Soul FriendPosted: December 23, 2012
A poor, unmarried, pregnant teenager in an occupied country is about as unlikely a candidate for the mother of the messiah as we could imagine. God does indeed show up in unlikely places (like feed troughs for animals?) The figure of Mary really does emphasize both the humanity of the messiah and the incarnation. Pregnancy, childbirth, dirty diapers and nursing are all very fleshy. Babies are messy. And Jesus entered the world the same way everyone else does with a cry and whimper and a need for unconditional love. We all enter the world through the trauma of birth.
SLIDE 4: MARY HAD A RIGHT TO BE NERVOUS
Mary had a right to be nervous. If she were indeed carrying the messiah, Herod the Great would think nothing of murdering her to eliminate any rival to his throne. He even killed his wife and some of his own children, because he believed they were plotting against him.
Also, Jewish culture did not look kindly on unwed mothers. Unless Joseph followed through and married Mary, at best her child would a bastard, barred from the congregation of Israel for ten generations, and at worst she could have been accused of adultery and both she and her unborn child could have been stoned to death — pretty grim beginning.
SLIDE 5: MARY GOES TO ELIZABETH
According to Luke Mary decided she needed to get away from Nazareth for a while, so she went to visit a cousin in the hill country of Judah, none other than Elizabeth, who after having been barren for many years was pregnant with John the Baptist. In all likelihood the connection between Elizabeth and Mary was made up by the early church in an attempt to win over followers of John the Baptist. But the desire to establish the connection represented the early church’s faith that somehow John had indeed prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. As we said in last Sunday’s sermon, however, John certainly would not have understood he was preparing the way for Jesus. But when we consider at least a third of Jesus’ disciples had been followers of John, then we can understand in their minds there was a relationship and perhaps a kinship – synchronicity.
SLIDE 6: SOUL FRIENDS
Luke’s story certainly makes some emotional sense. Here were two women, unexpectedly pregnant facing awesome challenges, carrying children announced by angels and destined to shake things up in the world. Both of them needed a friend – a soul friend.
SLIDE 7: ANAM CARA
Anthony Robinson last week wrote a devotion about our scripture this morning entitled “Anam Cara,” which is Celtic for Soul Friend. In his devotion he speculated that Mary was afraid and needed a friendly ear, and someone with whom she might be able to share some tears. Then Tony shared about himself as he wrote:
A couple years ago I made a somewhat similar journey just about this time of year. I went to visit a couple – friends – who are about my age and were also thinking about things that were on my mind and heart – work and retirement and what’s next.
The truth was I was feeling a bit scared – as I imagine Mary was also. I had come to understand that work meant a lot more things than a paycheck (although those are nice too). Work means relationships, role and purpose. I could see and foresee my work, if not ending, then changing. And a chapter was certainly ending. It can be a tough thing. I went looking for soul friends. People who could listen. People who could get it. And people who wouldn’t give me easy, lame advice or treat this as a “problem” to be “fixed.” Just listening was enough for in doing that my soul friends helped me to listen to myself. (And I would add in listening to himself through friends he may have been able to hear God.)
Mary found a soul friend in her cousin Elizabeth. On my trip I found John and Susan. In our talking and listening, our hanging out, there was an acknowledgment of deep change, and of some sifting of things of the soul. Sitting with soul friends helped open the way for me to live into a new time and chapter of life. We all need soul friends. Who are yours?
SLIDE 8: WHAT? YOU TOO!
We all need friends, good spiritual friends, who will pray with us and for us. And that is the covenant of our faith community to pray with and for one another. But not everyone in our community of faith can be a soul friend to us, someone who can listen, who gets it, who can hold our fears and our anxieties in their loving hearts without rushing to try to fix it, or offer lame advice, or see us as a problem to be managed. Soul Friends are one of God’s most precious and rarest of gifts.
C. S. Lewis perhaps captured part of the essence of a soul friend when he wrote: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” Elizabeth and Mary were soul friends, and in the moment of their meeting, when Mary journeyed to Ein Kerem, meaning “spring of the vineyard,” Elizabeth immediately sensed that she and Mary shared an awesome secret. Hidden within their wombs was God’s promise of transformation for the world. And so Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
SLIDE 9: MORE THAN HUMAN?
