Several years ago, while praying on Christmas Eve, I was having an imaginative contemplation of the stable where Mary was laboring.  It was dark, musty, and surprisingly warm and quiet.  Except, of course, for the labored breathing and sounds of a young woman, rocking herself back and forth, encouraging her body to move through the process of her labor.  I felt honored to be there, and kept myself at a distance, thinking that someone else should have the privilege of being close enough to touch her and offer supportive words.  But at some point, she turned to me, this young laboring Mary, with very dark black hair that hung down around her body, and reached out her hands to me.  When I stepped forward and reached for them, expecting them to be weak with pain, I remember feeling the strength of her hands, the tension in her fingers so strong, like steel.  Truly, it was she who was supporting me, sharing her burgeoning spirit and life force.  Her dark, warm brown eyes gazed intently into mine, and she whispered, fiercely, through her sweat and her pain, “Believe”.

Obviously, this prayer experience was intense and has remained with me for many years now.  When I feel myself waning in the face of life’s most difficult moments, which for me has been the shadow of grief in the wake of losing my mother and grandmother in 18 months, I think back to Mary’s one word, almost command-like in its brevity.  Believe.   Believe in what?  Believe in who?  Myself?  In her?   Believe in the power of God?  It has had so many meanings for me, depending on the circumstance within which I find myself.  Was Mary saying I needed to believe more, or differently?  Did I somehow doubt my prayer experience with her, or that a Virgin woman really could conceive and bear a son?  Was her word a comment on my level of faith?

As I think towards this season of Advent, and soon, the Church celebration of the birth of Jesus, I am reminded of this prayer experience and how it has woven into my life of parenting and justice work.  First, I feel that the most powerful thing we can do for someone else is to invite them closer in the midst of our lives.  Mary didn’t shy away from asking me to come closer.  She had no doubt in wanting me to be there with her.  Similarly, the times in our life when we are struggling or searching for meaning are the exact ‘Kairos’ moments when we need to look around, and invite men and women of good will in to share all that we are going through.  When I have a rough day with my son, when I’ve yelled or been frustrated or we are on a record-four-time-outs-in-a-row-with-no-end-in-sight, I call a friend to share the experience with and say, please help me.  Please tell me that I’m still ok, that my son will still be ok, that we will get through this together.  And they always do.  I am learning that I need other kind, considerate parents to offer me support when I’m struggling.  In a way, ISN serves as a more formal organization that invites us, also.  It’s an organization dedicated to bringing people together, creating opportunities for closeness.  ISN understands that the work we are about to bring lives of faith to injustice is made much stronger by coming together.  I’m grateful for ISN’s invitations even if I cannot say yes as often as I would like.

Second, I think about the power of belief in both parenting and justice work.  How does belief work in these two contexts?  Well, I am going to make the case to all of you and myself that essentially, belief in these contexts is both about embracing our limitations and our power.  Belief is the recognition that we can do a lot to make positive changes in the world, and that when we invite others to participate, the change will be better or last longer.  But belief is also the recognition that we are only humans and we need God to be God.  Only God can be perfect, can make everlasting change, can become human and make us the most beautiful we have ever been.   Only God has never-ending belief, in us.

As fellow parents and justice-workers, I invite you to reflect on the areas in your life where you could do more inviting, where you could accept another’s invitation, and where you feel called to be in this world of great big needs.  And I wish that you all can experience a time when God invites each one of you closer, just to believe.

 

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