O, Emmanuel: A child is born…

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion 

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.Isaiah 9:5

We’ve been waiting. We have been practicing patience. Our friend Mary is 40 weeks along and ready to give birth. It’s game-on mode. There’s been this business of the census and all the crazy travel in the past weeks –Joseph trying to secure accommodations. And here we are: Christmas.

In my prayer this past 24 hours, I am fixated on the details of birth. I keep imagining Mary going into labor. Her belly squeezing; the uterine muscles contracting, and someone rubbing her lower back. I imagine her pacing, perhaps walking the circumference of the room, or making laps outside her birthing space. Maybe it’s still daylight. It’s hot, the roads are dusty, that one little lamb flanks her heels as she paces. He knows.

I keep remembering my own labor and delivery– getting checked into St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul, being wheeled to my room; walking the length of the corridor in hopes of furthering the process of cervical dilation, and the ultimate next step…

Giving birth is an experience that every parent is intimately familiar with.

“..the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.”Luke 2:6-7

Can you enter into the details? I invite you to imagine what is between these two lines in Luke’s gospel: “the time came,” and “she gave birth.”

Mary’s water breaks. She is fully effaced and dilated. Jesus moves down into the birth canal. Mary pushes. And breathes. And pushes. Someone is holding her hand. That sheep is bleating in the back ground. And finally: he is born!

What Luke doesn’t fully describe are some of the richest aspects of this narrative; the imagined details are what hold HOPE for me. God doesn’t avoid the birth canal. He comes to us through this very real, human process by which we all arrive: labor, groaning, a physical expansion, birth.

***

Everywhere I turn these days, the gritty hope of birth is close at hand. Labor, groaning, expansion are bound up in the reality of the mundane, the tragic, the inexplicable, and the awesome. With our “O, Emmanuel” chant, hope accompanies all maneuvering, listening, and digesting of the day’s reality.

The Syrian refugees at the border. O Emmanuel. The Black Lives Matter marchers at the Mall and Airport. O Emmanuel. The presidential candidates sharing their political position on immigration. O Emmanuel. The police officers trying to keep us safe. O Emmanuel. The CEO trying to discern responsible environmental standards. O Emmanuel. The public school teacher seeking stillness in the face of the fall curriculum. O Emmanuel. The frustrated, hungry, angry boy open to the jihadist’s message. O Emmanuel. Earth herself turning on her axis with her changing atmosphere. O Emmanuel.

As we mark this hour of the Incarnation unfolding, I invite you to consider the gritty details of birth before you. Where is God entering in your life? What labor pains are present in your circumstances?  How is physical expansion palpable in your circles? What headlines invoke your song of chant and praise: “O, Emmanuel”?

O, Emmanuel: a child is born to us this day!

 

Entering Holy Week through Imaginative Prayer

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I keep seeing his feet. The calloused edges of Jesus’ heels, the dark brown of his skin exposed through his sandals. I imagine the way the perfumed oil must soften the leathered texture of his soles, and my own heart cracks open in the process.  It is Mary, sister to Martha and the raised Lazarus, who provides me with this glimpse of Christ as a weary-walking human being in my imaginative prayer pouring over Chapter 12 of John’s gospel, versus 1-12. I begin my Holy Week entering scripture through this Ignatian-inspired prayer practice, and it ignites my imagination and fuels my passion for the upcoming days of our Triduum.

How many ways are there to enter into this most holy and sacred time of our liturgical year? What rituals and rites do we carry out annually that open our minds and hearts and align us with this soon-to-be crucified-and-risen Christ? How do we embrace the moments of Jesus among us – his disciples – as new, as emotion-filled, as invigorating and central to our own faith journeys on this earth? How do we experience these days and find ourselves renewed, rather than simply moving through rote ceremonies and rituals?

I ask all these questions of myself, my faith community, my family and friends — as I simultaneously tune into lamb and ham recipes, consider egg-dying alternatives, and what special bright-colored ensemble I might dawn for Easter Sunday. No lie. I am a woman who loves Jesus, and also deeply appreciates a good pedicure to show off on the day we celebrate that “HE IS RISEN!” (Note: my focus on toes shifts considerably during these contemplative days.)

