Today my Church celebrates the feast of The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One might think that with such a title we are talking about some amazing spiritual experience – a visitation from God, if you will. But no, this is about a woman visiting her relative. It’s helpful to remember a few facts about the woman who birthed Jesus. She was young, most likely 14 or 15 years old, from a small town, probably illiterate. When she became pregnant she was engaged but not married to Joseph who had the right to stone her for this transgression. In that situation, I probably would have wanted to leave town as she did. The gospel (LK 1:39-56) tells of her travels to “the hill country” to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant at the time with John the Baptist. Elizabeth was an older woman, far beyond childbearing age we are told. So they were well-suited as companions at this moment – both wondering how they had been chosen for the responsibility of those they would birth into the world. There is the inclusion in today’s gospel of Mary’s famous hymn, The Magnificat, which speaks of God’s power to set the world aright, but I would speak of other things here.
In envisioning the scene, I see two women needing each other’s company for solace and wonder. Sharing conversation around the issues of pregnancy (the first for each of them), the reactions of others about their pregnancies, what life might be like for them after their sons are born…I can see them sitting at Elizabeth’s kitchen table chopping vegetables talking or going about the household tasks in silence, basking in the companionship that grew up in new ways between them. This was not a “dropping over for lunch” visit. The last line of the gospel says that “Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.” I imagine her state of heart as very different upon her return. There were, undoubtedly, those who still looked askance at her and probably vilified her, but my sense is that she knew herself better through the mirror of Elizabeth’s compassion and the growing sense of her mission in life. And there was Joseph waiting to love her through all that was to come.
Today I am reminded of those women – and the wise and kind men – in my life whose presence to me, especially in times of trial, has brought me into deeper communion with God and helped me to become my best self. I hope to spend the day in gratitude and prayer for their company and in prayer that God might favor all people with such friends of the heart.