St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Tuesday, May 31, 2022 The Visitation(no, not the bishop’s!)
Today is the feast of the Visitation, which celebrates the time when newly-pregnant Mary of Nazareth sought refuge and wisdom from her older relative. We do not know why she didn’t find what she needed from her own mother. The story doesn’t tell us. And it isn’t wise to speculate, as some have done, that her mother must have been dead. Maybe not.Maybe her mother simply wasn’t capable of receiving, or believing, this stupendous news of Mary’s pregnancy. Maybe she, too, feared the neighborhood gossip – or worse. Instead, she went to her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who in her old age was shockingly pregnant with the child who would grow up to be called, John – the baptizer. Maybe Mary needed mothering form someone else who was full of surprising new life as well – a confidant who really understood how astonishing are the ways of God. These carvings are part of a set of figures, mostly used for the Nativity creche, carved by Gertrud Nelson’s mother in1928. The entire creche set survived the family’s flight from Germany in 1937 as Hitler was coming to power. Jews, Jewish sympathizers and intellectuals who were able to see what was going to happen, and who were able to leave the country, did. I love this staging which Gertrud did a few years ago, and the image of the beautiful older woman, herself bearing new life, comforting a young mother-to-be who shouldn’t-have-been.
So who cares about the Visitation?
I do. Maybe you will. What I have learned over all these years is that we are always pregnant with miraculous new life, if only we pay attention – men as well as women – and we are always in need of someone who can share that experience with us, help us make sense of it. We all need the Elizabeths of the world. And there are many. We are also always a little father along in our spiritual and emotional pregnancies than someone else – which means we are always capable of being the “older” woman to someone just beginning a journey we know a little more about. And we are also always the mom who doesn’t quite get it – or who is afraid of the new thing happening in our child – and so she may simply have to go away to find what we are often simply unprepared to give – even if we want to. And we are also the “new thing” – the “new life” – the Christ-life being formed within ourselves and others. We need the shelter, the safety, the care, the love of mothers and elderly cousins and grandmothers back at home. “We need we.” Dr. Bertice Berry says that, and it is true. We do.
Medical Mission sister, Sister Miriam Therese Winter, wrote this back in 1967. I was twenty then. I “got” it. I loved it then. I love it still. That last verse: When you (WE) walk in the summer through the heat on the hill…yes. Amen.
She walked in the summer through the heat on the hill,
She hurried as one who went with a will.
She danced in the sunlight when the day was done.
Hear heart knew no evening who carried the Sun.
Fresh as a flower at the first ray of dawn, she came to her cousin whose morning had gone.
There leaped a little child in the ancient womb, and there leaped a little hope in every ancient tomb.
Hail, little sister, who heralds the spring,
Hail brave mother, who carried the King,
Hail to the Moment beneath your breast, may all generations call you blessed.
When you walk in the summer through the heat on the hill,
When you’re one with the wind and one with God’s willbe brave with the burden you are blessed to bear,for it’s Christ that you carry, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.