The below is Chapter 8 of Steve Bell’s e-book PilgrimYear: Advent. Information about the book can be found at the bottom of the page.
Revealing the truth of humanity…
I was in Israel in 2004 traveling with my good friend Jack. Tagging along is more like it. Jack was visiting Palestinian Christian aid and education organizations in the West Bank on behalf of potential North American donors. I was there simply because I had been reading about the region and wanted to learn something of the complexities of Israeli/Palestinian relations.
At this time, the second Intifada was winding down. Yasser Arafat was bunkered deep in the recesses of his nearly destroyed compound, and the whole of West Bank was in lock-down. At every checkpoint the tension was so high that stepping on a twig, it seemed, might erupt the place in chaos and violence. It was frightening.
After a week of living with this tension, my insides were wound up like a clock. I wasn’t sleeping, and when I did my dreams were dreadful. One night I dreamt that I was dangling helplessly like a spider on a thread, while a churning, mile-high tidal wave of black, seething water overcame me and enveloped me. I still can’t remember that dream without hearing the ominous sound of the approaching wave and feeling a horrified helplessness.
Nearing the end of our trip, my companion and I realized it wasn’t a good idea to return to our families in such a stressed state; so we checked into a quiet monastery a few miles west of Jerusalem to decompress for a couple days. It was the most serene and peaceful place.
The monastery, inhabited by wonderfully hospitable Grey Nuns, was situated on a hilltop covered with ancient olive trees. A quiet Arab-Israeli village lay below. The gentle sounds and smells of life—children and adults kibitzing, bleating goats, car horns, music, open cooking fires—rose up the hill like a soothing balm. On the very pinnacle of the hill was a graceful chapel adorned by an elegant statue of the Madonna and Child. She, Mary, was holding the Christ Child in her right arm and gesturing toward Jerusalem with her left.
The night before I left for home, I decided to keep vigil in the olive trees and wait for the sun to rise over Jerusalem, visible from my vantage just a few miles to the east. I had my guitar with me, and through the night I played some, I prayed some, I wept some, and I waited. At dawn, a gentle, rose-coloured wave of light glided across the valley floor and up the hill to the chapel behind me. As the ascending sun bathed the Madonna and Child with splendour, I noticed—for the first time—the inscription beneath: Mary, Ark of the New Covenant.
I stared for the longest time at that inscription, the truth of it rising in me like the morning sun.
Mary, the prototypical Christian, who first received the seed of the Word of God in her womb and bore it for the sake of the world, beckons us all to realize our innate calling to be co-bearers of the seed of God. Even in our troubled humanity—within the drama of brokenness, redemption and salvation—we have been invited to take up our role as maternal-spouse of God: to receive, carry and bear-forth new life for the sake of the world. Anything less is beneath our dignity.
An important thing to note about this invitation is that God offers not only a spousal relationship with Himself in the unfolding drama of salvation history, but He also gives us the dignity of choice.
Here’s Malcolm Guite reciting an arresting sonnet he wrote about this very thing:
The Annunciation – by Malcolm Guite
We see so little, stayed on surfaces
We calculate the outsides of all things
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angel’s wings
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled
They guard the good we purpose to destroy
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred
The Word Himself was waiting on her word.
“The Word Himself was waiting on her word.”
During Advent, when Christians encourage the world to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” we may do better by encouraging each other to keep ourselves in Christmas. My sense is that Christ really doesn’t need our defense. We have not understood our place in this astonishing story; we might instead ponder deeply, and internalize profoundly how this season reveals not only the truth of God, but the surprising truth of our humanity as well.
MARY lyrics by Malcolm Guite / music by Steve Bell
(available on Steve Bell’s 2014 release Pilgrimage)
You bore for me the one who came to bless
And bear for all, to make the broken whole
You heard His call and in your open ‘yes’
You spoke aloud for every living soul
Oh gracious Lady, child of your own child
Whose mother-love still calls the child in me
Call me again, for I am lost and
Wild waves surround me now. On this dark sea
Shine as a star and call me to the shore
Open a door that all my sins would close
And hold me in your garden. Let me share
The prayer that folds the petals of the Rose
Enfold me too in love’s last mystery
And bring me to the One you bore for me
The above is Chapter 8 of Steve Bell’s e-book PilgrimYear: Advent
To access the entire book on mobile device or online (for $2:99) see: www.stevebell.com/pilgrim-year
Malcolm Guite’s splendid books of poetry can be purchased Here…