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“She sits like a dove, brooding on the waters

Hovering on the chaos of the world’s first day,

she sighs, and she sings,

mothering Creation,

waiting to give birth to all the Word will say.”   JLB

I love to change the objects on the mantle, as well as the pictures, in our back room, the closest we may ever come to having an actual sunroom. In fact, I do this rearranging for each season, be they secular or liturgical; from spring/Easter to summer, autumn, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany/winter. Although the extended Christmas season is probably my favorite time to decorate, I love changing the colors of autumn to the more serene blues, purples (with a touch of rose) of Advent. I also feel some relief as well, carving out a bit of shelter from what has been called the “Hallmark Industrial Complex.” Although many of the items in that room have no real value apart from the wonderful color they bring, there are a few items of particular meaning to me.  One item is a framed piece of very old cloth upon which there is painted a fragment of music. I’d love to believe it’s from evensong or something similar but the words are in Latin so I can’t be certain.The notes themselves are very old looking in style. This piece once belonged to the rector of Ascension parish in Stillwater, where I grew up. Then I have a hanging made of stained glass in various blues, interestingly with touches of lavender/pink. In the center of this hanging is a section of broken fragments made from the same stained glass.

Included in this room are my three representations of Mary, of Miriam.

The opening words I spoke – verses from a song entitled “She is the Spirit” by John Bell of the Iona Community – certainly do speak of the Spirit…but the last line, “waiting to give birth to all the Word will say”, that is, Word with a capital W – while certainly reflecting the Spirit, also speaks to my heart of Mary…

As has been said a number of times, the Spirit is the mother of all that has been created; Mary is the mother of all that has been recreated.

Many women and men say that Mary, at least as often portrayed, is much too passive. I understand this thinking because I often feel the same way.

The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, is not one of those portrayals. When I try to envision Mary, Miriam, speaking these words I see a kind of composite of women such as Rosa Parks, an icon of resistance to racial segregation; Dolores Huerta, tireless advocate for the rights of farm workers, Mexican immigrants, women. Then I see Rashida Talib, testifying before Congress about her absolute belief in the worth of Palestinian and Israeli children, the next generations. Mary is also part Emma Lazarus, poet, activist, pray-er – who recognized the people needing to breathe free, as she wrote in the poem enshrined at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Within Mary’s song is the recognition of and commitment to the upheaval necessary for transformation; indeed her words echo the ideal of biblical justice.

We remember another Miriam, sister of Mosees, dancing with other women on the shores of the Red Sea following the escape of Pharaoh’s oppression; Deborah, the only female judge, known as a woman of wisdom and discernment resolving disputes when men normally held these positions; Hannah, long barren, did not give up hope in the middle of her seemingly hopeless situation, and eventually gave birth to Samuel, who became a leader and prophet.  Hannah sang a song of blessing very similar to the Song of Mary.

In preparation for this sermon I read an article written by a man who meets regularly with a group of Christians who pray the Song of Mary every day. He, of course, has gleaned many insights from such a devotion; one of them is his realization of how the Song of Mary proclaims the centrality of the equalizing of relationships wherever this equity is needed.

What would happen if we prayed the Song of Mary every day?

The Song of Mary links to another example of biblical justice – of distributive  justice. In the glorious lesson from Isaiah this morning we hear words of restoration, words echoed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel; when in the synagogue he reads a portion from Isaiah’s scroll.

In Isaiah there is a reference to the proclamation of the “Year of the Lord’s favor”; the prophet is referring to the Year of Jubilee, first proclaimed in the book of Exodus.

The year of Jubilee, which was to take place every 50 years, was to be an economic, cultural, environmental and communal reset, when the land and people rest, and all those who are in slavery are set free to return to their communities.

It was to be a year of distributive justice, when justice was to be distributed among all. There was to be slave release and land release because land can be enslaved just as humans can be – and we know our God hates bondage. The land also needs to breathe free…the same attitude that allows us to exploit one another is the same one that allows us to exploit the earth is the same one that allows us to exploit one another…circular.

The prophets proclaimed that when Sabbath isn’t observed there will be consequences; examples being that without the sabbath the land never rests, animals never rest, laborers never rest.

There are certainly differences of opinion as to whether or not all these resets took place; most probably not in their fullness, but some of them were possible. More likely the Jubilee was or became aspirational, an example of longing and holy imagination, a guiding principle, a vision of the interconnectedness of all that is; a foretaste of what the world would be in that future, ultimate Sabbath. 

I daresay that few, if any, people view the pandemic as an example of Sabbath rest – although, even in the midst of it, some people were able to identify certain aspects of value, such as having more family time.

