There were tornadoes all around us on Monday afternoon.
I was on my way home and had stopped for sweet corn when the sirens first went off. I stepped inside and bagged several ears and took them to the counter to check out. The woman working there told me she heard a funnel cloud had been sighted north of us ten miles.
I went home to more sirens and multiple updated warnings. With today’s technology it was easy to tell that the greatest threat would not be to Meadow Lane in Sycamore and so I didn’t worry much. However, as the photographs started to be posted on social media, it turns out that some were closer than I first understood.
Now I have lived with tornadoes all of my life. I can remember many a hot summer afternoon sitting in the basement when the sirens went off, wondering if this would finally be the time I would meet one face to face. For many Midwesterners they rightly strike terror in our hearts. They are powerful. And as we saw again this week, their paths seem capricious, entirely random even… leveling everything in their path and leaving untouched property and people less than a mile away. (This time, for us, there was no loss of human life and most of the damage was not to residential areas. Although for those who affected, it is devastating.)
And so yes, as I sit with Mary’s song this week, I find myself thinking of tornadoes.
I think of the power of a tornado to level everything in its path. And yes, I remember what we witness so often is that it is those whose lives will be most devastated by damage and loss who are often affected most of all for the structures they are living in are already fragile.
And I think of the incredible power of God whose history among God’s people Mary recounts today. Of how God always sides with those in the most vulnerable places. Of how when God ‘levels’ things, it is not capricious at all.
Most of all, I think of how unstable the atmosphere is to produce such storms in the first place and I cannot help but think that Mary must have thought her whole world to be ‘up in the air’ or ‘unstable’ as she came to speak these words. Indeed, in all such times it does seem as though the whole world is about to change: for good or for bad.
And I think of how in Mary’s case, she carries within her the promise of such powerful disruption: The fragile, hope-filled promise of one life sent from God’s great love which would be the start of change: setting a new path with the promise that one day everything would be cleared away that would interfere with God’s intent for the world and all of God’s beloved.
And I cannot help but think of how ‘unstable’ the world seems today:
- The ever changing effects of a deadly virus and its variants and what this means for our life together.
- The already evident impacts of climate change (witness the tornadoes circling my community this week) and of how we are already paying a price for our neglect and abuse of the planet we have been given to tend.
- Violence bubbling up and taking its toll in the community where I serve and in so very many communities.
- And yes, in my own life as we have been dealing with our mother’s growing health concerns and all this means for her and for each of us. In addition to all I have named above, I imagine each and all of you have something, somewhere in your own life where things are uncertain and possibly on the brink of change.
And I consider again, Mary, and her ability to somehow see through all that had been hard, all that still threatened, to recognize God at work, doing a new thing.
As God always did. As God always does.
And how Mary was able to give thanks for, to rejoice over, the momentous role she had been called to in bringing this gift of God to the world.
Apparently, in Eastern Christianity, they call Mary ‘theotokos’ — God bearer — the one who bears God to the world.
And I consider how Mary herself had nothing to do with this and everything to do with how she made herself available to be and do that which would bring God’s presence into the world in a whole new way.
And I wonder at how you and I are also chosen, similarly called, to be and do the same in different and in ways alike and different in a time and place where it is also so that ‘everything is so much up in the air,’ where the atmosphere is so ‘unstable,’ where everything seems about to change.
I wonder at how you and I are also invited, called, encouraged, empowered, equipped to literally ‘bear God’ to the world now?
And I wonder at what it means for us to do as Mary did and to look back in wonder at the history of how God has been active in the world before: making right that which was wrong, bringing freedom to the enslaved, justice to those for whom it had been denied, hope for those despairing, life to the dead and the dying?
Tornadoes, of course, are considered destructive: and usually are, most especially, it seems, in places where people live. Perhaps you are among the many who have experienced this particular kind of disaster. This being so, the direction I am taking this may not be helpful to you at all. And yet, these days, I do wonder what it would mean for God to just clear away all that which gets in the way of God’s presence being known in the world.
- Indeed, with the terrible efficiency and power of a tornado, what would it be for God to just level a path through our doubt, our fear, our self centeredness, our brokenness?
- What would it look like for all that is no longer helpful, or not generous or kind, or not about giving life — what would it mean for all of that to simply be left in a heap of rubble?
- And then what would it look like for us, with the hope and the joy of Mary to then find ourselves an integral part of bringing into the world all that God intends for this world?
Could this, in fact, be such a time?
Could this time when so much is so very uncertain be a time when God has a chance to do a new thing?
Indeed, this was surely so in the time when Mary received the news that she had been chosen to ‘bear God’ to the world. Everything would have pointed then to the apparently inarguable truth that that the powers of this world would always hold sway. And then (as now) surely one would have wondered at the questionable choice to hinge what came next on the choice of one as small, as powerless, and as fragile as one such as Mary for this.
- But isn’t it always so that God uses the unlikely to move the work of God forward?
- And isn’t it always so that God does this in the face of terrible odds?
- So isn’t it possible that this very time might also just be a time such as that?
I’m going with that for now as I consider the song of Mary this week-end. Indeed, I am seeking to ground my hope there in this unsettled, uncertain time when so much seems so up in the air. I am seeking to trust with Mary that God will keep finding new ways to ‘bear God to the world.’ And I am wondering where and how we will see this to be so next.