At a retreat I recently helped lead, I likened Mary’s Magnificat, the prayer she prays after discovering she is pregnant, to a roar. I named it a roar of joy, of faithfulness, of social justice, of power. You might recognize it’s beginning: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Luke 1:39-56) The rest goes on to fiercely name the qualities of God—steadfastness, love, mercy, justice—and the results of such presence. These aren’t very warm and fuzzy either—throwing down rulers from their thrones and sending the rich away empty. She names a God who is always on the side of the poor and weak, who defends justice and the dignity of every human being (especially the lost and forsaken ones). Not so much the timid version of Mary we normally get, the ones where she’s humbly and silently submitting to an all powerful, implicitly Male God.
We hear, often, of Mary’s meekness, of her obedience, but what of her ferocity? What of her dignified self-righteousness? What of her certainty of a God who shows up for the people who need God the most? What of her cry for justice, her roar?
I find this seeringly important material right now, both because it’s Advent, the time we await the birth of Christ into the world, but mostly in light of the current cultural climate. Many women these days are roaring, and it is an astoundingly beautiful thing, an occasion of great rejoicing. It is fiery, yes. Fierce, oh yeah. Discomforting for some of us, maybe. We’ve been silent for so long our voices are jarring, even to ourselves. But we are here. And we will no longer be silenced.
I say WE here, intentionally because, as women, this includes all of us. It is a collective consciousness, roaring from lifetimes of roars caught in our throats, censored, silenced, held back. It is a fierce and strong NO to accompany our fierce and strong YES.
Mary knows this narrative well. Let’s look at her for a moment. Teenaged. Single. Pregnant. Pregnant in a culture that says you will be killed for daring to bear life without a man at your side. God says, will you do this? Will you hold life in this way, with all this risk? The Divine invites her into this God-bearing reality, this embodiment of the life of God. She could have said no. That full freedom was given to her. In the face of great risk, of likely death, she says yes. I don’t imagine it meek or quiet or doubtful. I see the risk, the sorrow, the death, the unknown, the courage and the great trust in the Spirit, mingling in her there, in the center of her. She knows what God asks of her, and she knows, to her core, who she is. Her Yes is big and true and fierce and full of courage. That, I believe, was the beginning of the roar, the fierceness in her eye, what propelled her into Life.
The Magnificat, her Song, comes in Luke’s gospel after she meets her cousin Elizabeth. As the foundation of her world begins to turn, she “hurries” to be with her sister cousin friend, to stay with her for three months. I can imagine them, as sister cousin friends do, talking every little detail of their lives over, the worries, the pain, the questions. Somehow, in it all, Elizabeth sees the great joy. Her body moves with it, and she names it for her cousin Mary—blessed are you! In the light of that joy, Mary turns her own prayer directly to God, speaking words of great power and truth.
Mary will hold this power her entire life. It will sustain her and carry her. She is the one who compels Jesus, her son, to begin his ministry. She teaches him all she knows about the God of life, nonviolence and unconditional love. The God who always, always stands with the poor, the outcast, the suffering. In the light of her knowledge and spirit, Jesus becomes the man he is. She laments and wails at the foot of the cross, a non-violent protest to the power structures of the day.
What, then, of this roar, for us? Now is a time for roaring. It is not the roar that intends to frighten or destroy, but that somehow, in its agony, brings light. It is a cry mingled with rejoicing, sure of the way the world could be or should be or must be. It wells up from our toes through our bellies from the fire of our life and into the world. It says NO clearly to injustice as it says YES to what is possible. It’s the roar that says—here I am, a woman of great dignity and life. I, like you, bear the Christ into the world. I, like you, hold greatness. I, like you, come with the power to heal and love and proclaim the good news of life.
This is what the women of the world are doing right now. They are fiercely saying no, that is not who I am, I will not live a victim of the unjust and cruel actions of others. Let me, in this no, tell you what I am. I am strong. I am fierce. I have a voice, and I am using it. I am worthy of great love, as are you.
Let the fierce Mary, the one who birthed the Christ and stood at the cross, be our guide. Let her strength come through the voice of her song. She stands in solidarity with us, and with all women who birth justice into the world.
** Here are the words to Mary’s Song:
“My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy—
the promise you made to our ancestors—
to Sarah and Abraham
and their descendants forever.”