Day Four: Nazareth and Galilee with Mary and Jesus

The altar at Duc in Altum Church, with Galilee in the background

We began the day in Nazareth and ended on the Sea of Galilee, the weather changing as often as our location. The end of the day was lovely and full of light, and our pre-dinner sharing felt the same. Heidi McElrath shared her experience and I asked her to write it down to share with all of you.

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When I was young, I remember being told that Mary was also young. When I’ve been scared, I remember being told that Mary was also scared. When I’ve talked of my desire to be a poet, I remember being told that Mary, too, was a poet. I always found comfort in the thought that God could take someone so weak — someone like me — and use her to enact salvation in the world.

The church of Mary’s Well

Today, we stood in the Basilica of the Annunciation, in the house where tradition holds that Mary was visited by Gabriel, where Jesus’s human body began. We dipped our fingers into the well where Mary collected each day’s water. We walked the land of Jesus’s formation—shaped, drenched, and witnessed by Mary.

The narthex of the Duc in Altum Church

We visited the archaeological site at Magdala—home to another famous Mary—and the beautiful Duc In Altum chapel. The entryway to the building is a huge atrium, held up by eight pillars inscribed with names of our church mothers—Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Salome, Martha and Mary—and one is blank to represent “women of all time who love God and live by faith.”

I have never known so significant or beautiful a space dedicated to the spiritual work of women. To stand on the holy shore of the Sea of Galilee in a room surrounded by the maternal pillars of our church was overwhelming.

Once the majority of our group had left the building, Kierstin, Adrienne, and I took an extra moment to reverence the space and the women it represented. I wished desperately to remember even one setting of the Magnificat that I used to sing so regularly. All that came easily to mind were these lines:

He hath put down the mighty from their seat
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

I have come to see that yes, Mary was a young, scared, poet of a girl, but she was also a bold, revolutionary thinker who worshipped a God who wanted to overthrow hierarchies and class systems. Mary was invested, even before Jesus was born, in feeding the hungry, taking down the mighty, exalting the meek, and she shared this with her son.

This is the Mary who birthed Jesus, who taught him to speak and walk and live. This is the Mary who is our first example of the Christian life.

Heidi, Adrienne, and Kierstin

So with confidence, we three twentysomething women spoke loudly in this room of our mothers: Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

I pray that we can see ourselves reflected in this bold, revolutionary woman, who formed our Savior, who was scared and young and poetic and helped God turn the world upside down.

Amen.

Manual Acts

Do this for the remembrance of me.
Starting position: palms flat, parallel,
now bend whole core toward the altar.
Now raise the chalice, arms an upward O,
and follow with my head.
My own private yoga.
Sometimes I see reflected there
a face stretched out across the silver
like some big broad mama without a care in the world,
shining out from the refiner’s fire.
My weekly guilty pleasure:
that woman in the chalice
looking back at me and saying
there you are! like I’ve just been discovered.

Reading my father into Neruda

His hands shook so wildly he could not feed himself,
and as I watched his wife I wondered:
Is it possible to feed someone and not love them?
The love was part of the food.

Something in Neruda made him zigzag around “To Sadness”
(a la tristeza)—
All about black wings and longed-for darkness
Tristeze, necesito/tu ala negro
And wild scissor-lines around “Goodbyes”:
And, newly arrived, I promptly said goodbye…
left everywhere for somewhere else.
de todas partes a otra parte…

Poetry Night

Last night I got together with old and new friends to read and hear poetry. Loved every bit of it. Loved the side conversations, the poems people picked, the ones they didn’t pick. Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry are the patron saints of this particular gathering, but coffee table was strewn with others: lots of Neruda, a Manhattan-Yellow-pages sized volume of Thomas Merton, Walt Whitman, W.S. Merwin, and lots more Oliver. We began our time together hearing the story about how Jesus said bread and wine were body and blood, sacred glue of community and spirit. We passed broken bread and blessed wine around around our circle, and then listened.

There is always the challenge of hearing versus reading–can we enter into the words, the language, the life and work of the poet, when we don’t have the text before our eyes, simply the words in our ears, read one time through, with barely time to take root before other words take their place? Yes. I think the words get straight into our hearts and change us in some tiny way. I am changed, made richer because someone picked a poem and read it aloud, pouring the poet’s ordered words into the center of our circle. By the end of the evening, my own thirst for those words I didn’t even know I needed was both slaked and longing for more.

A brief interlude: small-e epiphany poetry

Do you have an epiphany poem or story? A small-e-epiphany poem? Or a story about an illuminating discovery? What the heck is an epiphany? you might ask. I like what Merriam-Webster has to say:

  1. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
  2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking
  3. an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
  4. a revealing scene or moment

With some friends I’m hosting a twelfth night party and we want to share non-scriptural stories and poems about epiphany. If you’ld leave yours as a comment here, I’d be most grateful.  

Advent

Here’s an Advent poem from 1994. Do you have an Advent poem?

My cactus blooms again:
last year it surprised me in March, now
the faintest hints Thanksgiving week.
Just days ago, hard leathery leaves dismayed
all but their own mild thorniness.
Now they pinken at the tips with something so
incongruous and yet ~~

it’s inevitable, and
these buds surprise only me.

A cycle is not a circle
and seasons move only forward.
These are not the same buds
nor even the same leathered leaves.
As I am not and we are not,
as we were.

It’s not that I’m a poet, mind you

I recently joined Facebook’s “Networked Blogs.” It was one of those things that happened; I clicked someone else’s “follow this blog” button, and the next thing I knew, I was being prompted for three keywords to describe my blog. Uh-oh. I have resisted even a tag-line, for fear of being categorized, limited, button-holed, pigeon-holed, whatever. But I do want you, dear reader, to find me. So I plugged in practically the first three words that came to mind. Coffee. Poetry. God. (God? Really?? Stay tuned….)

It’s not that I actually write poetry, mind you. Well, except for long ago. And once in a rare while. And it’s not that I read tons of poetry or have that enviable gift of memorization, such that lines of verse roll off my tongue at the drop of a witty association.

It’s because twenty years ago when I thought I was a poet, I went to a writer’s conference in the midst of a bleak depression (is there any other kind) and Ed Hirsch took me out for breakfast on my birthday and made sure I had a copy of Wild Gratitude. Because in poetry making sense means something different. Because someone came up with wacky forms like villanelles and sestinas and I’m someone who thinks form is freeing. It’s because when I graduated from high school my aunt typed out Galway Kinnell’s “Saint Francis and the Sow” on special paper and I carried it in my wallet for years. Decades. It’s because Philip Levine wrote “Snow.” It’s because I know amazing people who write poetry and are willing to read it in public, print it, let it make my heart sing.

What’s poetry to you?