CO2 levels dropped because of pandemic travel restrictions, for example.

The health of a number of the world’s bodies of water improved; I remember reading that fish were reappearing where they hadn’t been seen in a long time.

This time allowed people to reconnect with nature – how many times did people walk around Lake Harriet and other lakes…in St. Paul?

Something that particularly touched me were the instances of animals wandering into villages and other places of human dwelling, curious as to what was going on, I suppose; in the case of wild animals they were… returning.

There is humility to be learned in the realization that we cannot survive without animals (and other species), but they will thrive without us. What does this realization mean for how we make our choices?

There are, of course, many voices offering various  insights about climate change, or crisis…one of them is that of Ecofeminism, more specifically for this sermon, Christian Ecofeminism. The young man who prayed the Song of Mary every day and felt deeply that her song is about the equalizing of relationships is one connection to Ecofeminism. Ecofeminist theology connects the exploitation of women and other globally marginalized groups and their oppression with the oppression of Creation, and discusses the importance of avoiding dualisms. For example, created matter is often portrayed as being significantly lower in value and desirability than the spirit. Body and spirit, gender binary, simplistics of all sorts should be rejected in order to affirm our connectedness. We should not speak in a way that places us over and against Creation.

A few insights from a specifically Christian perspective are these: “In Mary’s womb God reveals God’s self as Creation’s author and lover. How we imagine God to be, informs the Christians we are, and also how we shape the world we create.”1 The same theologian, in a different quotation, from a book entitled Deep Incarnation: God’s Redemptive Suffering With Creatures, writes of deep incarnation that it seeks to clarify a further extension of the impact of incarnation. “The flesh assumed in Jesus connects with all humanity, all biological life, all soil, the whole matrix of the material world down to its very roots.”2

From the same book another theologian writes:

“From the beginning of creation…the Trinitarian movement is the dramatic movement of God’s love and grace in the world. Creation, then, is not so much a backdrop against which human history is played out, but the first act in the overall drama, that eventually comes to expression in the incarnation of the Word (or Wisdom) made flesh.”3 The author also sees Christ as entering into the place not only of human suffering, but also of ecological and climatic catastrophe. Christians are called to follow Christ to this place and to act in the Spirit for the healing of the creation.

We wait for the birth of all the Word will say.

When I looked at my stained glass hanging this year, for some reason I looked at it differently than I had in the past. It occurred to me for the first time that surrounding the rectangle of broken fragments were much larger, broken pieces of the same glass…in blue and green, colors of the earth. They were strong, framing, and supportive of the fragments despite their own brokenness.

I couldn’t help but think of the concept of Tikkun ha-Olam, of which there are several definitions such as the mending of the world or Creation, the mending or gathering up of the fragments. Advent can be a time when we reexamine how our earth supports us, how we in turn must be menders, how our God sustains us and all Creation.

On this Rose Sunday, we are given a vision of Jubilee-restoration so that we can repair and rebuild both human communities and the earth…Tikkun is also meant to move us to action, and can help us to see that despite all the divisions we see in the world, the solidarity of things is a more fundamental truth about the world than separation.

What would happen if we prayed the Song of Mary every day?

It is only possible for us to be stewards of the world for a relatively short time.

We are called to create sabbath spaces so that we are better able to have and focus on moral clarity…

We are called to be activists and organizers on behalf of all…to think, care, and speak out about quality of life for future generations.

We are called to proclaim the belief that all of Creation, of which we are earth-creatures, needs to breathe free.

I close with two verses from a lovely hymn sung at the beautiful ecumenical evensong at St. Thomas More, with their and our own choir participating.

(I take no responsibility for patriarchal language.)  🙂

When the King shall come again, all his power revealing,

Splendor shall announce his reign, life and joy and healing:

Earth no longer in decay, hope no more frustrated;

This is God’s redemption day, longingly awaited.

In the desert trees take root, fresh from God’s creation;

Plants and flowers and sweetest fruit join the celebration;

Rivers spring up from the earth, barren lands adorning;

Valleys, this is your new birth, mountains, greet the morning.

May it be so, and may we in our lives, enflesh this hope.


The Rev. Cynthia Bronson Sweigert

1 – Elizabeth Johnson, quoted in Christian Ecofeminist Theology Today or Gaia, Sallie McFague, and You Walk into a Bar…

2 – Elizabeth Johnson, quoted in Deep Incarnation: God’s Redemptive Suffering with Creatures, p. 6

3 – Celia Deane-Drummond, quoted in Deep Incarnation: God’s Redemptive Suffering with Creatures, p. 11

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