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Mary’s Journey

Advent Guide 2012 inspire, enrich & embody community


Introduction We all live and move in places. We inhabit neighborhoods and landscapes, hillsides and plains, cities and towns. We are part of, in Wendell Berry’s words, “a membership” in the places where we are rooted. Our ongoing presence makes us members of one another and of the places we inhabit. Though we sometimes realize the ways that we form the places we live, we seldom notice the ways that those places form us. The physical places and spaces we inhabit shape our lives and help form us into the people we are becoming. Places can invite us to rest. Places can inspire with their beauty. Some places call us to move, and some call us to stay. Some places are stops along a journey, and some places are only memories. This year’s Advent Guide consists of meditations around the theme of place. Beginning within some inspiring art from Hyaets member Helms Jarrell, we are invited along Mary’s journey. Joanie, Amber, and Kyle begin our journey with Mary as she flees to the Hill Country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Needing some space to reflect and to escape life as an unwed teen mother in her hometown, Mary retreats to a place where she can be comfortable and supported. Michael, Derek, and Helms then bring us along for Mary’s ride from Nazareth to Jerusalem. They invite us to think about what it means to be in between places on a journey

with God where no place is exactly home. Greg and Christine then welcome the Holy Family into the City of David. They invite us to consider the shapes and characteristics of cities and to imagine the birth of Jesus through an urban lens. Jason and Anna then remind us that the Christ child did not always have a place. The baby and family are forced to flee to Egypt, which reminds us that many among us are forcibly removed from their places. Jason and Anna call our attention to the remarkable stories of faith that come from those situations. We encourage you to read slowly - to take a little piece each day to meditate on, as we walk the journey with Mary from the Hill Country, to Nazareth, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and into all of our places. Sit with the art, and return to it frequently. There is an important baby coming, but don’t rush it! Walk slowly alongside Mary, as we join her in welcoming the Christ Child into our world. As always, it has been a joy for members and friends of Hyaets Community to put this together. We invite you to come and join us when you can in our places - especially now, as some of our places are changing in new and exciting ways. Until we see you, wish you an Advent season of peace, and the joy of Christmastide!


Contents To the Hill Country

5

In Between Places

14

The City of David

24

The Flight to Egypt

34

Christmas Eve

42

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To the Hill Country Luke 1:26-45

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s we begin the journey of Advent, we remember Mary’s journey. Her first stop after learning of her pregnancy was to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This was a way for Mary to retreat, to make room for her passions, to slow down and consider all that God was doing in her life. As you consider this week’s reflections, view them as pages from Mary’s journey as she journeys to the Hill Country to be with her cousin and her God.


Mary’s Journal

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any of us have been there, that moment where everything seems to be going alright. Exciting days are ahead. We feel as if we are finally getting somewhere in life. And then, as things tend to go, the unexpected happens. Something occurs that changes the direction of our life--forever.

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oon to be married to the love of my life, my plans and visions for that future have now come to a halt by the words “Do not be afraid… You will conceive and give birth to a son”. I envisioned bearing children; it was not out of the picture for Joseph and me. However, the timing and circumstance was unforeseen.

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OME HOW, I managed to utter the words, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled” and Gabriel left. I wish I could take it back after I said it. I agreed and now my mind is racing. What was I thinking!?

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Luke 1:39-40


I

will find strength and courage there. This is a place and a time for me to retreat, discern, and be faithful. What can I find in this place with Elizabeth that will empower me to faithfully endure the hardships of the next months? How can I deal with these uncertainties that have suddenly interrupted my peace, my thoughts that “everything is going alright”?

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f there is anyone that can understand what I am experiencing, it will be Elizabeth. I need to find someone to show me encouragement, hope and faith.

O God, may we find peace and comfort when the “everything is going alright” in our lives seems to hold no truth. May our hillside journeys empower us to face what may seem impossible.


