Friday, May 31, 2013

New Traditions for the Feast of the Visitation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, the day when Mary goes to her cousin Elizabeth. Both are miraculously pregnant. As they approach each other, they recognize each other, as mothers, as miracles--even the babies in their wombs understand what's happening.

Here are the readings:

First Reading: 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Psalm: Psalm 113

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-16b

Gospel: Luke 1:39-57

I'm a good Lutheran girl, so growing up, we never celebrated these feast days. As I've gotten older and explored monasticism, and to be honest, as I've blogged more and needed more to write about, I've been doing all sorts of research into feast days.

Some feast days leave me shaking my head and wondering what modern folks are to do with them. Some feast days, like today's, make me wish I'd known about them earlier. I think about my younger self who was enraged that so much femaleness seemed to be erased from Christianity. What would my raging feminist self have done with this festival?

I'm not sure she'd have been appeased. I was also in the process of trying to assert that biology isn't destiny, while also acknowledging that I was one of the first generations to be able to assert that idea.

My middle-aged self is willing to admit that biology is often destiny, although not in the womb-centric way that the phrase is often bandied about. I'm seeing too many people at the mercy of bodies that they have increasingly less control over.
Now that I am at midlife, I love this story of two women from two generations coming together to support each other. I love this story of new life being held in unlikely wombs. I am fondly remembering female members of my own extended family and offering thanks for their support. I remember the family stories they told and the ways they included me in family gatherings. I remember the rides to the airport, and memorably, one time that my cousin Barbara (my mom's first cousin) came to Augusta, 60 miles away, at night, to help me out of a jam caused by the breakdown of a car. I remember that she treated it as a grand adventure. No castigating, no lecturing.

Some feast days come with a whole passel of traditions, including all sorts of food traditions. This feast day doesn't appear to have those associations. So all morning, my mind has spiraled about the kinds of traditions I'd create, if the Pope appointed me the one in charge.

Yes, I know, I'm a Lutheran and a woman, and thus, the Pope is not likely to appoint me in charge of anything. But it's fun to play.

How might we modern folks celebrate this day?

--Every feast day needs food traditions, so today, I'd encourage us to nourish ourselves as if we're pregnant with a child who will go on to save the world, and thus needs a good head start. Today is a great day to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Enjoy the finest protein. Drink an extra glass of milk--but because it's a festival day, make it a milkshake in your favorite flavor.

--Ask yourself why you don't show this level of self-care every day. And be gentle and realistic with yourself. Buy some multi-vitamins for future days when you don't have time to stock up on nourishing food or when you don't have time to eat. Today is a good day to make a resolution that those days will be few and far between.

--Take some time to think about all the elders who have guided you along your path. Who has been Elizabeth to your Mary? Write a thank you note or e-mail to those people.

--Think about the younger generation who looks to you for similar guidance. Write an encouraging note, e-mail, Facebook post, or Tweet. Think of other ways you might serve as a shepherd for the next generation: tutoring, reading in the schools, leading a Scout troop, getting involved with a group that speaks to your heart, donating money to a group that does good work--the list is as varied as we humans.

--We could write encouraging notes to anyone who could use a kind word.
--We could think about our own lives--what needs to be born?  I'd encourage us to think beyond babies and future generations. What creative work haunts your dreams? What visions for the future make your innards leap for joy? What social justice work remains to be done and done by us?

--Today is a good day to spend some time in discernment.  God called Mary, and she said yes.  God called Elizabeth, and she said yes.  God had a larger vision for them than they could have imagined for themselves.  Imagine that the angel Gabriel appears to you with a special request from God.  What is that request?

--Remember that you are blessed in so many ways.  Remember that the world desperately needs what only you can offer.

--Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist, who will go on to say, "I am not the Messiah." We can adopt those words as the mantra for the day. We are not required to save the world. That work has been done.

--We could practice seeing the presence of God, or the evidence of God's great generosity, which is all around us.   We could write down what we see, or take photographs, or record in some way the gifts that God gives us.  That way, we'll have a record for days when it's hard to remember our gratitude.

--We could jump for joy at the evidence of God, still with us in the world. We could offer prayers of gratitude.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, today we offer thanks for Elizabeth and Mary, women who were willing to follow your invitation into adventures that must have seemed impossible.  Open our hearts so that we hear the invitations you offer to us.  Give us the courage to say yes to you.  Plant in us the gifts that the world needs.


Wendy said...

Last year, when I was asking the church to let me learn as a "lay intern," I compared myself to both Mary and Elizabeth. In part I said, "Like Mary seems to have in the annunciation narrative, from a young age, I have had an assurance about about my overall calling in Christ...I can't know if my call would have been different if I had been in a different faith community when I was coming of age, but like Elizabeth, I feel as if God has 'looked favorably upon me' at a different point in my life by leading me to a place where I can voice this longing to be a part of creating worship."

It is a day that carries great significance for me. Thanks for thinking about it. Milkshakes. Definitely next year.

Kristin said...

What a wonderful story--thanks for sharing it here.