***

Each month, as part of our “Following the Spirit” discernment series, we spend time learning about a kind of prayer to inform or guide our discernment processes.  We have an experience in that prayer form then, with the goal of drawing us closer to God and knowing his will for our lives and abiding love for each of us. Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, the Examen, Praying with Nature, and the Divine Office are all prayer forms about which we have provided instruction.  At this last Monday night’s discernment session, I had the opportunity to lead an experience of Ignatian Prayer and Imagination.

In an excerpt from “What is Ignatian Spirituality?” Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ writes: “Following Jesus is the business of our lives. To follow him we must know him, and we get to know him through our imagination. Imaginative Ignatian prayer teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through scripture study or theological reflection. It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into our hearts. It engages our feelings. It enflames us with ideals of generous service.”

Following some basic steps for this prayer*, our room of 23 discerners imagined themselves inside the scriptural setting of John’s gospel. We were Mary, we were Lazurus, we were Martha, we were Judas. We watched, listened, engaged, felt — we tuned into Jesus as he entered the room, and we found ourselves interacting with him as our hearts and spirits would have it. We came to know him. We came to believe, not in a theologically sound and historically accurate way, but through our God-given imaginations.

It is this Ignatius Loyola-inspired prayer experience that takes me to Christ’s feet — that thrusts me smack dab into the center of the human drama and blessed journey that is this Holy Week, and provides me a more intimate glimpse of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. I want to be Mary and tend to his limbs, anointing his feet with sacred oil,  before he turns to wash his disciple’s soles. I want to walk alongside him and know first hand those moments in the garden, what it’s like to be on my knees. I want to slow down and hear his breathing as he labors and relinquishes his life in those last moments on the cross. And certainly, I want to be outside his tomb — there when he first appears beyond human form.

***

What does your own imagination desire in prayer this Holy Week? Will you join me in this heart-and-spirit-led activity?

Triduum Blessings!
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*For more on Imaginative Prayer, see “Ignatian Prayer and the Imagination” from Ignatian Spirituality.com
And: “How do we Pray with our Imagination?” from Creighton Online Ministries

ON MARY: ANSWERING AN INVITATION

May Alter: Honoring Mary so alive in all of our hearts!

by Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

At the very beginning of the beautiful month of May I received an invitation I couldn’t refuse. A friend invited personal reflections on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, during this traditional month of celebration, reflection and special devotion to her.

Being raised in another faith tradition didn’t stop me from celebrating the month of May in a special way. Growing up in an ethnic neighborhood in Chicago was an entre for me to do so. Ours was one of two Protestant families on the block and all but one of my grade school friends were Catholics. Each year the month of May would come and the preparations for May altars began. I’m sure little girls all over the world make sure their bedrooms are extra neat and their dressers cleared off for the special little altar that will be a temporary home for Mary.

Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM

Sr. Suzanne

“Several times during the month my Catholic friends (and the other Presbyterian girl) and I would stand in front of my dresser and sing Immaculate Mary and during those years I learned the Hail Mary by heart.  What was missing, of course, was a statue or depiction of Mary. But that didn’t seem to matter to my friends. Mary was somehow present in our gathering as little women.”

My bedroom was no exception. My mother had the best flowers of all the mom’s in the neighborhood so, of course, we would have the May altar in my bedroom.  Great- Grandma’s hand-crocheted doilies were carefully arranged on top of the dresser and the special vases that I had purchased with my allowance came out of the bottom drawer for the occasion. I helped Mom choose some particularly gorgeous blossoms and arranged the little nosegays just so….

Several times during the month my Catholic friends (and the other Presbyterian girl) and I would stand in front of my dresser and sing Immaculate Mary and during those years I learned the Hail Mary by heart.  What was missing, of course, was a statue or depiction of Mary. But that didn’t seem to matter to my friends. Mary was somehow present in our gathering as little women.

Years later, while taking instructions to become Catholic, I had the opportunity to ask my priest-catechist ‘any question’ I might have about the faith. A somewhat lengthy discussion on praying ‘to’ (my word) Mary and the Saints followed. This wise man asked me if I ever asked my deceased Grandmother or other relatives for help with a particular situation in my life. Of course I did! (not only asked; but I counted on them!)

I still have my May altar. There will be a flower or two. They will never be as lovely as my mother’s and I might hum a few lines of Immaculate Mary. And I still have the sense of being united with my friends and others, honoring, not a statue or picture but the Mary who is so alive in all of our hearts and the memories of my now deceased Mom, Grandma and Great-Grandmother who are always present in my spirit.