Mary’s Journal

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olitude,...Silence,...Fear,...Hope,...Faith,... Trust‌

h, I need to retreat to spend time with Godthe gift of life such a blessing and a hardship. i have a great need for God time. I want to spend time in thankful silence and prayer.

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lizabeth...unable to have children for so long...bore the burden of shame from our society...suddenly God has blessed her and made her husband mute. Solitude and silence, needed and welcomed.

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aybe I need quietness, too, for there is life growing inside. This is wonderful but scary (especially knowing that I am giving birth to God’s son). I am not married yet but I can only believe this is in the plan God has for me. I will be thankful. I want to be joyful!

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hy is it when change unfolds, we feel lonely? All of a sudden, I am pregnant and I feel all alone!! I need space for contemplation about change, happiness, blessings, pain, and newness.

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here can I go to be with God in quiet to hear his voice to gain wisdom and understanding? I need time in order to regain strength to endure the hardships that come with pregnancy and to truly feel the joy of being part of creation. I imagine that one of my closest feelings with God will be watching my child take his/her first breath and the feeling that I am blessed to aid in the creation of new life. How does Elizabeth do it? I am so young, yet in her old age she is blest to be with child? May my life be such an inspiration.


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willow tree by a creek stands alone and gets nourishment from the water of the stream, which is life giving and abundant. Willows need to be near water to thrive.

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he willow tree is flexible and can bend without breaking, unlike other trees. The willow grows very large and can grow from a solitary branch that has fallen into a watery area. This tree not only lives in less than optimal conditions but thrives. The image of a willow growing on a riverbank with its cascading leaves falling over the water is a familiar one, evoking the concept of life, death and rebirth.

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lizabeth, myself, or any woman who has carried a child is like this willow tree -- strong and able to sway in the wind as her world is changed in ways she can only imagine. She is gaining her nourishment from the water from which she came. She is in a quiet place by the bank of a river where she can spend time alone with God in meditation and prayer. God, create in me beautiful, flexible life, like the willow tree. You are my source of Life!


Mary’s Journal

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y visit with Elizabeth was a baby shower of sorts. We pregnant women getting together to support one another. Conversation that runs the gamut from the mundane to the monumental aspects of pregnancy and motherhood: cravings, hopes, and fears about a new role in life. The only gifts exchanged were those from God: the ability to conceive a child in the first place, an awareness of our place in salvation history, and the guiding, inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit in living out our roles. Who knows what the impact of our time together will be‌for me, for Elizabeth, for our children, for the world?*

*Excerpt from a blog by Alyce M. MeKenzie found at: http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Blessed-Are-We-Women-Alyce-McKenzie-05-29-2012


Care-ful God, The calm, crisp freshness of this day invites a simple gratitude for this wonder. The purity and profound feeling that comes with a kick from within Is like crisp, sweet fragrance of fresh lavender in late summer. I’m ever changing in good ways and in uncomfortable motions. Yet God is changing with me tenderly accompanying my song! How can I ever express the fullness of thanks I now know? Strengthen and grow me to be the person I need to be So that I may share wonders with this wonder! AMEN!

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y hopes for this new child: I hope you will feel loved. I hope you experience joy. I hope your best friends are your parents, siblings, and your God. I’m anxious to meet you and thankful for the life God has brought to us. How great is our God!

“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121: 1-2


Be Born in Me Everything inside me cries for order Everything inside me wants to hide Is this shadow an angel or a warrior? If God is pleased with me, why I am I so terrified? Someone tell meI am only dreaming Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees Holy is He. Blessed am I. Be born in me, be born in me Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me I’ll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem Be born in me All this time we’ve waited for the promise All this time You’ve waited for my arms Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected So we might know that Love would go that far? I am not brave I’ll never be The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy I’m just a girl Nothing more But I am willing, I am Yours

Poem by Francesca Battistelli


“Retreat is for those who desire to deeply realize the truth of their being and the essence of existence. Retreat offers time to step back from the course of daily life and enter into the Unknown, in an environment that provides both structure and support.” - Adyashanti