The Catholic Church has created an exalted theology around the person of Mary. Mary was immaculately conceived — Mary Queen of Heaven — Mary the perpetual virgin. In many ways this kind of imaging of Mary is a denial of our flesh and our sexuality and parallels the exaltation of Jesus, and the denial of his sexuality, that makes him more than human and in so many ways has destroyed Jesus as an example for us. Jesus could forgive his enemies, because he was more than human. Jesus reached out to love everyone, because he was more than human. The unspoken caveat is that you and I don’t have to be held to the same standard, because we are only human.
SLIDE 10: MAYBE LIFE IN ALL ITS MESSINESS IS HOLY
I think there is another way to read our text. All women are blessed who help bring life into the world. For that matter, maybe men are blessed too. Fathers can be an important contribution to the life of children and our culture in general. If only we men understood our role in that process differently – more engaged. But then life is messy. Maybe the whole cycle of sexuality and reproduction is blessed and sacred, and it is time to embrace our sexuality as part of the goodness of God’s creation. As an act of creation God said our sexuality is good, it is very good.
SLIDE 11: PEOPLE WHO NURTURE AND SHEPHERD CHILDREN
Maybe in the wake of the tragedy of Sandyhook School, we can grow to appreciate that all people who nurture and shepherd the lives of our children are Holy. Of course then we may have to explain why we do not value the contributions of people who nurture and shepherd the lives of our children. Why child care workers are paid so poorly, why we do not lift up and honor teachers. Why we have legislators who claim that teachers don’t need to be paid a living wage, because they are supposed to be dedicated. Maybe all people who nurture and shepherd our children are Holy, and maybe if we can get out of our own selfish little perspectives we will come to learn that all children are “our children” our gift to the future.
SLIDE 12: SPECIAL BAPTISM
We will be baptizing a very special child next Sunday, Isla Yvonne Hayden, and I want all of us to take seriously the pledge we will be making as a congregation. We will walk with Katie as she loves and cares for Isla. We promise to provide nurture in the Christian faith so Isla can know God and follow Christ. We promise that here in this household of faith, Isla will experience the love, support and care of Christ. Maybe we will learn that all children are our children our gift to the future.
SLIDE 13: MARY’S SONG
Our text this week can offer us one more spiritual insight. When Elizabeth offers her greeting to Mary, Mary breaks into a song that is popularly known as the Magnificat of Mary. And we may be tempted to ask, how did she make up such a beautiful song on the spot? What scholars tell us is that Mary’s Magnificat is actually a takeoff on Hannah’s Song from the book of Samuel, Hannah sang, when she became miraculously pregnant. Those same scholars believe the Song of Hannah was a popular piece of liturgy sort of like a hymn Mary had memorized.
SLIDE 14: WHAT ARE YOUR SPIRITUAL SONGS?
And that thought leads me to ask, what spiritual songs do you carry around with you to comfort you when you are sad, to give you courage when you are afraid, to pick you up when you are down, or to simply express your overflowing joy when we are blessed and you know it! We all need songs to get us through this life, and as we grow older and our memories become less reliable, spiritual songs we have memorized become important friends to help carry us across the finish line. Sharon Youngkin shares with us that she has changed the words a little bit of “I Woke Up This Morning.” “I woke up this morning with my mind, thank you Jesus!” But even when we lose some of our grip on our minds it is our spiritual songs that can provide comfort and strength in the final challenges of life. For you see we store the words to important songs in a different part of our brains than mere prose. And that part of the brain is one of the last strongholds of our minds.
SLIDE 15: SINGING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
I recommend as a spiritual practice to choose a few favorite spiritual songs and sing them often, so that when we come to the end of our days we can be comforted or inspired by “Amazing Grace,” or “It Is Well With My Soul,” or “For All the Saints,” rather than “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” “Joy to the World,” is always appropriate.
Mary made a journey in search of a soul friend. And as we embrace our common humanity our flesh and our blood, and even our sexuality, as we bring children into the world and nurture them, as we pray with and for each other, we can become a holy blessing to each other and to the world. Like Mary let us sing spiritual songs for comfort, encouragement and to express our love and joy.