January 1, 2022
The Octave Day of Christmas – Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Happy New Year, everyone!
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.
I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:
What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.
In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.
How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly
and give you peace!
Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.
This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.
Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.
Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.
Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.
Poetry: Mary Poems – Lucille Clifton (1936 –2010) was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland and twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Clifton traced her family’s roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin. Growing up, she was told by her mother, “Be proud, you’re from Dahomey women!”. (You will catch some of her Creole cadence in the verses below.)
Her uniquely insightful poems about Mary capture aspects of Mary’s humanity, vulnerability and womanhood that we might otherwise not consider in a religious tradition that highly spiritualizes Mary.
A Song of Mary
somewhere it being yesterday.
i a maiden in my mother’s house.
the animals silent outside.
princes sitting on thrones in the east
studying the incomprehensible heavens.
joseph carving a table somewhere
in another place.
i watching my mother.
i smiling an ordinary smile.
winged women was saying "full of grace" and like. was light beyond sun and words of a name and a blessing. winged women to only i. i joined them, whispering yes.
Joseph, I afraid of stars,
their brilliant seeing.
so many eyes, such light.
joseph, I cannot still these limbs,
I hands keep moving toward I breasts,
so many stars. so bright.
joseph, is wind burning from east
joseph, I shine, oh joseph, oh
after the all been done and i
one old creature carried on
another creature's back, i wonder
could i have fought these thing?
surrounded by no son of mine save
old men calling Mother like in the tale
the astrologer tell, i wonder
could i have walk away when voices
singing in my sleep? i one old woman.
always i seem to worrying now for
another young girl asleep
in the plain evening.
what song around her ear?
what star still choosing?
Music: A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania