If my partner asked me to travel 80 miles via donkey to take part in a mandatory census *while* heavily pregnant with child, I would have flat out declined. Why did Mary say yes? Perhaps it was because it was mandatory and expected. The journey that she made had to be difficult and uncomfortable. At eight months pregnant, I sometimes feel whiney about walking to my car in the campus parking lot. I can’t even fathom walking/riding a donkey 80 miles. The fact is that Mary said yes…and this is after she said yes to carrying the son of God, having to face her betrothed with said pregnancy and deal with the physical and emotional aspects of carrying a child! These events seem easy in comparison to Mary’s later years as a refugee in Egypt and a mother with the knowledge her son would be tortured and killed. She kept saying yes to God’s will. She kept journeying into the unyielding darkness, lit by hope and faith.
One of the most powerful contemplative experiences I’ve had revolved around Mary’s journey to Bethlehem. I was on a short, three day silent retreat. I had just returned from a service-immersion experience to New Orleans in the year after Katrina hit. I had been so moved by the energy of the city, the spirit of long-term volunteers and the culture, I was ready to pick up my live in Buffalo and move to the Crescent City. I was also married and had literally closed on my first home the week before I left on my service trip. I was feeling somewhat trapped by the constraints of having a partner, house and job. The Crescent City was calling for me! I entered the short retreat wondering how I’d navigate my decision and asked God (knowing that time frames don’t often work well) to make my retreat productive.
My retreat director gave passages surrounding the call of Jesus’ disciples to focus on. My prayer honed in on the words, “Come, follow me.” Initially, I focused on the idea that clearly God was calling me to journey to New Orleans. The disciples seemed to give up everything (perhaps even their families) to go with Jesus. I thought I might need to do that as well. Then, my director gave me the passage of Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem for contemplation. He asked me to place myself in the scene and ask God what I should say “yes” to.
After reading the passage a few times, I placed myself in the scene. I saw myself walking with Mary and Joseph on the road. I was walking with two small children and my husband. I remember looking at Mary and thinking she must be having a hard time traveling. I offered her some water.
This reflection and prayer was so powerful to me and my way of proceeding. I knew immediately that I needed to figure out how to channel my energy into my life in Buffalo. God was not calling me to leave it behind, but calling me to personal magnanimity in my vocation. I needed to continue saying “yes” to my husband and future family.
My “yes” was not a one-time deal either, just like Mary. We need to continue to pray over and say yes (or no) as we continue to journey into the darkness, lit by hope. As the Christmas season continues and the New Year approaches, consider where God is asking you to go—as a parent, partner, professional and community member. God’s grace will light the way.
Sarah is the Director of Mission & Identity at Canisius College. Sarah has been a member of the Ignatian Family for 18 years and loves all of the connections, friends and justice-y things that have developed during that time! She lives with her husband, two daughters, and two cats in the City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo, NY. Sarah loves reading, donuts, women’s spirituality and going on adventures with her daughters.