Full Spiritual Stature

magnificat statue

St. John’s Abbey and University, a Benedictine community in Collegeville, MN, is located on Lake Sagatagan. On the far side of the lake is a small chapel named Stella Maris, Star of the Sea. Several years ago the chapel was renovated. Stained glass was placed in the windows, which previously were completely open. A bronze statue of a pregnant Mary now stands in one corner, with the Magnificat in caligraphy behind her. The bronze cast depicts a vulnerable yet strong woman, one who would say “let it be with me according to your word” and who sang the ancient song of mighty reversals: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
–This image is from Joetta Schlabach, pastor of Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Megan Ramer is pastor of Seattle Mennonite Church, a lover of travel adventures both large and small, a Friday Sabbath hiker, and a proud aunt of five of this world’s most adorable little nuggets. (This post was originally published on December 19, 2014.)

– – – – – – – – –

Mary, having just agreed to be knocked up by God, hurried to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s voice, the baby that Elizabeth is carrying dances an in utero jig. We know that baby is John the baptizer, but this particular story isn’t about him. Neither is it about that other famous in utero tyke inhabiting this scene and Mary’s body. There will be plenty of Jesus in the chapters to come. This story is about the women. This is Mary’s story. This is the story of Mary as seen, known, and named by Elizabeth.

Mary is blessed.

Three times Elizabeth names her blessed. Blessed is Mary among women. Blessed is the fruit of her womb. And blessed is she who believed that what God said to her would come to pass.

This excited encounter, the in utero baby jig, the thrice naming of her blessedness by her elder cousin, all of this spurs Mary to sing one of the most beautiful songs of high revolt ever sung. We call it—decorously—by its Latin name: The Magnificat. But there’s nothing whatsoever seemly and proper about this canticle of upturning and dethroning and overthrowing.

Mary is not only blessed; she is fierce.

It makes me ponder other blessed and fierce ones. Visions of Carter Heyward dance in my head. Teacher, priest, and lesbian, feminist theologian, Heyward once said, “Do we not love and fear the freshness of those who call us to live rather than to stagnate, to grow into our full spiritual stature rather than to settle for a shallow mediocrity of ourselves?”

And I think to myself: this is precisely what Elizabeth did for Mary. She called Mary to live and to grow into her full spiritual stature. By naming her blessed, by reflecting back the truth of her blessedness, Elizabeth inspires Mary to stand as sure and strong as a skilled yogi in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Elizabeth inspires Mary to fully inhabit the space that her body and her spirit have been given. And from that place of strength, confidence, and blessedness, Mary sings her stunning, prophetic song of a more just world for all the ages to hear.

Mary is not only blessed and fierce; she is spiritually brave.

The text tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months before returning home. I wonder if she needed that time in order to exercise this new and frightful experience of living into and out of her “full spiritual stature.” Heyward intuits that we both love and fear those who call us to this way of being and living because, indeed, it’s terrifying. Mary, having been called into her full spiritual stature by Elizabeth, having claimed her own blessedness (“surely from now on all generations will call me blessed”), having sung the revolutionary’s song, now honors a time of retreat so that she may be well nourished for the harrowing journey ahead.

Mary is not only blessed, fierce, and spiritually brave; she is wise.

Two years before the Episcopal Church officially sanctioned the ordination of women to the priesthood, eleven women were nevertheless—boldly and faithfully—ordained Episcopal priests. They came to be known as the Philadelphia 11. Carter Heyward was one of them. Another of them was Alla Renee Bozarth.

Bozwarth penned a poem titled “Passover Remembered” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that historic ordination. It’s terribly long and terrifically beautiful. But here we are at our own historic moment(s) in the Mennonite Church. And so I urge you to read the whole thing now, or to bookmark or print it to read later. Carry it with you, whether literally or figuratively. Even for those of you familiar with this inspired bit of contemporary prophecy, I’m confident that there’s a fresh bit of Good News for you tucked into one of its stanzas just waiting to be stumbled upon.

May the blessing Mary be upon you:
May this blessing call you away from stagnation
and toward life.
May this blessing call you away from a shallow mediocrity of yourself
and into your full spiritual stature.
May you know your blessedness.
May you embody your fierceness.
May you exercise spiritual bravery.
And may Holy Wisdom guide your every step.

Passover Remembered (excerpts below, full text here)

Pack Nothing.
Bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.

Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind—
fear, silence, submission.

Begin quickly,
before you have time to sink back
into the old slavery.
Set out in the dark.
I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire
and I will be with you in the cloud.

Outsiders will attack you,
and some who follow you,
and at times you will weary
and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness to make a way
and to learn my ways more deeply.
Those who fight you will teach you.
Those who fear you will strengthen you.
Those who follow you may forget you.
Only be faithful. This alone matters.

Wear protection.
Your flesh will be torn
as you make a path
with your bodies
through sharp tangles.
Wear protection.

Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.

Touch each other
and keep telling the stories
of old bondage and of how
I delivered you.

So you will be only
the first of many waves
of deliverance on these
desert seas.

It is the first of many
beginnings— your Paschaltide.
Remain true to this mystery.
Pass on the whole story.
I spared you all
by calling you forth
from your chains.

Do not go back.
I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.

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