'Mary had a baby'

December 19, 2016

By Lori James

Sometimes the unplanned journey takes you exactly where you need to be. On a visit home to New York this past November, I had time to explore Manhattan in the early hours of a brisk Saturday morning. Heading to my third funeral in eight weeks, I arrived just before daybreak.  There was plenty of time for a long walk, so I braced against the cool of the morning with no particular destination in mind, until I found myself on Fifth Avenue at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was a good place to step in from the cold and sit in quiet contemplation. I’ve visited a number of times in the past, but only as a tourist to view the building’s soaring architecture, elaborate marble statues, and intricate stained glass. I’ve lit candles and said prayers in the sanctuary as tourists of many faiths do at St. Patrick’s. On this day I was no carefree tourist. Working through the fog of grief left me numb and detached. I didn’t expect to find answers in a Catholic church. But it was there that I began to have a shift that allowed me to see things more clearly.

Shortly after I arrived, visitors were invited to 8 a.m. mass in St. Patrick’s Lady Chapel, a worship space the size of Locust Church. It is nestled behind the cavernous sanctuary. I’m not sure why I never noticed it before and I was surprised to sense a desire to attend the service. There were familiar hymns, communion, and the priest shared words of comfort and faith. What captured my full attention was the incongruous image of an imposing white marble statue of Mary that towered high – very high – above a gold crucifix on the altar. I am familiar with Mary’s significant role in the Catholic faith. Yet the imagery of her being so very much taller than Jesus the Christ, the King of Kings, as represented by the crucifix, was a concept I wrestled with for days after I left St. Patrick’s.

Tuesday night Bible study at Locust helped me see Mary differently. By coincidence, before my trip to New York, I had volunteered to lead the first week of our Advent Bible study. That study is entitled Mary Had a Baby. By every measure, there is none greater than Jesus as our greatest example of who and what we should do and be for each other in the world. He is our ultimate role model. But through this Bible study, and a study from a previous Advent season, I was reminded of what a very fine example Mary embodies of embracing our role as a conduit to Jesus. When the spirit prevailed upon her to do what not only seemed difficult, but impossible, she said yes. We should too. She was dutiful, patient, not complaining, as we should be. As a mother she nurtured and protected Jesus, and supported Him as he grew into adulthood. Imagine if our approach to our role as Disciples of Christ was to do it with the effort, diligence, sacrifice, and dedication that Mary poured into her role as parent. Her faith was rock-solid and towering, even after he ascended to heaven.  She continued to share the good news and to serve Jesus until her own death.

Gazing at the towering figure of Mary reminds me that I can choose every day to be a conduit for Jesus. It helps especially to know what a powerful example Mary demonstrates of the value of service even through the fog of grief.