advent journal: a picture of mary


Libby is one of the folks I work with at the computer store and she is a wonderful photographer. What I love about her work is the way she captures a moment more than she creates a pose. She works to tell a story in a snap shot. It’s art. And it almost always leads me back to Jackson Browne’s opening lines to “Fountain of Sorrow”

looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
there were one or two I know you would have liked a little more
but they didn’t show your spirit quite as true . . .

When we start talking about old stories, we have ways of visualizing them. That’s why making movies out of great books is dangerous work. After seeing To Kill a Mockingbird on screen, I can’t help but hear Gregory Peck’s voice when Atticus speaks each time I reread it. The filmmakers did good work there. Some others have not fared so well in the translation: Demi Moore as Hester Prynne comes to mind. When we come to how we visualize the story of the birth of Jesus, we’ve seen too many Christmas cards and Hallmark specials to remember, as Rev. Barber said the other night, “Stop saying swaddling clothes; say nasty! The Christmas story is violent!.”

And then there’s Mary.

I had lived through who knows how many Christmases before I began to get a sense of who Jesus’ mother was. When you grow up hearing Mary speak in King James English and singing things like, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and you hear your share of cantatas and classical settings of “The Magnificat,” the picture of Mary too quickly becomes a rather well put together opera singer and poet. I mean she made that stuff up on the spot.

But no. She was young — just old enough to be given away (as property) in marriage and not very experienced or educated. Nazareth was a one donkey town. As far as her singing  goers, perhaps we would draw a better parallel to a teenager with her first guitar (or lyre, I suppose) than Kiri Te Kanawa. I also think she was strong. She seems like she was one tough cookie from the start.

Yet, just like Jesus, Mary didn’t arrive fully formed. But the time the gospels come to an end, Mary was one of the few left standing at the cross, even though it was her son who had been summarily executed. In between Bethlehem and Golgotha she had pointed people at the wedding to Jesus when they needed more wine. Later on she showed up with other family members to take Jesus home because they thought he had lost his mind. But where we meet her in the story she was a young girl surprised by the the Spirit and invited to a life she could not begin to comprehend, only trust, which she did.

One of the things I wish I had done while we lived in Africa was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. From what I understand, when you reach the last stretch ascending to the peak, they wake you up early in the morning — as in three in the morning — and you climb in the dark. They do it for two reasons: one, they want you too see the sunrise as you reach the summit and, two, they say you would climb it if you could see what’s in front of you. Sometimes it’s easier to look back where you have been than it is to come to terms with what lies ahead.

I wish there were interviews with Mary and Joseph where they spoke about what it was like to look back on where they had been as Jesus’ parents. I wonder how they would have told what happened on the road to Bethlehem, at their home in Nazareth, or any of the other stops along the way. I also wish there were pictures — captured moments like Libby’s photographs; I would love to see the young Hebrew girl we call Mary. I think it would change the story.



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