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he world can cause our souls to be overwhelmed. Our minds must maneuver webs of emotions. One of the ancient practices of our Christian faith (and other faiths) is Sabbath. This time of rest can provide space for our spirits to calm down and our minds to be renewed. Indeed, a space of retreat, both physically and psychologically, is healthy and needed at periods in our life. These journal entries suggest that Mary’s soul is not at rest durng her pregnancy. In Luke 1, Mary experiences a web of emotions. When greeted by Gabriel (v.26-30), she is perplexed and seemingly scared. During the experience with the angel, she becomes confused. The

conversation ends with her humble words: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (v.34-38).” Then, she is alone (v.38b). “With haste” she journeys to the hill country where she spends three months with Elizabeth. It seems that Mary feels the need to step back, find support, and retreat. It is during her time in the hill country that we hear her significant words of joy: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. . .(v.46-55). The hill country retreat is important for Mary. Her soul is overwhelmed. Her mind is filled with emotions. Yet, the gift of time and space transposes Mary’s spirit to a key of joy.


In Between Places Luke 2:1-5

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ourneys can sometimes be long and arduous. In a sense, a journey is placeless. It is about the in-between. Traveling between Nazareth and Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph must wrestle with the in-between. They are not only between places. They also find themselves between the powers of the state and the power of God. And, of course, they are not quite at the birth giving place, but in the in-between of pregnancy. What is this in-between place like? Let our conversation on the pages that follow guide your thoughts.


th to Nazare hem Bethle


Thom

Pray by

er

as M erto n

My Lord God, I do not know where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.


A Conversation Helms: So, Derek, what do you think when you read the story of Jesus’birth and think about the time and place between Nazareth and Bethlehem? Derek: I see similarities between the story of the birth of Christ and our struggle to be Christians in the ‘power-over’ society in which we live. In the birth story, males are called to return to their place of birth for a great census. The Roman Empire wishes to take an accounting of the people. Mary and Joseph must travel at what could be said to be the worst time to travel: during pregnancy. The Holy Family was sub ject to the powers that governed them. And yet they carried the savior of all humankind. Helms: So, are you saying there is some sort of “power-play” going on? Derek: Well, yeah. Mary knew her child was a savior who would be Lord of all and turn power upside down -- just think of Mary’s Song -- and yet, she and Joseph had to submit to the earthly powers of the Roman Empire. They travel to Bethlehem expecting hos pitality and rest, but are faced with rejection and unrest. The road we travel is similar. Helms:

I’m not sure I see the connection.


My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Derek: As people of faith, we have ex pectations that, for example, God is all-powerful. Yet, we inevitably en counter the harsh realities of power in our world today: the power of greed, oppression, wealth, status, violence, and so on. It would be easy to say, “I give up�, and slip into despair for there seems to be no way to overcome the powerful forces that keep some people up and push others down. As Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem under the power of the Roman Empire, the impending birth of Jesus


gives us a glimpse of the liberating light that will shine in the dark places of coercive power.

Helms: I think I am beginning to see. Jesus comes with a different kind of power in mind. Derek: Exactly! The story of Mary and Jo seph’s journey reminds us of the world’s power and gives us hope that there is a stronger power that comes from God through a child: a power that does not seek to control us, but instead lifts us up. Helms:

This is powerful! Ha! Ha!

Derek: Very funny. So, what about you, Helms? Helms: For me, the first things that come to mind are being lost...feeling lost ...waiting, watching, wandering, the valley, the in-between time. In this wilderness period, it is hard for me to imagine Mary still singing the same Song she was singing when she found out she was pregnant. And just think about a pregnant woman on a road trip...oh my! I remember when Christine Kellett was pregnant. Her husband Michael would stop every so often just so she could walk around the car to prevent blood clots in her legs. Michael did the same thing for me driving to a Unidiversity meeting one time when I was pregnant. And in


