The gift of blessing: Part of what’s so challenging about Mary’s story is its brevity. We know from the Gospel accounts that she’s perplexed by Gabriel’s announcement. We also know that she says yes to the angel’s request, anyway. But so much lies hidden beneath that seemingly quick and simple “yes.” So many questions. So many possibilities. So many occasions for doubt. Again, Luke doesn’t elaborate, but I can well imagine the questions I’d ask if I were in Mary’s place: Is Joseph going to stick around? Will my parents still love me? How will I survive the pain of childbirth? Who will help me when my time comes to deliver? Who will support this baby if my fiancé bails? Who am I to raise the son of God? Is any of this for real, or am I losing my mind?
Into this maelstrom of questions comes an outpouring of blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth astutely connects the dots in Mary’s story; she makes the connection between trust and blessing. In Elizabeth’s mind, Mary’s “favored” status has nothing to do with wealth, health, comfort, or ease. Her blessing lies solely in her willingness to trust God and to surrender to God’s will. To lean hard into God’s promises and believe that they will sustain her, no matter what.
I wonder how desperately Mary needs this blessing by the time she lands on Elizabeth’s doorstep, exhausted and scared. How badly she needs someone to remind her that even after the angel leaves, the light fades, and the vision recedes, God’s faithfulness remains.
My guess is, Mary carries Elizabeth’s blessing in her heart for the rest of her life. After all, her vocation as Jesus’s mother is not easy. It leads her straight from scandal to danger to trauma to devastation. How blessed can she feel when she delivers her firstborn in a smelly stable? When she becomes a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to prevent her son’s murder? What does blessing feel like for her years later, when her miraculously conceived child is arrested? Beaten? Mocked? Killed?
God’s call on Mary’s life requires her to be profoundly courageous and countercultural, to trust an inner vision few others understand or value. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary’s faith is precious — that faith alone will fuel the ongoing surrender Mary’s journey will require. So she names and blesses Mary’s capacity for deep trust as a gift worth cherishing.
We don’t live in a time or culture that encourages us to bless one another, and that’s a terrible shame. What would it be like to recover Elizabeth’s vocation of blessing? To cultivate spiritual attentiveness? To gaze long and deeply at each other, looking for glimpses of God? How would our churches change if we made a point of discerning, naming, and blessing the divine gifts we see in each other? Elizabeth “exclaims with a loud cry” when she recognizes God’s life-changing work in Mary. What a compelling image. Joy flourishes when we’re willing to humbly bless each other.
to be continued…