May: A Month Celebrating Mary!

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

"Our Lady of Guadalupe" by Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

It’s May, friends! A month during the liturgical year when Catholics devote time to our Blessed Mother. I’m pausing today to think about the various ways I do this, and considering ways that I might grow in my prayer and devotion to Mary. Perhaps some of this will resonate with you?

I started my day driving across town in traffic that had me honking — within four blocks of my St. Paul residence – after being cut off in my lane, en route to the Monastery. Immediately, I heard: “Time to pray.” Without much thought, I began a decade of Hail Mary’s that brought a calm to my angered spirit. I found myself smiling, eased up on the gas pedal, and released my grip on the wheel as the words, “Full of grace, the Lord is with thee” went through my mind and heart.

As a pre-teen and adolescent growing up in northeast Nebraska, Mary made few appearances in my prayer life. It was at my friend Jeanne Pfiefer’s house, however, that the rosary became part of my spiritual consciousness. Following meal times at Bud and Alice’s house, where their combined brood numbered ten, we were invited to clear dishes and then return to the table, where our litany of Hail Mary’s began. I remember being 14 and thinking, “Huh. This doesn’t happen at my house.” Jeanne seemed a little pink in the face the first time I was invited to join in the prayer, (an apologetic or self-conscious peer?); but I reveled in the experience. I loved sitting at the table with the Pfiefer-Ramaekers clan and being included in this holy ritual that seemed to anchor their family. It was an “out of the ordinary” thing for me, and I marveled at how Bud and Alice lead their choir of children in this manner.

It would be 16 years later before those rosary experiences would come home to me again and inspire my faith life and thinking in a new way. At the untimely death of Jeanne’s parents, I heard her older brother bring up this rosary ritual during the eulogy of Bud and Alice.

Oldest living son Terry Pfiefer recalled the story, asking his step-father why he and his mother insisted on this after-dinner prayer each night. “Why do we pray to Mary?” he asked.

Bud responded, “Well, think of when you want something really badly. Do you come to me first, or go ask your mom?”

Terry laughed, “Right.”

Bud continued, “It’s not that much different in my mind with God. When we want something in prayer, or really need help, we can go to our mother, Mary, and ask her to intercede on our behalf.”

That explanation has stayed with me ever since.

***

  • I wonder, what Marion prayers are part of your faith life?
  • How does the rosary inspire or inform your spiritual routines?
  • Who else likes to pray the rosary in traffic or while they are in tense spots?
  • I wonder if the Vis Sisters might list  all the Mary-directed prayers that are part of their office?

During this month of May, I am striving to tune in and engage Mary more in my heart and mind. Will you join me in this intentional manner of prayer?

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Resource Links:

How to pray the rosary

Marian Prayers (EWTN)

“Invocation” — A Poem by Rachel Srubas on the Annunciation of the Lord

I was moved deeply in my prayer this morning reading the following poetic reflection on this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The following was published in “Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic” by Liturgical Press.

Invocation

Let it be the middle of nowhere,
at the heart of nothing but wheat fields.
Let there be farmers swinging their arms,
broadcasting seed.
Let us see the terrible boredom of oxen
and small-town girls. Let there be one girl
grinding grain in her father’s house,
her face bland with inexperience,
her heart expectant of little
but marriage, customarily arranged.

Into this everyday, female life,
let there enter a messenger,
praising her and telling wild stories
about God inside her body.

Let the message flourish in the girl,
and make of her a prophet, capable of seeing
beyond the milky tenderness
of her promised pregnancy and motherhood,
to her son’s ironic kingdom.
Let her envision him befriending prostitutes
and children,
enraging priests and governors,
dying between thieves.

Let the girl be wise and curious.
Let her ask, how can this be?
When the messenger is overwhelmed
by beauty,
and he can tell her only
that the shadow of the holy will fall
across her life,
let her receive
the God of fearsome possibilities.
Let her conceive the Christ.

Rachel Srubas

Rachel M. Srubas, a Presbyterian clergywoman and Benedictine Oblate, is the author of two books and numerous articles on the spiritual life. To buy “City of Prayer: Forty Days with Desert Christians” click here.
© 2012 by the Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota