Throughout the month of May, we will be sharing posts focused on journeying alongside the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Share your experiences in the comments or on social media using #praywithmary.
Hanging in my daughters’ room is one of my favorite depictions of the Visitation, Jump for Joy. Adolescent Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth seem to be lost in the moment, both in reuniting and in the seemingly impossible ways that God has showed up and moved through their lives–and their bodies! We know the punchline of the story—that John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, leaped in Elizabeth’s womb at the very greeting of Mary, in whose womb Jesus is nurtured (Luke 1: 39-56). And yet, a lot is left to the imagination about their encounter.
Mary travels (alone!) for many miles, to care for her cousin when she hears that Elizabeth is expecting. How did she get there? What other cultural faux pas would she encounter as a young, engaged, woman with child, traveling alone? How long did she stay? What did she understand about her role as the mother of Jesus, to which she had signed on at this point? Elizabeth and John certainly seem to have a sense of it!
I cannot help but think of my women friends on the feast of the Visitation. Likely because I recently had the privilege to spend time retreating with several of them. Probably because my one and only female cousin lives across the country, my heart goes straight to the women with whom life’s circumstances have encouraged me to share my soul—as was the case for Mary and Elizabeth. Our time together is always balm to my spirit—whether we swap a quick hello and childcare for one another, or if that entails wine, pizza and set aside time for deeper sharing.
The time we set aside together for our annual retreat this year was noteworthy as we dedicated a morning to praying over one another and asking for the prayers we hold most deeply at our core—vulnerable prayers for healing, fullness, friendship, forgiveness, direction, and so on. Admittedly, I am not well-practiced at this. Yet the Holy Spirit settled heavily in our midst as we brought forth burdens deeply buried. This is the gift of accompaniment that Mary understood so well. This is the spirit with which we celebrate the Visitation.
Certainly we cannot relate to Mary’s role in bringing Jesus to birth or Elizabeth in her advanced age, carrying John the Baptist. Though in a similar way, each of us carry our most fragile hopes, desires and hurts deep within in us, with the same posture of tenderness. As with all births, the transition from closed off carrying and open-sharing, is best accomplished by the accompaniment of these skilled midwives. In this year of Mercy, who am I being invited to walk with? In so doing am I attentive to another’s need like Mary, or do we see the ways (big and small) that the Spirit leaps in response with Elizabeth’s vision? Mary and Elizabeth, pray for us!