no less than a deserted parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

Derek: I suppose pregnancy and traveling are not the best companions. Helms: You think?! This pregnant lady is going to give birth any moment and she’s traveling! Surely it was against doctor’s orders. I imagine she was totally uncomfortable riding on that donkey. Derek: Sounds like a recipe for a miser able trip! Helms: And according to the story, the couple had not yet consummated their marriage. Do you think Joseph was tempted to let her off somewhere and keep going by himself? What do you think they talked about the whole time...meeting the in- laws? And this is Joseph’s hometown. How could he not know anyone who would let him stay with them? Was he unpopular, smelly, or disconnected? Derek: Just how long do you think it took for them to get from Nazareth to Beth lehem, I wonder? Helms: Funny you should ask. I looked it up on wiki.answers.com and here’s what the article said: “The average per son walks at about 4 miles per hour, but it must be remembered that Mary was heavily pregnant at the time. It


is impossible to estimate this answer as much would depend on the quality and frequency of nourishment, rest and sleep.

ute Bethlehem: Ro Nazareth to e and Judea, le tween Gali be y la a ri Sama of Bethich the town wh in on gi eling the re s much ill fe wa e er Th y. lehem la d the Jews, Samaritans an between the ch the same practiced mu although they er crossing y lone travel An . on gi li re uld be at to Samaria wo in e le li Ga from rtainly not and would ce ck ta at of risk other type of ings or any receive lodg Nazareth to Bethlehem: Rou te (cont.) assistance on the journe y. The family would have had to travel east, cross over into modern-day Jor dan and then travel south on the easter n side of the Jordan River, before cro ssing back into Judea. This is a much lon ger journey.

Transport Nazareth the Bethlehem: in those The common form of travel ecially with days was by caravan, esp was far safer long trips. Such a mode ury or attack in case of accident, inj sus, a caravan cen by bandits. During a not be hard going to Bethlehem would vel about 20 to find. Caravans would tra miles in a day. Nazareth to Bethlehem: Travel Time One could expect to travel about 20 miles in a day in caravan. The distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem (80 miles) would translate into a 4-day journey. However, Mary (nearing her pregnancy term and riding a donkey) would require more than 4 days for fear of miscarriage. So perhaps a week (or more) would have been needed.


Concluding Thoughts Journeys require strength, especially long journeys like Mary and Joseph’s. And sometimes long journeys are thrust upon us despite our station in life. Pregnancy certainly was not the best time for a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And God’s power play through the birth of Jesus creates a bit of tension during a time when the powers over Mary ad Joseph require that they submit. Sometimes powers conflict and we have to choose. Yet other times, as in the case of Mary and Joseph, we can find a path that is both faithful to God and one that appeases the other powers around us. Great faith and difficut journeys seem to be necessary during such in-between times. If, as many say, the journey is the goal, then perhaps we have more to learn from Mary and Joseph’s travels than we realize.


The City of David Luke 2:6-20

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s Mary makes her way from the wilderness, she enters the City of David. At every turn, she is constantly confronted with a new way of life - lots of hustle and bustle, larger buildings, hundreds of people - not at all like the slow pace of her more rural life. But this part of her journey is necessary for within it is the unlikely place of Christ’s birth.


Born in

In a word, baby Jesus was born in what would be a historical parallel to the ghetto. It would take a book to lay out the development of ghetto life in connection to North America’s imperial reality. The story of Jesus’ birth tells us that Mary gave birth to him in a manger. A manger was the last place a person would want to have a baby. It would have been extremely unsanitary for a new born child. We have heard this all before. We get it. Jesus was born of low estate. What of today? What are the parallels today? If Jesus were to be born in our time and place locus imperiium where would he be?

and many other domestic symptoms of Empire. It is a space in the urban imagination, at least mine, where you are reminded that this is a forgotten place. A place at the bottom. But even in the midst of the bottom and despair resides hope and community. It is not completely overtaken by nihilism and the many other leftovers of Empire.

He would have been born in the cut.

I believe Jesus would have been born in the cut. The Word of God, God Incarnate, King of Kings, Lord of lords, Emmanuel would have been born in a space we drive by everyday in our gentrifying communities. Those spaces we either know nothing about or care little for.

