“Mary and Jesus,” by Heidi Loening
If you know me at all [or if you read this blog regularly], you know that I am a very high “J” on the Myers Briggs Personality Test. This means that I love order and structure: I love to organize, I love to categorize and I love to schedule. [And, you either think I am insane or you totally get it.]
So, it is not surprising, then, that I love a new year–I love the possibilities that come with a fresh turn of the calendar, with a new beginning and new opportunities. I like resolutions, too, and I make my share of them: read more, cook more, play the harp more, etc., etc. I’m sure you have resolutions of your own that either call for “more” or “less”–less eating, less drinking, less spending. [It seems we’re always seeking a more stable equilibrium between “more” and “less”, aren’t we?]
But, actually, it’s not those specific resolutions that are exciting me the most tonight, as we are preparing to draw the curtain on 2017 and walk out into 2018. What I have been thinking most about these past few days is renewal and re-imagining on a little grander scale; in fact, I have been thinking these thoughts since Advent IV.
You remember the fourth Sunday in Advent, don’t you? You would be forgiven if you didn’t–it lasted all of about eight hours, depending on what time morning services ended that Sunday, and the start of the afternoon/evening Christmas Eve services that same day. That brief appearance was a shame, especially since the Gospel reading for Advent IV focused on Mary; Mary, who gets short-shrift on a normal year in Protestant churches really got cheated this year.
In spite of her brief appearance this year, what I love about Mary is how she models for us a willingness to embrace God’s radical invitation to participate in the creative artistry of God–to cooperate with God in the wonderful, miraculous thing God is doing through her in the world. Cynthia Rigby has a lovely essay with this title [“Mary and the Artistry of God,” in Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary, edited by Beverly Gaventa & Rigby], where she describes beautifully how Mary embraces who she is as a unique participant in the life of God [and in the life of the world with God], called by name and given special gifts to fulfill her calling in the world. Rigby writes, “As Mary is called, by name, to participate in the work of God, so we are also called by name. What is impossible is made possible: we are capable, creative, willing, irreplaceable companions of the God who claims us in Jesus Christ. We are included, as creaturely creators, in the artistry–the providence–of God.”
It’s a lovely image [and, in case you are wondering, she does take up the issue of choice and coercion, lest someone charge that the young Mary was “overshadowed” by a domineering male God. Some outside the Christian faith might see this in the story, but this is not consistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ, nor with the tradition’s broad interpretation of Mary.]–an image of a young women becoming the artist she was all along, the artist she was created to be.
This, then, is what I am hoping for myself–hoping to foster in myself–for 2018. I’m not really that creative of a person [I don’t think of myself as an artist], but I have the fervent hope and deep trust that God can do marvelously creative things through me. So, I want to cultivate the disposition of “yes” toward God: “yes” even when the prospect scares me; “yes” even when I am afraid of failure; and “yes” even when I know I am risking looking a little foolish. Thinking about it this way, it feels like a spiritual discipline I am taking up in 2018–saying “yes” to God.
This is closing paragraph of Rigby’s chapter, and I’ll close with it as well, because I love it so much, and because it sums up so well my hopes for 2018–for myself, and for you, too. Happy New Year!
“With Mary, then, we shape our words into poetry; we nurture the life that is in us; we ponder what is going on around us. We refuse to stop wondering, to give up on mystery, to abdicate who we are as God’s creative servants. We live as artists participating in the artistry of God, wondering how our fragile efforts can be essential, marveling that they yield such beauty. And indeed they are and they do, For God has lifted us up in our lowliness and called us blessed.”