|Mary and Elizabeth|
It's actually pretty basic, but very good information for "general church audiences" which goes into the geography as well as the cultural and political climate of Israel at the time of the Nativity. Mostly, it helps people get "inside" the story and identify with the characters: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and the ancient and modern towns of Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The "Leader's Guide" is really quite good in some places, but really falls short in the segment on Mary's visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. So, I've done my thing and tinkered around and created some of my own exercises.
I want to share one with you one of the exercises we'll be doing.
I've always been intrigued by the work of Virgilio Elizondo in his book, "The Galilean Journey". One of the things he mentions is that Galilee was pretty much a backwater place. People there were unsophisticated and spoke a form of Hebrew that was considered "inferior".
Indeed, Elizondo says that Galileans were not allowed to read scripture in the temple in Jerusalem because their accents were considered to be a distraction to a pure devotion to Torah.
I imagine it might be rather like listening to Forrest Gump at the lectern on Sunday morning.
"My soul doth magnify the Lord,Lovely. Pure poetry, eh? And, when sung in grand Anglican chant, it's. . . well . . . . magnificent, right?
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior,
For he hath regarded
the lowliness of his handmaiden
For behold from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed......"
But, if Galileans were backwater folk, I'm thinking Mary didn't use the 'King's Hebrew', much less chant it in Latin like they do in Great Basilicas or sing the more modern John Rutter version.
So, here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking that I'm going to have a dramatic reading of three Very Different versions of Luke 1:42-55. I'm going to ask three readers - a Narrator, Mary and Elizabeth - each to read their parts and put as much drama and energy into it as they can.
The first will be from the King James Version of that pericope of Holy Scripture.
Then, I'm going to ask them to do the reading again, but this time from Eugene Peterson's translation known as "The Message". His version of the Magnificat is this:
I'm bursting with God-news;"Dancing the song of my savior God". "His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him." "He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud."
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Yeppa. I think we're moving closer to Real, here.
The third time we do it, however, we're going to do it in a translation that may be closer to how the folks in Jerusalem heard this uneducated, illiterate, pregnant-out-of-wedlock-shot-gun-married girl from the backwaters of Galilee might have said it.
I'm thinking they heard her the way a sophisticated someone from Midtown Manhattan hears someone from Brooklyn or da Bronx or Queens, ya know? Or, a cultured citizen of UK hears a Yank. Or someone from tony LA hears someone from the backwoods of Kentucky.
So, a bit of context for this next one.
It's called," Da Jesus Book". I'm delighted to see that it's still available in print, but I must admit that I'm outraged by the price.
My copy was given to me as a gift. I don't believe it cost that much when it was first published.
Can you say, "exploiting the poor"?
So, here's the Magnificat in Pidgin English. Mind you, this is not a joke. This is authentic. This is how some of the folk ("Plenty peopo") speak.
My heart say good tings bout dat Boss Up DeaDominique"
Inside Da Sky,
My spirit stay good inside
Cuz God take me outa da bad kine stuff I stay in,
Cuz he wen tink bout me, his poor worka!
From now on all da peopo goin say
God wen do plenny good stuffs fo me,
Cuz God get power
An wen do plenny importan tings fo me.
He stay spesho and good, dass wat kine God him.
He give da peopo chance dat show respeck for him,
From da grandfaddas to da kids.
He stay show his power
And stay make da peopo wit big head so dey no
All da stuff dey like do.
He stay put down plenny big kings from dea
And he stay make da peopo dat mo notting
He stay give da hungry peopo good stuff fo eat,
An he stay send away da rich guys wit notting.
He stay help da Israel peopo dat work fo him.
He no forget fo give dem chance,
Jalike he wen tell our ancesta guys,
Abraham, and his ohana, foeva."
Besides, that's not what I'm saying.
What I AM saying is that, given what we know about the Hebrew spoken outside of Jerusalem, Mary's Hebrew may have sounded to the ears of those in Jerusalem the way Pidgin English sounds to our ears.
Begins to make a difference, doesn't it, about how you think about Mary and just how revolutionary her words were. I love the line, "Cuz God got me outta da bad kine stuff I stay in."
I especially love "He give da peopo chance dat show respeck for him", and "He no forget fo give dem chance".
Chance. He give da peopo chance. God gives to the people who show respect for God a chance. God does not forget to give the people of Israel who work for God a chance.
Opportunity. Choice. These are worth more than fine gold for people who are so poor they don't even have any options. They can't even dream of an opportunity. And, God gives to them a chance.
Isn't that simply wonderful theology? I can totally hear Mary saying something like that, can't you?
I'm also thinking that Mary sang her song around the house when Jesus was growing up, just the way she heard her mother, Anna, singing the song of Hannah around the house when Mary was a child.
As you consider that, can you hear in the Sermon on the Mount - indeed, in most everything that came out of the mouth of Jesus - the influence these two women had on the ministry of Jesus?
I can. Jesus was clearly the son of God, but he's also Mary's kid. No doubt in my mind.
As you consider the story of The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, I'll leave you with these questions which I will be presenting to the group.
I hope they help deepen your sense of expectation and anticipation as we draw nearer to the Manger.