The icon above is from the fantastic story of Mary greeting her cousin Elizabeth. Both are quite miraculously and divinely pregnant. Mary is a virgin and will give birth to Jesus. Elizabeth is barren and will give birth to John, a loud and provocative prophet who will pave the way for Jesus. Both men will have incredible lives of faith and suffer horrible, gruesome deaths because of it. But at the time of this grand visit of Mary & Elizabeth, they have no idea what is coming. All that they know is that God has blessed them with unexpected new life. They are the embodiment of Advent hope. Elizabeth says that the child in her womb leaped for joy to see her cousin Mary, pregnant with Jesus. It’s like John and Jesus saw each other coming (from within the womb) and gave each other a high-five.
I think I get stuck in my understanding of hope that it should always feel like that – a high-fiving fetus leaping for joy in my womb. I expect hope to feel good, strong, and highly motivated. I am starting to get a sense that to have hope also feels like heartbreak, anger, and exhaustion. So, what about Mary & Elizabeth? Are they still the embodiment of hope as they watch their beloved children be challenged, ostracized, and ultimately killed? What would an icon of them visiting each other 30 years later look like? How would we recognize the hope within them?
Lots and lots of people tell me that they have horrible balance or no balance at all. There are audible sighs of disgust and exasperation while doing balancing poses (standing on one leg – in one way or another). I can see people shaking their heads, hands on their hips, and just stop doing it all together. There is a peculiar and undeniable expectation of balancing that it should look/feel/be solid, stable, and strong; free of all wobble or waver. But, wobbling is the proof that you are doing it – that you took the risk to shift your weight to one side and lift your toes off the floor, even if it’s less than an inch off the floor. The wobble and the waver are definitive signs that you are balancing.
Based on the theory that the presence of wobble is a proof for balancing, then it seems that heartbreak, anger, and exhaustion are also proofs of hope. And in the midst of such hope we pray for moments of community, joy, and unexpected new life — like the moment when Mary and Elizabeth saw each other and the new life growing within them leaped for joy.
The next Saturday Morning Retreat is December 3rd, 9a.m.-noon, at Philo Presbyterian church. The theme of the retreat is The Advent of Our Hope. While we will be talking about the Christian season of Advent, I’m not much for evangelizing or converting. We use the stories from the Bible as a point of reflection and curiosity about ourselves, never for condemnation or exclusion. Everyone is welcome (yes, even your Jewish aunt and Pagan cousin). The cost is $20 (cash or check that day), if that works for you. If that feels like too much in this very expensive season of giving, then pay what feels possible. Believe me when I say that I want you to come. And if you do plan on coming, please let me know so that I can look forward to seeing you. Email me (Rachel) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please bring a yoga mat, a blanket, and a bottle of water. See you there? Maybe so.
Peace on your head, you.