Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 18, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ interpreted by Deborah, imagined as Mary might have heard it
“The Holy Spirit has seized me, claimed me, captivated me, anointed me, and sent me forth. I bring you tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving.
“It is Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance. I must tell you — I cannot hold back! Blessed! You are blessed by God: cherished and cared for beyond all imagining. Soon you will see it with your own eyes, know it in your own hearts!
“Blessed! Blessed are you who are impoverished in body, mind, or spirit — riches beyond compare are yours. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness — a great banquet is being prepared! Blessed are you who work for peace — the harvest is ready; you will reap in gladness what you have sown in sorrow. Blessed are you who have been brought low — you will be raised up like mighty oaks planted by the Lord, revelations of His glory.
“You are blessed! Blessed, now and forever.
“And as for me, from now on all generations will call me blessed — for the glory of the Lord radiates from my very being, shining forth like a city on a hill; like a lamp in the darkness; like the sun at its rising.
“I rejoice in God my Savior, my Beloved, my All-in-All, and I will serve Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength; for He has brought forth in me the good news of salvation as a midwife brings forth a precious child, and has dressed me in the robe of righteousness as a bride is adorned with her gown.
“The earth brings forth green grasses, and gardens give birth to what is sown within them, so the Lord God causes compassion and mercy, joy and gladness to be born in our world in accord with the promise given to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
She awoke to the sound of her father’s husky recitation of the morning prayer streaming through her window as though carried on the rays of the sun. Miriam listened to the end, adding her own whispered “Amen.” Yes. May it be so. Let it be so, O Gracious One, holy is Your Name, that Your kingdom be made present in our world.
Miriam pondered these words as she arose and straightened the bed linens; this notion of a land ruled in accordance with the divine will. What would it be like to live in a place free from injustice and unkindness, where all people would live in harmony? It would be gloriously peaceful, safe, and … well, heavenly. Earth would be like heaven. She closed her eyes and for a moment Miriam felt herself enter into that Place; she could smell the spring grasses and feel the gentle breeze touch her face, and her heart leapt within her, “Yes!”
“Hey, dreamer-dreamer! Wake up!” Amos was leaning on the doorframe. He struck a pose and declaimed: “‘You shall all bow down before me! I have seen it in a dream!’” He wrinkled his nose and crossed his eyes at her, “All of the dreaming and daydreaming you do, Mom and Dad should have named you Joseph-ah!” He drew out the final syllable as a goatish bray — then ducked out of the way of an expertly-thrown sandal. Missing its intended target, it landed in the hall just as their father was coming in from the garden.
Joachim shook his head, “I hope this isn’t the way you’ll deal with disagreements when you are married.” Handing the sandal to his eldest child, he marveled at how lovely she was — and how grown up.
He reached out to smooth an unruly strand of her hair, remembering, suddenly, the first time he had touched her head; so long ago and yet surely only yesterday — when what had only been imagined was suddenly real: a child, his child, living, breathing, a precious, holy gift. He had placed his hands upon the tiny head crowned by a soft coat like the velvet on a young deer’s antlers, her olive-dark eyes looking into his, “May the One who has delivered our people bless this child. May she carry the name of her grandmother with honor, and be a blessing to our people, to the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Not a son, but a daughter — but not “just” a daughter. The child would be taught to pray and to read the Scriptures as well as to weave and to spin; she would be a fine jewel, a pearl of great price, pleasing to God and a helpmeet to her husband, blessed by her children, doing good, not harm, all the days of her life.
And so it was; he and his beloved Anne had raised a child wise and good and lovely. And soon she would be leaving their nest and making a new home with her husband. As it should be; another stage in life, lived fully. Yes.
“Dearest Daddy!” As if reading the thoughts of his heart, Miriam kissed his hand and held it to her forehead, “I am so blessed.”
After breakfast Amos went off to Torah study “with all of the willingness of Jonah bound for Nineveh,” his father observed.
“He’s just a boy,” Anne felt the need to defend her son; he was a bright, social child, but quite unlike their firstborn. It was as if Miriam had been delivered to them full of grace: she was wise and good and kind; an embodiment of love, of the grace-filled Yes between her and Joachim.
She looked at her daughter, “You’ll understand, when you have children of your own.”
Miriam’s smile faded into a frown and she pressed her hand to her chest, as her eyes filled with tears.
“My child! What is wrong?” Anne put her arm around her daughter.
