According to a Roman Catholic tradition the day I am writing this, September 8, is Mary’s birthday. THE Mary – Mother of Jesus Mary. Of course, the date is no more certain than the date of her firstborn’s birth, but tradition has set the markers and so we keep them as touch points for remembering.
We all do that with significant events. We memorialize the date. We celebrate or mourn as required. We mark the memory. Mary was good at that. She “pondered” – in her heart scripture tells us. She must have told Luke the details of Jesus’ birth that we read each Christmas. We owe a lot to Mary’s ponderings.
In our ninth month since my husband’s stroke, we are coming up on our first anniversaries of this life-changing event. Soon instead of weeks out or months out, it will be “It’s been a whole year now!” Then, “How many years has it been?” Somewhere inertia sets in. No one expects recovery anymore, no more improving, just status quo. Some doctors and therapists have already assumed the “status quo” position, expecting little henceforth. But I expect the blessings to continue.
“Status Quo” is not what Mary’s birthday teaches us to celebrate. At least not for me. When faced with a life-changing event (poor, young, unmarried teenager becomes illegitimately pregnant!), Mary proclaims, “Henceforth all generations will call me blessed because The Lord has done great things for me.” Only someone like Mary could look , not at the event’s earthly consequences, but at the spiritual ones.
But that’s Mary’s life, you say. She was blessed. We are suffering. We see no blessings coming from this hard place. Really? Think about her life. Pregnant and shamed. Immigrant birthing. Fleeing from Herod’s murderous wrath. Raising a challenging son who invited trouble into his life. Watching him be executed. Even his telling her to take a different son. And then appearing first to others. What a blessed life, right? Right. Blessings are not consolation prizes. They are power to transform heartache into triumph.
Right before Thanksgiving last year – the weekend before the stroke – I had a dream in which my late sister appeared in other-worldly beauty and splendor. In my dream she stood in the very room we are now remodeling to be my husband’s at-home-hospital-room. In the dream, as I gazed at her beauty and rejoiced at the vision of her, she turned ceremoniously and looked lovingly toward me. Communication took great effort on her part, but slowly she mouthed the one word that compassed her message: “Blessings!” And then I awoke. But I felt her benediction. Of course, I thought it a positive generic offering of goodness for the family. I had no inkling what soon would transpire.
Through these months I have held the memory of her beauty and that one word – “Blessings!” Through the suffering I have attempted to see (and occasionally succeeded at seeing) our journey with spiritual eyes. And now I understand more fully what she meant.
So what are blessings? Now it seems simple. Any hardship holds the potential to transform you into a blessing. But you must learn, like Mary, to “ponder these things in [your] heart.”
Oh, and happy birthday, Mary.