What is the cut you may ask? The cut is a space between houses in the projects (i.e. the ghetto). It is a space where all kinds of inhumane illegal activities take place. It is also a space where the homeless sleep. A landscape of broken crack pipes, heroine needles, nihilism, despair,

Is this where your imagination takes you when you celebrate Advent? If not, then I am afraid your imagination has been disciplined more by the story of Empire than that of the Advent. It is truly a subversive thought: the salvation of the world came from the cut!

Excerpt from Anthony Smith at: http://postmodernegro.wordpress.com/2006/12/21/advent-reflection-salvation-came-from-the-cut/


the Cut


City Walls

Right: Jesus of the People by Janet McKenzie

Ancient cities, like Bethlehem, frequently had city walls. The function of a city wall was to provide protection. It served to regulate who could go out and who could come in. It served as a line of defense in case of attack. It served as a port of entry where taxes could be collected. The city wall marked boundaries. It provided a sense of security that gates could be closed, that vandals and pariahs could be kept out at night. When Nehemiah leads the exiles back to Jerusalem, their first task is to repair the breaches in the city walls. Without them, the life of the city cannot continue. A place without boundaries teeters on the edge of chaos, but the city wall keeps chaos at bay. Charlotte has never had city walls. Until recently, that is. During this year’s Democratic National Convention, an area of about 20 blocks was surrounded by an eight-foot tall steel fence. It was a wall to keep people out, to regulate who could and could not go in. With massive displays of security, the wall was nearly impenetrable except for those with the right lanyards and passes. The entire spectacle was interesting, but disconcerting at the same time. As I rode through downtown on a bike while workers were erecting our new city wall, I was struck by a feeling of being very disoriented. The places I knew so well seemed to have

changed, and I knew from the visual clues there that I no longer belonged. Places normally marked as public space, available for any citizen, were walled off for select groups. A city wall can keep in and can keep out. I was, as were all of my Enderly Park neighbors, being kept out. The Bible reports that Mary and Joseph reported for the census, they went to the town of Bethlehem, the city of David. By their royal lineage, they were allowed access to the inside of the city. When the Holy Couple searched for an inn, they would have done so inside the city walls. Their meager accommodations gave them a reasonable measure of safety and security because the city walls were there to lock the city up. The Holy Family experienced a night of awe and wonder, the fulfillment of a promise. They experienced all this in the midst of a bustling town, filled to the brim with residents and guests. The sidewalks were packed, the cafes overflowing, the coffee stands with lines around the corner. In the midst of the busy sidewalks, the cries of a newborn baby were just part of the ordinary clamor of this convention. No one knew anything significant was happening. A birth needs an announcement, of course. So it is worth noting that when the announcement of the holy birth was made, it was first announced out-


side the city walls. There the shepherds sat, “watching their flocks by night, when suddenly the heavenly host….” Jesus continues to be born into our world in all kinds of new disguises. We never know quite where he will show and interrupt our lives. I feel sure, though, that the news of his arrival in Charlotte will be broadcast in places on the outside of the eight foot steel wall. Places like Enderly Park. I’m sure of it because I have seen the Good News announced

around the neighborhood in quiet but startling ways: by the sharing of homes and money when a neighbor is in need; by literally holding up Khalil’s grieving mother as she stood weeping at the spot of her son’s death; by speaking a word of peace to a friend living in turmoil. The angels making the proclamation are the people of God that populate Tuckaseegee Road. “Look!” they say. “Joy is coming. Hold on, because joy is coming.” And in so speaking, joy is already here.


