Standing on the Promises
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, August 15

Poor Mary. How her image has suffered at the hands of the pious -- particularly those perverted souls who paint "holy pictures!"

All those freshly-scrubbed innocents -- so pure, so sweet, so clueless. Try, if you can, to picture any one of them singing the Magnificat, that great hymn of a world turned upside-down. "Hurl the mighty from their thrones?" "Lift up the lowly?" "Fill the hungry with good things?" "Send the rich away empty?" They'd run and hide under their beds, sure that the Antichrist had come.

I have at home another picture, one of my most prized possessions. It was a gift from my late partner, but I love it too for what it is in itself. It's a simple drawing of an African-American woman, by her clothing poor, and probably a slave. She is holding up in her hands a scrawny, but active little child and nearby are some lines from Langston Hughes:

I was the seed of the coming Free
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother, deep in my breast.

Now that's the Mary I know. And I think it's the Mary Elizabeth knew as well. Just before the passage that forms today's Gospel, she says to Mary: "How happy is she who has had faith that the Lord's promise would be fulfilled." That was it, of course. That was Mary's dream that nothing could smother -- the dream of Isaiah and all the Prophets: "As bushes in the garden burst into flower, so shall the Lord God make justice and praise blossom before all nations." It was a dream of good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, of a time when God would bring "a people long-forsaken" into their own.

There were few then who shared the dream of Mary -- church and state had made their peace with oppression. There are few now. But, says God, "The few shall become ten thousand, the little nation great. I am the Lord; soon, in the fullness of time, I will bring it to pass." That was enough for Mary, and when offered a part to play in this liberating project of God's, she threw herself into it with all her heart, and at no small cost to herself. She was there at Cana, she was there at the Cross, she was there in the upper room at Pentecost. Wherever the action was, she was in the middle of it, filled with faith in the promises of God, communicating and inspiring that faith in others. This was one tough woman.

And I can't help believing that she is still there, wherever the action is, still at the side of all who struggle for God's reign of justice, love, and peace. She inspires us with her faith and upholds us by her prayers, still nourishing the dream, deep in our breasts.

- - Ted Mellor, August 15, 1999.

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