I was in a prayer circle last night with women recovering from homelessness and addiction. We meditated on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth—that beautiful moment when both women are surprised by the new life being created in them.
One of the women in the prayer circle, LaRon, is in her mid-50’s and has never had any children, but nonetheless she shared a dream she had the night before. In it she was having a baby. She asked the group, “What does this mean?”
And Bonita, who is so wise, said, “God is creating something new in you—a new life for you.” I felt I was witness to the same kind of graced moment that Mary and Elizabeth share in their gratitude, delight and mutual support about the unexpected new lives being created within them:
“blessed are you among women…” Elizabeth, who is so wise, exclaimed, “blessed is she who believed that what our God said to her would be accomplished!”
You don’t have to be a pregnant mother like Mary or Elizabeth, or a woman in recovery from addiction like LaRon or Bonita, to believe that God is creating something new in you, and through you.
Today’s reading for this 4th Sunday of Advent is not from the Gospel of Luke where we find the Visitation story, but from the Gospel of Matthew, which tells instead how Joseph reacted to Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. Not quite as delighted as Elizabeth! No leaping for joy on Joseph’s part!
Joseph is in a state of confusion, distress. He sees this new life within Mary as an unwelcome intrusion, a disruption; it threatens to divide them. King Ahaz is also in a state of great distress, in today’s first reading from Isaiah.
Just before the Isaiah passage we hear today, Ahaz and his people are shaking with fear because Jerusalem is being invaded and terrorized, and God says through Isaiah “Take care to remain calm, and do not fear.” Then as we hear in the reading, Ahaz refuses to look to God for a sign in his turmoil, but Isaiah conveys a message from God all the same, because God is persistent. Isaiah tells him: “a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and call him Emmanuel” Which means God with us.
Joseph, like Ahaz, receives a sign. Like LaRon, Joseph has a dream. An angel of God appears in his dream with a message: “Don’t be afraid to wed Mary; it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.”
Now Joseph has a choice to make: will I go with this or let it divide me and Mary? He decides to trust God and to trust Mary, to trust this mysterious process, to recognize that God is creating something in Mary, and to be at home in it.
What are the signs in your own life that God is creating something new in you? and who is it that helps you see the signs?
Fear not. Say prophets. Say angels. Says God.
Trust. Say the Bonitas and Elizabeths and Josephs in my life who recognize the signs—sometimes even when I don’t—that in the midst of turbulence and trouble, distress and disruption, God is not only present, but God is presently and actively creating and transforming…
I am encouraged by the signs they help me see not to fear but to trust and make room for something new, something life-giving, which is happening within me even if I don’t see it, even if I am thrown for a complete loop, like Joseph was.
A piece of wisdom that is ancient—not as novel as the Silicon Valley start-ups may think-- is that disruption is a force that makes way for innovation.
Is there any disruptive innovation going on in your own life where God is creatively present?
And who helps you see those daily signs?
And finally, what are the signs in our broken Catholic Church that something new is being created? If we are watchful for signs of new life in this turbulent and distressing time in our Church, we can perceive God at work creating something new. Joseph emboldens us to trust rather than fear the stirring of the spirit moves among a growing number of Catholics seeking change, like we who ascribe to the 5 Theses, that name patriarchy, abuse, secrecy, clericalism and exclusion as standing in the way of God’s creative and life-giving work. We pray that from this crisis will rise a new spirit in our Church that will be trusted rather than feared.
As Isaiah reminds us, even now God is creating anew: “See I am doing a new thing; now it springs up. Do you not perceive it?”
Let me now share a poetic prayer written by another wise woman, Bishop Sally Dyck, a Methodist bishop that I know in the Chicago area:
Transforming womb of God,
Conceive in us
Create in us;
Create a new life;
Faith, the confidence to bear
Hope, continuously expectant
Love, the true beginning.
Liz McCloskey is a parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, DC where she is a spiritual director, co-facilitates a feminist bible study, and is on the team of the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a nationwide ministry with formerly homelessness people in recovery from addiction. She is one of the founders of the 5 Theses initiative, a set of simple proposals articulated to prompt reform of the Catholic Church.
Recently Liz concluded a three-year position as a visiting scholar at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. A past president of The Faith & Politics Institute in Washington, DC, she is collaborating with Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) on Profiles in Spirit, a collection of spiritual profiles of current political leaders. Her interest in the intersection of spirituality and leadership took root thirty years ago when a legislative staffer for Senator John C. Danforth. A former columnist for Commonweal, Liz’s writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Merton Seasonal, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, The Christian Century and elsewhere.
She holds a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, an M.A. in Religion with a concentration in social ethics from Yale Divinity School, and a bachelor’s degree in Religion and History from the College of William and Mary.
Liz lives in Virginia and is married to Peter Leibold. Their family includes four young adult children—Brian, Collin, Aisling (their daughter-in-law) and Nora—as well as four octogenarian parents and numerous siblings, nieces, nephews, in-laws and cousins.
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