Fritz Eichenberg Wood Cuttings Above: Christ of the Homeless Top Left: Christ of the Breadlines Bottom Right: The Nativity


Embracing Diversity I was just a small town girl, wanting to spread my wings and fly, wanting to take the world by storm. For most of my teenage years, I knew that I wanted to go to the big city with all the lights, the flashy cars, the big buildings, the fast paced life. I just knew that by moving to Nashville, TN, all my dreams would come true. But I knew little about living in a big city. I was from a small town in South Carolina where there was one library, two grocery stores, and everyone

in town spent their Friday nights at the home town high school football game. There were no high rise buildings, no light rail or bus systems, no grand stage theaters or five star hotels. My life that consisted of everything a young, white female could want -- show choir, proms, cheerleading, hanging out with friends. Now do not get me wrong, I loved my life. But I always knew I wanted more, or at least I thought I did.


My first experience with the big city was walking down Music Row in Downtown Nashville. Never had I seen so many different types of people, with different style of clothes, different ways of talking, and different ways of living. I was overwhelmed by how small my little life seemed to be in comparison to all that was before me. There were a number of unique and diverse people that I came into contact with in college through my classes and in my dorm. Never had I been surrounded by so many different religions, races, and ethnic

but rather one practiced for many years. For this girl, allowing people to enter my life and teach me about their culture, their religious beliefs, and their values meant opening up a side of me that I had never met before. It was time for me to understand and believe that others had something important to say and that their stories were just as important as mine. I began to process the fact that people from every race and walk of life are just as valuable as me and have just as much, if not more, to contribute to this world. It was at this turning point in my life that I began to unpack what it meant to love one’s neighbor. I have come to believe that by listening to

groups. I soon realized that I had been living in a little box in my part of the world unaware of the changing world around me. I was terrified -- terrified that I was oblivious to the diversity that surrounded me; terrified that I never even questioned if there was more than what my life represented; terrified that now it was time to face reality. It was not until later in my life, once I had moved to yet another big city, and encountered even more different ways of life, that I realized that I had a lot to learn from the number of people that I had and would encounter throughout my life. I know for many, this is not a new concept,

others and truly hearing what they have to say, and in some small way validating what they are saying, the kingdom will be here on earth as it is in heaven. For this small town girl, this has been a struggle and will continue to be for the rest of my life. But I strive each and every day to keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to the wonderful differences around me and pray that they will continue to enhance my life.


The Flight to Egypt Matthew 2:13-23

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ome time after Jesus is born, an angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee from their Nazareth home to escape Herod the Great. Mary and Joseph become refugees. In many ways, their flight is similar to the flight of Africans during the years of slavery in the United States. They fled a master who sought to capture their family. They fled for freedom. This last piece of Mary’s journey is frought with political undertones. The Holy Family needed a way out of a system that controlled them. During their journey to Egypt, I imagine they needed a way to cope with their situation. African slaves created rich music which both guided them and offered them a safe space, even if it was not physical space. Therefore, on this last leg of Mary’s journey, let us attempt to understand her experience through the journey of an African Spiritual.


NOTE: Articles from this section are from The Spirituals Project of the University of Denver and can be found in full at: http://ctl.du.edu/spirituals/


Mary Had a Baby An African Spiritual Mary had a baby (My Lord) Mary had a baby (Oh My Lord) Mary had a baby (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Shepherds heard the singing (My Lord) Shepherds heard the singing (Oh My Lord) Shepherds heard the singing (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Where did she lay him (My Lord) Where did she lay him (Oh My Lord) Where did she lay him (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Star keeps shining (My Lord) Star keeps shining (Oh My Lord) Star keeps shining (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Laid him in a manger (My Lord) Laid him in a manger (Oh My Lord) Laid him in a manger (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Moving in the elements (My Lord) Moving in the elements (Oh My Lord) Moving in the elements (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

What did she name him? (My Lord) What did she name him? (Oh My Lord) What did she name him? (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Jesus went to Egypt (My Lord) Jesus went to Egypt (Oh My Lord) Jesus went to Egypt (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Named him King Jesus (My Lord) Named him King Jesus (Oh My Lord) Named him King Jesus (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Traveled on a donkey (My Lord) Traveled on a donkey (Oh My Lord) Traveled on a donkey (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Who heard the singing? (My Lord) Who heard the singing? (Oh My Lord) Who heard the singing? (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone

