And like Mary, blessed is each one of you.
For unto us, unto you - a child will be born. Amen.
*Many thanks to Margaret Silf whose article inspired me to recognize and speak of little miracles on this Feast of Guadalupe.