A Meditation on Miryam (Mary) of Nazareth ~ "Mind alive, she reached out / Inviting her God to inspire."
Mind alive, she reached out.
Memory reflecting, she reached out.
Inviting her God to inspire.
So Miryam brings all this trouble on herself. There’s no getting around it. ‘In the stillness Miryam reaches out. Mind alive, she reaches out. Memory reflecting, she reaches out. Inviting her God to inspire.’ There’s no getting around it, at least in the mind of poet Ann Johnson. Miryam brings all this trouble on herself.
Long before she conceives a life in her womb. Long before she makes a baby in her deepest parts. Long before she feels that little life kick. Miryam reaches out. Miryam reaches out. Inviting her God to inspire. I’ve got to tell you: Ann Johnson’s poem gives Miryam a kind of agency she just never had for me. And here’s what I mean by that. This Miryam’s not a bored little schoolgirl – wasting away in Podunk, waiting on a miracle. And she’s not a sweet and innocent flower – you know the picture – fair-skinned and passive. This young woman nurtures an active faith. A curious faith. Long before she conceives. Long before she makes a baby. Miryam chooses to make her life a sanctuary, to make her faith a sanctuary. And she invites her God to come home. To find a home. In her flesh. You see what I mean? She brings all this trouble on herself.
I want us to imagine this morning what it might mean for us to invite God to inspire. Not to wait. Not to suspect that God’s got better things to do. But to invite God. To inspire us. It’s an astonishing insight, Ann Johnson has. That Miryam watches and listens and reaches for God. That she actively, alertly invites God to inspire and arouse her soul. Miryam chooses to make her life a sanctuary. How about you and me? What might it mean for us to reach for God, to invite God, to stretch for the life source? Maybe these next two weeks – these two weeks before Christmas – are just the time for reaching, inviting and stretching.
It’s said that a great Zen teacher once asked an initiate, a student, to sit by a stream until he’d heard all that the water had to teach. So he did. The student sat and he sat and he sat. And after days of looking, after days of taking it all in, after days of listening to the stream, it just so happened that a lively little monkey came along. And in one fearless leap of joy, that little monkey dove headlong into the stream. And he splashed and splashed and splashed in the water.
Well the student, the student wept with delight, and he ran off to find his teacher. Obviously this was it. This was the lesson. He got it. But, surprisingly, the teacher only scolded him. Not at all what the student expected. “The monkey heard,” the great teacher said. “The monkey heard, but you, you just listened.”
Now if you’ve never before made that dive into the mountain stream, if you’ve never before invited God to inspire and arouse, it can seem a little scary. Or maybe even silly. And maybe that’s what held the serious student back. Maybe he didn’t want to look silly. Maybe he didn’t want to get wet. But I wonder if the teacher’s saying to the student, you can wait on banks of that stream, you can watch the monkeys diving and the fish jumping, you can wait. But the time’s going to come. The time’s going to come when you’ve got to jump. The only way to know that stream, to feel that stream, is to jump.
And that’s what I find so amazing in this story about Miryam, in Ann Johnson’s poem. How willingly Miryam jumps. How confidently she invites God to come. How curiously she trusts that God will, indeed, come. So she makes her life a sanctuary. Long before she conceives. Long before she makes that baby. She invites God to inspire. And she makes her life a sanctuary.
So how are you and I going to do that? How are we going to make our lives into sanctuaries of grace, sanctuaries of peace, sanctuaries of God? Again, I think Ann Johnson’s poem offers all kinds of clues, all kinds of inspiration. Check out these marvelous images of openness, receptivity, faith. “In prayer Miryam watches. Eyes of her soul turned inward, she watches. Ears of her spirit stretched out, she watches. Watches for Yahweh in stillness. In awe Miryam listens. With the firm beat of her heart, she listens. With the deep stroke of her breath, she listens. Listens for Yahweh in stillness.”
Here’s what strikes me. I have everything I need already. You have everything you need already. Everything you need for the spiritual life. Everything you need for a lively walk with God. Everything you need for rebirth and rejuvenation and resurrection. You’re missing nothing. You’re lacking nothing. You have everything. The eyes of your soul. The ears of your spirit. The firm beating of your heart. The deep stroking of your breath. You have everything you need already. Make these gifts into a sanctuary, a temple, a home for God.
Orthodox Christian theology talks about Jesus as the incarnation of God, the embodiment of God’s love. And there’s so much truth in that. But Miryam understands, comprehends incarnation even before that little one is conceived. She turns the eyes of her soul inward and watches God within. She stretches the ears of her spirit to the hills, to the birds, to the songs the wind sings. Words made flesh. All this is incarnation. The embodiment of God. And the beating of her heart. And the stroking of her breath. She simply pays attention. Simply watches for God in her dreams, in her memories. Simply listens for God in her heart and her breath. She has everything she needs. Miryam lacks nothing.
So you’ve got two weeks. Two weeks between today and Christmas. Two weeks between today and Bethlehem. Two weeks between today and rebirth. What about the beating of your heart? Bum-bum. Bum-bum. Bum-bum. Can you get still enough, silent enough to listen to your own heart, beating? Like it’s a great choir or a winter storm or maybe an angel? Can you trust that your dreams matter to God, that your visions are important to God? All that beats in your heart, all that makes you unique and original – it’s all holy, it’s all cherished, it’s all amazing. Can you get still enough to hear that?
And what about the stroking of your breath? The rising and falling of your breath. The ‘ruah’, the spirit in your chest, ancient and holy and generous. It’s all right there. It’s all right there within you. The angel. The ruah. The spirit. You have everything you need. You’re lacking nothing.
And the Shadow streams into your being, greeting the core of your soul. Isn’t that a lovely verse? Greeting the core of your soul. You are one with God. God is at home in you. The core of your soul.
Now this story goes on and on. There’s a whole lot more to Miryam’s story. There’s her wise journey to visit with Elizabeth and there’s Joseph hanging on and trying to keep up. And there’s a strange birth in a strange cave, and a flight to safety in a strange land. And there’s all kinds of grief, and all kinds of suffering. But through it all, Miryam stretches – every ounce of her being – for the life source. And through it all, she embraces – over and over again – the quickening call. Integrity. Power. Miryam shines. I found a marvelous little meditation this week about Miryam’s virginity – not as sexual purity, but as something spiritual, something so much deeper. Loretta Ross-Gotta is a prison chaplain working with women. And this is how she puts it, talking about Miryam: “To be virgin,” she says, “means to be one, whole in oneself, not perforated by the concerns of conventional norms and authority, or the powers and principalities.”
And maybe that’s Miryam’s most important gift to us this Christmas season. That she can be whole in herself. That she can be so comfortable with herself, so very much in love with God in her own flesh, that she’s untouched by bigotry, untouched by conventional norms, untouched by the anxiety of her generation. She is completely and wholly herself. God’s chosen one.
So this isn’t just a sweet little story, a scene we rehearse in meaningless carols and brittle nativity scenes. This is the gift, the promise of incarnation. Miryam bears witness. You are – as she is – so completely original, so divinely unique, so very much made in the image of God. It’s in the beating of your heart. It’s in the rise and fall of your breath. You are one with the universe, at home here, loved and cherished within this cosmic family of God. And you are whole – just as you are, just as you came into the world, just as you always will be. God’s chosen one. That’s who you are. God’s chosen one. Just like Miryam.