Angels went around him (My Lord) Angels went around him (Oh My Lord) Angels went around him (My Lord) The people keep coming but the train has gone


“In this version of ‘Mary had a Baby,’ this refrain ends every verse: ‘The people keep a-comin’ and the train done gone.’ Trains were a new reality in the newly emerging industrial age of the early nineteenth century. They connected places that had been previously isolated. Trains represented a way out, whether physica,l spiritual, or imaginative. Train imagery figures prominently in Africa American lore. In the spiritual ‘Get on Board, Little Children’ ‘the gospel train is comiong, the cog wheel is a-moing’ and rumblin’ through the land.” “Get on board” to reach the land of spriitual freedom. There is also the historical image of the Underground Railroad, which took passengers from station to station on its way to physical freedom.... “The phrase may constitute a spiritual warning. Mary’s baby represents freedom, salvation and deliverance. ‘Oh my LORD!’ Do not miss your opportunity to worship him. Jesus is the way out of sin and death.” -Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, in MARY HAD A BABY (A Bible Study based on African American Spirituals, published by Abingdon Press)

[Spirituals] blended together African aesthetics and rhythms, European Christian vocabulary and musical influences, and a new spirituality of surviv forged in the slave ships and plantation fields that sought to answer questions like, “How do you worship Jesus as Lord when someone else is your Master?” Slavery was often times justified using scripture, which forced the slaves to reinterpret basic Christian principles like obedience and freedom. How was obedience to God different from obedience to their owner? What did freedom through Christ mean when you were shackled together? The theology of the spirituals gives us a clue to the slaves’ perceptions of a God mercy, justice, and love in a world of cruelty, injustice, and racism.


African Spirituals It is evident that the existence of deep faith, combined with the process of singing within a community context, was an important part of many enslaved Africans’ ability to survive – and in many cases transcend – the extreme emotional trauma of slavery. The dialectical interplay between feelings of sadness and despair vs. feelings of hopefulness and emotional triumph found in different levels of various spirituals appears to have been an important container for the psychological process of transformation, with hope, confidence and emotional triumph as the frequent endpoints of the process. In his book Deep River, the late theologian and philosopher Howard Thurman commented on the way in which this will to survive was man-


ifest in the songs of enslaved women and men: This is the discovery made by the slave that finds its expression in song – a complete and final refusal to be stopped. . . . Under such a circumstance even one’s deepest distress becomes so sanctified that a vast illumination points the way to the land one seeks. . . . He who has made that discovery know as at last that he can stand anything that can happen to him. “The Blind Man stood on the road and cried” – the answer came in the cry itself. What a panorama of the ultimate dignity of the human spirit! [pp. 39-40]. Thurman’s analysis highlights a significant aspect of virtually all of the spirituals that emerged during slavery in North America: Psychologically, each song expresses both poles of an emotional continuum, ranging from deep despair to confident hope. That is, each song comments directly on the sadness, distress and emotional trauma that were inextricably connected with the brutal experience of being a slave. However, at the same time, each song delivers a clear statement of confidence and hope (as paradoxical as that would seem). Various songs emphasize one or the other of these two poles, but in virtually every song, both poles are included, sometimes in subtle, but very definite manifestations.

A Ride for Liberty - The Fugitive Slaves, by Eastman Johnson (cs. 1862) Perhaps we can interpret this image as the Holy Family fleeing as fugitives to Egypt


