St. John’s Episcopal Church
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  • Mary’s Pause, Holy Ground – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    December 18, 2022

    One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from the 13th century mystic and poet, Jalal al Din Rumi:
    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ”each other” doesn’t make any sense.  

    Recently, I’ve come to recognize the magic of Mary. Or, rather, the magician that she is. And not in a disparaging way, the way we might talk about people who deceive others by making something seem real that is not, by slight of hand. But I believe that Mary to be a true magician. One who, through her actions, created transformation. She created actual and real change in the world. It’s something that becomes evident to us when we read Matthew’s birth narrative, which is this week’s Gospel.

    Annunciation by Robert Moore at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia

    Now, Matthew begins much like the Gospel of Luke, with a genealogy, to prove Jesus’ relationship to the line of David and, therefore, a descendant of Abraham. And then we get this birth narrative, today’s Gospel reading. Very little is said about Mary, as the focus is more on the dilemma Joseph seems to face as Matthew goes out of his way to prove a virgin birth and what men do with a woman who isn’t a virgin. What we know of Mary from this reading is that she is yet to be married. And we know that, in that society, her marital status makes her vulnerable.

    And even though the focus doesn’t seem to be on her, it is. Because Mary is the one around whom all things are turning. She is the one who has made room for something new and, because of her decision to say yes, the world and its violent ways must change.

    Beginning with Joseph. For only in a deeply violent world… only in a world where boundaries are more important than life, where ownership is more important than community… only in this kind of world would someone who is planning to dismiss a vulnerable person with no other means, be called righteous.

    Mary’s presence, her very being, calls Joseph to choose another path, to recognize his humanity. To care for the vulnerable however he can.

    And so it is with us. Mary calls us to remember the truth of ourselves – that we are connected by our flesh, by the air that we breathe, by the fact that we all are beloved children of God. Because of this, we are nothing less than one another keeper’s and helpers.

    Mary’s presence demands that we set aside societal affiliations, personal preferences, and quick judgmental reactions because these things actually divide us, rather than connect us one to another. Because of Mary we can see anew what God is creating in our midst. Mary is that kind of magician.

    Mary does not deceive. She shows us where we have deceived ourselves into thinking we know what should happen. She pulls back the curtain of our own denial so that we can see, actually see what is real. What is true.

    Mary, having given herself over to God’s purpose, stands on Holy ground in the middle of the chaos that humanity creates in our efforts to be our own god, and calls us all to the manger alongside her where we bring all of our privilege and wealth to bow at the foot of the most vulnerable – to the foot of life itself. Tender. Precious. Holy.

    Bishop Jennifer Baskerville Burrows is bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. She was the first black woman to be elected to be a diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. Because she is a black woman, she knew that she was going to have to have some very difficult conversations with people – conversations that would challenge her and also offer the opportunity for transformation in the minds and hearts of people.

    I heard her speak recently about her practice of holding space for these kinds of conversations. She called them “fierce conversations” and she reminded us that a relationship is not our feelings about one another. A relationship is the series of interactions and conversations we have with one another. This is what is real. And this is what has the potential to truly change the world.

    She offered this quote from Victor Frankl: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.  Which, to me, sounds a lot like the Rumi quote I offered earlier.

    Bishop Jennifer’s practice is to offer space, to say yes to new thoughts or other perspectives before she responds. It’s not so much about time, you see. Most of us are capable of delaying our response to someone, sometimes simply because we’re trying to avoid a difficult or bothersome situation.

    But offering space is really about creating holy ground, a pause where we can consider more than our own usual thoughts. It’s not about creating a strategy to win an argument, but about taking time to de-center ourselves so that we can see the situation from more than one perspective.

    I know I’ve spoken about this before, but we humans can get so wrapped up in our perspectives, seeing ourselves and our world through only one set of lenses. What I witness is that the lens we usually use to see ourselves is one without love. So the world and everything and everyone in it becomes that which needs to give me love and when it doesn’t, we employ sharp judgment – about others and about ourselves. We are lost, believing we are without Love. And that’s when we get into the vortex of thinking the same thoughts over and over again.

    This is why Mary is such a magician. This is why she is about transformation. Because she is the one who says yes to Love. She knows herself as holy and beloved and so is able to give herself over to Love. And in so doing, creates holy ground where the entire world can start to shift. Mary teaches us that when we come to believe in our own truth, that we are holy and beloved children of God, this is when the incarnate word can be born in us and through us into the world.

    This is where Love has the chance to speak instead of power or fear or doubt created by our own spinning thoughts. This space, this holy ground where Mary stands, where she invites us to stand with her, is where Love has the opportunity to guide our actions – into real and tangible expressions of liberation and growth, not just for ourselves but for the whole world.

    This pause we take is Mary’s space. It is holy ground because it is the Divine becoming incarnate. This is God becoming Christ in the world, being birthed by the transformation of the violence of the world and it’s need for proof and judgements about right and wrong and how things are supposed to be done… all the ways we judge ourselves and one another… the coming of Christ is the transformation from this violence into Love incarnate.

    And it all happens on this holy ground, this pause. Where we stop and take the time to see beyond ourselves. This is the field that Rumi talks about in his poem – the field between rightdoing and wrongdoing – where, if we are willing to offer the space to something besides our own perspective, we will not only free ourselves but invite others to be free along with us.