My soul, magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.. . . He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
St. Luke is always full of songs, many of them intended for use in worship. It’s Luke who remembers the Ave Maria, an Angel saying Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, and Luke who records the Song of Zechariah, the Gloria (another word for the song the angels sang to shepherds in the field), and the Song of Simeon. No other evangelist can boast such a playlist, and annually in Advent he queues up the glorious Magnificat for Mary: My soul, she sings, magnifies the Lord.
As Luke would have it, Mary has voice. Somehow she has a say in the miracle that happens, most especially a say in whether it happens under her watch, within the body of her own life. She’s a great one for singing and a great one to sing about. Among my favorite Mary songs is Mary, Did You Know?
It goes like this: “Mary did you know, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again? The lame will leap, the tongue will speak the praises of the Lord. Oh Mary did you know?”
It’s a song made up of questions, few of them answerable, mostly raised to make us wonder about Mary. Just what exactly did she really know about the life she carried? And what did she need to know in order to raise him?
Dante claims Mary is all that is good in human creatures. In Christian theology, she stands in for, and up for, your goodness. When she answers the angel, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she answers for you, for your willingness to bear and tend the incarnate love of God.
When I was a child, I often wondered about her. I didn’t wonder what all she knew or understood about Jesus. Instead I wondered about her absence in my life. In the Episcopal Church of my childhood, Mary was mostly missing, somebody you met every year at Christmas and then stored away with Santa Claus until next year. She seemed more ornament than real. As I’ve said before, though, my paternal grandparents were cradle Roman Catholics.
On my grandmother’s side the story was her mother had been an English Catholic who immigrated to America. Her name was Amie Barrie, and family history has it she came to our country in the early 1900s with a little statue of Mary Queen of Scots. I still have it: a doll-sized porcelain figure with a lacy cap and ruff collar, the Bible in one hand, a fan in the other, wearing a long string of beads: a rosary.
I used to wonder about those beads, too, and one day I decided I was ready to learn what they were all about. So I started visiting a local Catholic Church, where I learned to pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
It’s a prayer that relies on the belief that Mary knew all that was necessary to mother the Savior of the world. Though she knew the world for a hard place – her magnificat tells us that much – I don’t think she knew what his life would ask of him. Or of her. She didn’t need to because she loved her baby, and knew she’d always love her baby. And love him with that steadfast not-gonna-leave-you kind of love. The stand-by-you love.
It’s not the same thing as I’ll never disappoint you, love. Or I’ll never forget to say your prayers with you come bedtime, love. Or even I’ll never make a mistake, love. The steadfeast-not-gonna-leave-you kind of love is bigger than we are, and bigger than all our failures. It relies, and falls back on, the abiding love of God. We are limited creatures, like Mary. In the wee hours of the morning, when we’ve been up all night, our eyes blink in weariness.
The steadfast love of God is what we might also call the Grace of God—a grace that loves us and holds onto us no matter what. Again, we might also call it the Peace of God. And yes it surpasses our understanding. And most assuredly surpasses our self-understanding. Which is to say, God loves you more than you know, certainly more than you think you deserve to be loved. It’s a love that doesn’t ask whether you deserve it or whether anyone deserves to be loved.
If you’ll notice in the scriptures, you never hear Mary question whether she deserves to bear the Christ Child. Or whether she has it in her to love and raise her baby boy. And maybe that’s something God wants to tell you: to say, like it or not, you’re who I have this day, and who I’ve chosen this hour, to magnify my love. You have all you need to do that. Because I love you. And I will always love you. Because my love will never abandon you.
I know a young woman pregnant with her first child. She calls me often with worry on her mind. And the other day, she said, “When you were a mother, did you ever worry about the world coming to an end? Or worry the world was a terrible place to raise a child?”
I told her people have always worried about the world coming to an end. And worried about terrors, too. I told her living is full of worry. And that while the work of mothering and fathering has a way of magnifying the worries of the world, that’s so you can look after the child you love.
Worry comes with love. The trick is loving anyway, trusting God is with you. You have a say in that. God will be with you, like it or not, welcome or not, but you have say in whether or not you choose to magnify his love within the body and days of your life.
“Mary, did you know?” we ask.
And she answers echoing the words of an angel, “The Lord is with me.”