The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth always captures my praying imagination.
I see an old, tough woman suffused with the giddy joy of a young girl, the kind that visits mothers, grandmothers, and aunts at wedding receptions. In squeals of laughter, flushed cheeks and bare feet on the dance floor, a youthful radiance gleams from the young at heart.
And I see a young girl, centered, purposeful, and wise beyond her years, with a confidence and vision that are usually the gifts of chronological maturity. She declares words of passion and purpose about the true order of things in a voice that does not quiver. It is a strange combination of purity and precociousness, the kind that we glimpse in the old souls of certain children.
The Spirit touches the first with a buoyant exuberance and a cry of joy that begins deep in the belly. The Spirit touches the second with anchored assurance and a song that echoes down the generations.
These wise men who had come from the East, who are they? The New Testament Greek name for them is “magoi” or, as we would say, “magi,” which means occult practitioners, fortune tellers, wizards, priestly augurs , and magicians.[i] (The English word, “magician,” comes from the Greek, magi.) The Greek name magi also includes astrologers , and so it’s no wonder that they reportedly saw a certain star rising, knew it was significant, and followed it. What was this star? There’s been endless speculation down through the centuries, some of it based on the Zodiac; some of it based on astronomy. Maybe the star was a supernova, maybe a comet, maybe a “planetary conjunction” (some astronomers dating Jupiter and Saturn and Mars passing each other around the birth year of Jesus)? The Gospel according to Matthew makes neither explanation nor apology for asserting that they followed a star.
In the audio for this sermon, we’ve retained the pauses during which the congregation tried out the techniques Br. David Vryhof describes. We hope you’ll follow along and try them too.
This evening we begin a five-part preaching series entitled “Living Prayer.” Each Tuesday night during Lent, one of the brothers will speak about a particular approach to prayer. Our goal is teach these traditional ways of prayer, not only by explaining them but also by demonstrating them. We hope, each week, to offer a short exercise that will engage you with one of these forms of prayer.