This past week’s shooting at a Michigan high school has brought our nation’s families to their knees one more time. If the Advent cries of “How long must we wait, dear God?” or “Come, Lord Jesus, come” mean anything to you as a person of faith, it is most certainly with regard to the current acceptance and even encouragement of violence in our culture.
According to John Dear, author of the book Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace, Mary gives us a stirring example of the Peace Path of God. As a woman unto herself (which is what it means to be a spiritual virgin—to not define oneself by anything or anyone other than God’s agency in your life), she knew violence in her world and the many ways it violates the bodies and souls of those most vulnerable. John Dear writes:
“The great lesson of the 20th century is that war has not resolved our problems and brought us peace. It has only led to greater militarism and more war. This destructive behavior cannot go on forever. At some point, the world will break. This is our future if our present course continues.”
He says Mary of Nazareth is a prophet of non-violence with the way she lived her life. To him, her quiet way of non-violence has 3 movements, each named with familiar words that are used in fresh ways. Listen for which one of these 3 movements might be something you can practice as a peace prophet in your own life this Advent season.
Annunciation: In times of peril, the author says, Mary teaches us that we must disarm our hearts by surrendering our vulnerability to God—which, in our case, might also include feelings of fear and anger toward those we perceive having power over us (in Mary’s case, think “townspeople who wanted to stone her to death for being pregnant”).The author calls this essential first step, contemplative non-violence.
Visitation is the 2nd movement in her story: Here, Mary moves from contemplative non-violence to active non-violence, as she reaches out to her cousin Elisabeth as a potential ally. In the face of the violent and angry people around her, Mary builds peace by starting right where she is, right in her own family, tending to peace by tending to her relationships with them. Practicing loving-kindness with those nearest to us, with those who may even be difficult to love, but with whom we are called to share God’s love, is called active non-violence by the author.
And the 3rd movement is Magnificat. This gorgeous Advent hymn found in Luke 1: 46-55, is “a manifesto of revolutionary non-violence,” according to John Dear. Jason Porterfield, a justice worker with people experiencing poverty, points out that “for centuries, members of religious orders have recited or sung these words on a daily basis…it is the longest set of words spoken by a woman in the New Testament; it is also the first Christmas carol ever composed.” He add that it holds much subversive power in its praising of God (https://enemylove.com/subversive-magnificat-mary-expected-messiah-to-be-like/):
The Magnificat was banned from being sung or read in India under British rule. In the 1980s, it was banned in Guatemala. In addition, the military junta of Argentina did the same to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo—mothers whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War of 1976-1983. The junta outlawed any public display of Mary’s Song when the mothers started putting it on posters throughout the capital plaza.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, there is a prayer to Our Lady, the Undoer of Knots. While Protestants and others may not pray directly to Mary for help, I think this prayer, as does the painting above by Johann Georg Schmidtner, captures well how we might allow God to develop ourselves as prophets of peace with our own choices each day, reflected in these new ways of thinking about the words Annunciation, Visitation, and Magnificat.
Here are some questions to consider in how these 3 peace-making steps might touch you this Advent:
Annunciation: What is vulnerable or feels risky about your life situation right now? Can you surrender it, like Mary did her own vulnerability, to God a little more deeply today?
Visitation: Who in your family is asking for you to engage them in a new, more creative form of non-violence, one that might release you from the frustration you feel in trying to just tolerate them or fix them?
Magnificat: What line in Mary’s manifesto has stirred something in your heart today as a prophet of peace? (There are tons of resources written about her Magnificat—just google it!) How might you hold onto that discomfort as a sacred gift from God as you pray with it during Advent?
Often there are “knots” of one kind or another in our hearts that make these 3 movements in our own lives particularly difficult to engage in; we need God’s help in softening the tightness there. Here is the Knot prayer you may wish to use:
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me.
Dearest Holy Mother, you are generous with all who seek you; have mercy on me.
I entrust into your hands this knot that robs the peace of my heart, paralyzes my soul, and keeps me from going to my Lord and serving Him with my life.
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me.