“I… I don’t know,” Miriam replied, resting her head in her hands, “It’s… I’m all right now.” She took a deep breath and remained silent, unwilling to alarm her parents; it had been a sudden sharp pain — as if an arrow had pierced her heart.
“Fresh air.” Joachim prescribed, “That’s what you need; go out and spend some time in the garden.” Privately he wondered if it had been a reaction to the thought of coming together with her intended bridegroom.
Had he and Anne been wrong to arrange this marriage? Joseph’s family was a good one, descended from the line of David, and Joseph was a skilled tradesman who could provide for a family. He was a kindly fellow, a bit older than Miriam, it was true — but not past his prime; more important, he seemed to genuinely care for her, and she for him. Joachim looked at his wife, “Oh, my dear Anne, have we done the right thing?”
In the Garden
Out in the garden, Miriam took a deep, cleansing breath: “Ah, yes,” she sighed. She delighted in this blessed space; this, her sanctuary. Surely the first Garden could not have been more glorious than this one; each tree giving abundantly: persimmons and pears, olives and lemons and trailing lilacs. Here her father spoke his morning prayers as he had done for as long as she could remember; here her mother praised God as she planted, nurtured, and harvested; here she and her brother had laughed and played for hours. And here she found peace and contentment.
She had brought Joseph here after their betrothal, taking his hand and leading him, timidly, as though entering the bridal chamber itself; revealing this most intimate space, allowing him to see where her soul took its pleasure. He had been gentle, admiring each bud and blossom, and taking special care not to disturb the plantings.
They had lingered in the garden, breathing in its peace, learning about one another in tender silence. It was then that she became certain that he was the right man; a man who had eyes to see the reality beneath the surface, as seeds deep in the soil begin to sprout before green shoots appear in the ground above.
Miriam was certain that her Yes to Joseph had been right. He truly was as wise as he was good.
She closed her eyes and tried to imagine their life together and immediately remembered throwing her sandal at her brother this morning. The thought made her smile, and then brought sadness: she would miss her family. Would there be a place for her in Joseph’s world? He was busy nearly every day in his shop, and his family was originally from Bethlehem; what if he decided to move there?
Miriam sat down on the bench beneath the ancient olive tree, so large it could hold “all the birds from everywhere,” Amos had said when he was young. She resolved never to forget it, no matter how far away she went; she would remember and tell her children and her children’s children of this wonderful garden, this wonderful tree, this garden paradise, and all future generations would say that she was blessed.
“Thank You, O Holy Lord, for this place, this day, and my part in it,” she said aloud.
As she had often did when troubled or uncertain — as her father had taught her — Miriam turned to the Scriptures to calm her spirit and seek Wisdom’s leadings. On this day she opened the text of Isaiah and began to read.
“The Holy Spirit has claimed me and anointed me to bring tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving. Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance.”
Miriam blinked and tilted the book back and forth, but in sunlight or shadow the letters appeared the same — as if they had been written in gold, bright, as if on fire. Their meaning thundered off the page and made her soul tremble: it was not a story of long ago, or the expression of a distant hope; it was a description of this very day, and this very place, calling for the world to be redeemed.… and it was speaking directly to her.
This very day. Her very own life. It seemed so real, and yet unbelievable. “How can this be,” Miriam asked, “I’m nobody; an unmarried girl, powerless. And the world is so big, and the troubles so enormous.”
A dove cooed softly in the branches.
A dove. Doves were made as offerings in the temple when a child was newly born. Could it be, Miriam wondered, that her child would bring about the Holy Kingdom?
“How could it be me?” Miriam shook her head as though to banish the thought.
But the words spoke to her again, “Good news. Good news. Good news. Comfort and joy.”
“Yes.” Miriam said, “If it is Your will, O Holy Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. I will love and serve You forever.”
At that moment the sky clouded over. Miriam looked up, expecting to see the beginnings of a rain storm; the dove fluttered down from the tree and landed at her feet as if he, too, sensed the change — but, in an instant, the sun shone brightly again. A flock of songbirds from somewhere beyond the garden began to sing, a distant rooster crowed; it was as if a new day had begun.
Miriam closed the book and cradled it in her arms. She felt the stirrings of new life within the very center of her being.
May this story, which is offered with respect and reverence, increase our understanding and our admiration of the blessed Mary, Mother of the Lord.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Imagine a life lived in service to the Lord.