“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. — Luke 1: 43-45; 56
During this past Advent season in my daily reflection booklet, I read this by Reverend Henri Nouwen:
The Sacred Encounter – I am deeply moved by the simple and mysterious encounter [of the Visitation] . . . Two women meet each other and affirm in each other the promise given to them. The humanly impossible has happened to them. God has come to them to begin the salvation promised through the ages. Through these two women God has decided to change the course of history. Who could ever understand? Who could ever believe it? Who could ever let it happen . . . For three months Mary and Elizabeth live together and encourage each other to truly accept the motherhood given to them. Mary’s presence makes Elizabeth more fully aware of becoming the mother of the “prophet of the most High” (Luke 1:76), and Elizabeth’s presence allows Mary to grow in the knowledge of becoming the Mother of the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). The story of the Visitation teaches me the meaning of friendship and community. How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it? [Advent and Christmas – Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen]
As it generally happens this time of year, a peaceful January has rolled into its
rightful place following the hectic frenzy of the beautiful Christmas season. To me this means I pack up my crocheting and the latest spiritually-moving books along with my most comfy clothes and head for Our Lady of Calvary for a much needed retreat with my friends.
This year I spent time recalling last year’s retreat with a smile. It was before my daughter’s wedding and I was experiencing anxiety as I anticipated all the possible things that could go wrong. I already had three or four “I arrive at the wedding in my underwear” nightmares. Here it was less than five months until the wedding and I was yet to even begin my search for a proper mother-of-the-bride gown.
It had been a number of years since I shopped for such formal attire. My own wedding dress was stitched together using material I found on the bargain table at the local fabric store. Created with white eyelet, unbleached muslin and imitation pearl lace, my gown cost around $35, and was perfectly fine for our “Love Story” wedding. However, times have changed and “quiet elegance” seemed a more fitting description of my daughter’s upcoming wedding. As I don’t see myself as either “quiet” or “elegant,” I turned to my friends for help and advice while on retreat. There may have been some crying and whining involved, as well.
The MOMs (Mornings of Meditation, Trinita), a.k.a. my fantastic friends for the better part of twenty years, were eager to help. Some of them were anxious to attack this momentous challenge so as the retreat drew to a close with prayers and hasty goodbyes, Linda, Annette, Deb and Pam whisked me off to the mall.
Though shedding five pounds over the weekend would have been optimum but not possible, it was important that I shed something else — shyness about others seeing my body! I truly needed my friends in every aspect of this process. They tugged, pulled, buttoned, zipped and unzipped getting me in and out of those luxurious garments. There
was at least one close call when I feared I would be forced to purchase a dress simply because my neck, collar-bone and one shoulder was wedged in the tail portion of the mermaid-style skirt. That could have been an interesting ride to the emergency room, but my friends persevered and soon I was set free and on to the next selection.
In addition to their kind patience and incredible good taste, my friends were something else truly invaluable that day — they were honest. “Nope, not good,” they would tell me and I would turn right around back into the fitting room, trusting completely in the women whom I love and whom I knew wanted only the best for me as they always had. And I, too, always wish only the best for them.
I remember reading somewhere (I wish I could remember where), in one of my “spiritually-moving” books, a story about a pastor who went to see a member of his community who had not been attending church services. He found the man in his home sitting in a comfortable chair next to a cozy hearth fire.
The pastor asked, “Why haven’t you come to services?”
The man answered, “I believe in God, but I don’t need anything that church has to offer.”
The man continued his explanation while the pastor had picked up the fire poker and began moving the embers and coals around in the fireplace. He moved one glowing coal off to one side while he piled the other coals all together in one pile. As you can imagine, the pile of coals burned hotter while the lone coal began to go out and lose its glow.
The pastor explained, “Just like this single piece of coal can no longer do its job to keep you warm without the help of the other coals, every person needs the community of others to be the person God wants each of us to be.”
We did not find a dress that day, but my friends did not give up. Within another few weeks and a couple more dress shops, we found the perfect dress for me. Through the process, and through many other ordeals over the years, my friends and I have laughed, cried, shouted, teased, whined and complained. Mostly though, we have prayed for each other and for others. While endeavoring to complete what I considered to be an overwhelming task, my friends made it fun and kept me sane. More importantly, they kept me faith-filled.