In the Gospel reading for December 20 (Luke 1:39-55), we hear of the meeting of two pregnant women, Mary and her relative Elizabeth. Pregnant women often compare notes, to find out due dates and labor plans, to swap stories of previous labors, and so on. As the time of labor nears, time seems to speed up.
During childbirth, there is a particular stage called “transition.” It’s described as an accelerated stage just before the pushing stage.
The transition stage can be difficult, and yet it is exciting because that means the baby has almost arrived. As one smack in the middle of a transition myself, from senior associate at All Saints to a rector position in San Diego in February, I sympathize with a very pregnant Mary who is heading into that transition phase. Suddenly, life is quickening, and a significant change is about to occur.
Interestingly, the way I have stayed relatively grounded during this transition period is do what Mary and Elizabeth do: to focus on relationships, especially one-on-one encounters, both with those I am leaving and those I am just beginning to know. I have spent a little over a week starting to say goodbye to the people of All Saints, and I have been bowled over by the power of sharing mutual appreciations. Those of you who have taken our Cooperative Communications class from our Leadership Committee know that we strive to share our appreciations for one another fairly often because the practice builds up individuals and communities.
This is what Mary and Elizabeth do in their meeting. I imagine Mary needed to connect with someone during her big transition, and she chose a favorite relative. They share their appreciations for one another and for God. Elizabeth calls both Mary and the fruit of her womb blessed because she knows that both of them carry news of God’s goodness and magnificence in them. Mary overflows with the Magnificat, her song of praise for the blessings pouring over her and all of humankind.
One of my favorite expressions of this is from Ted Hughes’ poem “Pink Wool Knitted Dress,” in which he describes his and Sylvia Plath’s wedding day. To his dead wife, he writes, “You were ocean depth/brimming with God.”
We are, each of us, brimming with God. Each of the conversations I have had this past week have been brimming with God. As the pace toward Christmas and other big moments quickens, my prayer is that you may have deep exchanges, not only of gifts, but also of appreciations for the Christ you find in others.
Janine Schenone is the Senior Associate for Congregational Development and Welcome at All Saints Church, Pasadena.