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To believe. It feels simple, and we might often talk of belief. Yet, I am unsure how belief works. It is a mystery, along with that of faith. How do we come to believe what we do? Is belief different from thinking? It seems that it needs to be much more than simply to think, to reason, and to decide. A belief should rest and transform something deep within us. A place so deep and central that we can hardly reach it, or see it clearly. Maybe we can only discover what we believe when we are stretched, strained, or crushed beneath the weight of our lives. What I see within myself in those moments often conflicts with what I want myself to believe. With who I wish that I was.
Gentle and calm circumstances deceive me about who I am. For it is easy to be gentle, kind, and compassionate when things are well. When I am rested, my bank account covers my bills, my body does what I need it to, and my mind has been able to rest. To believe in forgiveness when I don’t think I have much to be forgiven for. When I can absorb the sins of others without much cost or pain.
For many experience life altering moments. Instants so exceptional, pressing, and shaking that it can feel like they are torn in two with their raw core exposed to brisk air. This is the part of ourselves that we spend much energy ignoring or distracting ourselves from. A part of ourselves that exists beyond our thoughts, practices, and muscle memory. The bible is full of such moments. One such moment came for Mary when the angel Gabriel came to her in solitude.
Gabriel’s opening words to Mary were, “Greetings, greatly favored one! The Lord is with you.” While confused and wondering to herself, Gabriel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Here we are invited into a moment that would transform her life, and all of creation. Mary was young. She was on the cusp of establishing her adult life when Gabriel came to her. This wonderful child of God was full of faith and belief. She responded in belief when confronted with the impossible. For she knew that with God, it would be so.
Once the angel of God had left, Mary hurried to visit her relative Elizabeth. For the angel had revealed to her that Elizabeth had been miraculously pregnant for 6 months. When Mary arrived, the child in Elizabeth womb – John the Baptist – leapt. In that moment Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She exclaims to Mary:
"And blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises spoken to her!" Luke 1:45
Mary responded with her deep-rooted belief in the Lord. The only question that Mary had asked of Gabriel was: “How will this be, since I am still a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) If we look at the question that Zachariah asked, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in her years.” (Luke 1:18). While they may seem similar, they could not be more different. Mary does not doubt the Lord’s message to her. She responds with a question that re-enforces her faithfulness and belief. Zachariah is filled with doubt. He responds with reasons the Lord’s message cannot be correct. Mary receives praise for her belief. Zachariah is divinely silenced until John is presented in the temple.
The word of the Lord to Mary did not stop with his birth and tearing apart her body. Mary continues to carry the Christ through his young years, on the dusty roads of Galilee, and right up through the cross. Mary was there. She continued to believe and act in faith out of her belief. For she let her beliefs guide her. She allowed her life to be laid out for the Lord. Before Jesus told us that we must follow Him, Mary was making a way for her Son. She carried Christ through birth and through life.
To carry Christ is to experience the Immanuel. God with us. For Mary this started as God being within her. As she nurtured him, and endured the transformations of her own body. All the while the Christ child within her transformed, changed, and grew. She later traveled with Jesus, cared for him, and refused to abandon him as the state murdered him. Catching his lifeless and limp body as it descended from His cross to lay across her lap. Tearing apart her heart. She was there when the stone was rolled away, continuing to care for and love Him even in his death.
That transformative moment followed by meeting a pregnant Elizabeth. It created in Mary an unshakable foundation within the faithful belief she already held. She sang out of centuries of shaking wayward faith in the Lord. She sang of the Lord, who would do more within her than the Lord had done in centuries. Before Jesus ever spoke of His Kingdom, she already knew all about it.
My soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord, my spirit bursts rejoicing in God my Savior. For He knew the humility of His servant. From today all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He has mercy for those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has shown the strength of His arm, and scattered the proud for the thoughts of their heart. He has torn the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has given help to His servant Israel, and remembered His promise of mercy. The promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham and His children forever. Luke 1:46-55 - My Soul Magnifies - Magnificat
For us, to carry Christ means that we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. To carry Christ invites us to treasure up his sayings in our hearts. To carry Christ, lets us choose today to live for his Kingdom as foreigners in foreign lands. That we embody the values and practices of Jesus and his way of life in a world that does not. That we embrace the humility of Jesus as we meet others, and ourselves. Extending mercy, grace, and love that is rooted in hope. To carry Christ means we believe as Mary did.
Lord of all, in you, we believe. Help us in our unbelief. Grant your Church the faith and courage to carry Christ with us today. To carry Christ means we believe as Mary did. That you, Lord, have remembered your promise of mercy. May you lift us up with the lowly, and find ourselves amongst the hungry you fill with good things. Lord purify our hearts, so they beat with love guided by your hope and mercy. Help us believe as we carry forth the word, hope, and works of your gentle Kingdom within us, and across your creation.
These are invitations to deeper engagement and reflection. As far as you find them helpful, may you find time to reflect on them in solitude, quiet, and with the tender gracious presence of God.
- How do you carry Christ with you generally, and specifically?
- Who is someone that you see carrying Christ well? What are some of the ways that has looked like?
- What has your experience of belief & believing been?
- Where, in your own experience, can you identify disharmony between what you think and believe? What was happening in your life that illuminated this disharmony?
- When was the last time you asked God for help with your belief? How do you feel asking for God’s help in this way?
Divine Offices for 2023
Painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner
(American in Paris, 1898)
We invite you to do the practice of Visio Divine as part of your Advent journey. Visio Divina is an ancient practice of looking contemplatively at an object, photograph or work of art and allowing God to speak to us or reveal something through it. In essence, it is a bodily prayer with our eyes. Sometimes, the visual is combined with a text or scripture, as we will experience today.
Your burden is light.
Let me carry it with you.
I believe you are Lord.
Help me in my unbelief
Overlay Image: Jordan Prins taken 25 November 2021 in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Base Image: Paul Prins taken 24 November 2022 in the Marais of Paris.