Spiritual Journey At length, however, a single voice, coming from a dark corner of the room, began a low, mournful chant, in which the whole assemblage joined by degrees. It was a strange song, with seemingly very little rhythm, and was what is termed in music a minor; it was not a psalm, nor a real song, as we understand these words; for there was nothing that approached the jubilant in it. It seemed more like a wail, a mournful, dirge-like expression of sorrow. At first, I was inclined to laugh, it was far from what I had been accustomed to call music; then I felt uncomfortable, as though I could not endure it, and half rose to leave the room; and at last, as the weird chorus rose a little above, and then fell a little below, the keynote, I was overcome by the real sadness and depression of soul which it seemed to symbolize…. They sang for a full half-hour. –an old man knelt down to pray. His voice was at first low and indistinct… He seemed to gain impulse as he went on, and pretty soon burst out with an O good, dear Lord! we pray for de cullered people. Thou knows well ‘nuff what we’se been through: do, do, oh! do gib us free! when the whole audience swayed back and forward in their seats, and uttered in perfect harmony a sound like that caused by prolonging the letter m with the lips closed. One or two began this wild, mournful chorus; and in an instant all joined in, and the sound swelled upwards and downwards like waves of the sea. -- George Hepworth, a New England minister visiting Carrollton, Louisiana during the Civil War


The combination of chanted or sung prayer, ritual music and dance is intended to transform the space and the individuals present so that they are open to another quality of experience. So too, the spirituals, especially when accompanied by rhythmic movement and the ring shout, were designed to manifestly change the nature of the space. To sacralize it. To sacralize the singers and the listeners. To make available to all present an alternative experience of being in the world.

Questions: 1. What are possible parallels between Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s escape to Egypt and the dream of escape for African slaves on, for example, the underground railroad? 2. What are some connections between the journey of the holy family to Egypt and the journey of slave communities through the music of spirituals? 3. Who are the persecuted or enslaved today that need the asylum of Egypt and the negro spirituals? 4. Is there an underground railroad or freedom train for them today? 5. What is your role in that freedom train?

Harriet Tubman - a Mary figure


Christmas Eve I have a favorite carol that I have grown to love over the past few years. It is called “In the Bleak Midwinter.”The original text was written by Christina Rossetti, an English poet who wrote it in 1872 in response to a call for submissions of a Christmas poem from a magazine. The poem describes the

nativity scene – the weather, a stable, angels gathered, Mary gazing at her baby. It then turns introspective, wondering how the reader or writer can respond to the nativity scene. The poem is lovely. The music, first set by the great Gustav Holst, is stunningly beautiful. The first stanza says:

In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago. One problem with the carol, historically speaking, is the weather. In Bethlehem, on the West Bank, the av-

erage high in the month of December is about 60 degrees F, and the aver-


age low around 42. That can hardly be called bleak. It is definitely not earth-hard-as-iron, snow on snow on snow kind of weather. And a further historical consideration is that the placement of Christmas in December has more to do with an ancient pagan festival and the symbolism of darkness and light than anything else. The Bible never bothers to discuss the month of Jesus’ birth, nor the weather conditions. But Christina Rossetti was from London, not Bethlehem. And to describe the weather in Great Britain as bleak during the winter is a fair description. Frosty wind, I have been told, makes moan for months on end there. And this is why I love the carol, because it points to one of the deep mysteries of Christmas – that the Christ child is always slipping in wherever we are. The Christ shows up in many forms – sometimes bringing comfort and sometimes judgment, sometimes bringing peace and sometimes a sword. But bidden or unbidden, no-

ticed or unnoticed, the Christ child always arrives. This Christmas Eve is pregnant with the possibilities of redemption in every corner of the world where darkness has crept in. In the hospital room where tragedy has permanently altered a family as well as in the Brazilian favela where tragedy is a daily occurrence, the Christchild slips in tonight to bring hope. In the inner-city family irrevocably changed by a night of violence and in the Iraqi village struggling to rebuild from a decade of it, the Christ is born this evening to bring peace. Where sadness prevails this evening, and in the minds and the homes where the dark cloud of despair has settled in, Jesus is born this evening to bring joy. In the countless homes that will tonight look at rooms full of torn wrapping paper and over-indulged children and wonder whether this is really the best way to celebrate, the Christ is born today to bring abundant life. Into all of our lives, whether basking in the sun of summer or shivering in the bleak midwinter, tonight salvation comes to us.



Mary's Journey