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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mary and Elizabeth

Mary and Elizabeth
At noon today, I'm doing my part in a four-part series called "The Journey", based on the book and video teaching series by Adam Hamilton.

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.

So, I've been playing with this idea in terms of the Magnificat. When we hear it, we - okay, I - immediately think of it in the King James Version in Rite One of the Book of Common Prayer:
"My soul doth magnify the Lord,
     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......"
Lovely. Pure poetry, eh?  And, when sung in grand Anglican chant, it's. . . well . . . . magnificent, right?

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;
     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.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
     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.
"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."

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.

On one of my trips to Hawai'i, I had the privilege of sitting in on a bible study. The folks there were "ohana" - they were "native". And they spoke Pidgin English. A new translation of the bible had just been produced by the guys at Wycliffe and it is, lo and behold, in Pidgin English - which is what many of the 'ohana' speak there.

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 Dea
          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
          can do
     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."
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Nah, Mary could never have sounded like THAT!". Well, you're probably right. But, she probably didn't sound like the Hebrew version of the King's English, either. She probably also didn't have a voice like a very angel or even the French Nuns who sang "Dominique"

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.

1. What do you make of the fact that Mary, a “young maiden”, made a 10-mile trip, supposedly alone and on foot, to see her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country outside Jerusalem?  Do you find that odd, even for those ancient times? Why do you suppose Mary would have done such a risky thing? Was she anxious? Afraid? Ashamed? All of the above?

2. It is Elizabeth who recognizes the uniqueness of the child Mary is carrying and it is the child in Elizabeth’s womb who leaps for joy. This leads Elizabeth to hail Mary as blessed over and over again. Do you think Mary grasped the significance of all this? Was Mary so overwhelmed that she was clinging to the words of the angel’s message? Or, did those words fade in significance somewhat as Mary began to realize the consequences of being pregnant and unmarried?

3. Clearly, Mary cared for Elizabeth in her last trimester and Elizabeth mentored Mary in her first trimester. Did Mary go to Elizabeth expecting to be mentored, or do you suppose the mentoring relationship simply emerge?  Have you had any mentors in your life? Who were they and when did they offer the most help? Have you mentored a younger person? What was that like for you and for the person you mentored?

4. In both translations we read, Elizabeth called Mary blessed several times, but Mary probably did not feel very blessed, at least blessed in the traditional sense of great good fortune. What do you think Elizabeth meant when she called Mary ‘blessed’? What does being blessed by God mean to us today? In what ways do you feel blessed today?

5. How would you define joy? How is joy different from happiness? Have you ever experienced joy and at the same time felt unhappy or scared? Have you ever felt joyful but not happy? Have you ever felt joyful in difficult or even painful circumstances? What does it mean to ‘magnify the Lord’?

6. The Magnificat emphasizes how God has lifted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things. What does that mean for you? How do you try to live this out in your life? What are the lowly and hungry places in your life? Write down three things you can do, in these last weeks of Advent, to tend to your own spiritual hunger. Write down three things you can do, while you wait expectantly for the coming of the Messiah, to ‘lift the lowly and fill them with good things’.

Closing Prayer (from Isaiah, Chapter 58)

Lord God, you have called us,
each of us,
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke.

You have called us to share our bread with the hungry,
to bring the homeless poor into our houses,
and to cover the naked.

Almighty God, in the words of Mary’s Magnificat,
may we magnify the Lord who calls us to do these things,
and may we do them joyfully and thankfully.

We pray this prayer in the name of Christ Jesus.



Anonymous said...

I always find your blog (well almost always) interesting. There is a children's version and an adult version of Mary. The children's version has held sway for so many years and women have been held accountable to it. The adult version is a bit more feisty. Keep it up!

Tom Gibson
St. Mark's Cocoa Florida

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for your visit and your comment, Tom. I agree with you. We all need to grow up - especially in terms of the Nativity Story.

walter said...

4, sometime a small paperback book becomes a best seller and its price go up through speculative exchange rates making it even more difficult for poor people to purchase it ($15.99). Now some more about the complexity of Jesus and the disinherited versus Christ and disinheriting. As a successful writer I am aware of this and in my way I have been addressing this inconsistency by not having exercised yet my copyright. There is something about this that makes me feel a bit more pure. Something about writing that is not driven by wanting to make money. But in this dynamic there always must be clarity about what inheritance has been stolen and who are the disinherited that benefit from an act of rendering and it is well beyond generosity, philia; it is love for the Diverse Jesus. In my case the Inheritance is Holy Reading and the Disinherited is Canterbury Press. Why Disinherited? Because they have been deprived of their treasure in the past, which is my writing and the Christian kenosis is a very complex and challenging experience: Only God can love the Diverse Jesus. The nakedness, the complete giving away of God self as you see can be taken to very redemptive creative depths-Libby Vitale Press. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused we stay centered and focused in the moment, lyrics and liturgy of life awakening the fullness and mystery of the Good Life. Walter Vitale