I have always been touched by this reading – two women of different generations, each having a profound experience of the living God, sharing their experience with each other.
Although God is working in both of their lives, it could not have been easy for them. Elizabeth lived through childlessness, a thing of shame in her day, only to find herself pregnant as an old woman. Mary said yes to God and becomes an unmarried pregnant teenager. I imagine that she goes all the way to Elizabeth’s house “in haste” to get away for awhile. Maybe things are getting intense and she seeks Elizabeth for consolation.
In the face of these profound, and perhaps unsettling, circumstances, the women respond by showing up for each other. Mary brings Elizabeth hope and joy by her very presence. Elizabeth brings Mary reassurance and comfort as she affirms the blessing of Mary’s presence and God’s great work in her.
This story of mutual support among women shows me the potential of this dynamic in women’s circles today, but it also reveals the ways that we fall short. Life in religious sisters’ communities can look like this, but it often doesn’t. We’re human, and we bring our brokenness and short sightedness with us into community. I’ve lived in community long enough to see how we want to create inclusivity in our shared spaces but struggle with each other (and ourselves at times) as we try to do so.
In secular contexts, women’s movements, historically and in the present, have also struggled to include all women – especially women of color, lesbian and bisexual women, transgender women, and gender-nonconforming people. To offer each other a true space of belonging, we need to acknowledge intersectionality (for more on what that’s about, you can read this). We need to love each other in our diversity, even when that’s hard. And creating community is hard! Openness has proven to be more of an ideal than a reality, even in social justice movements. I believe people genuinely desire spaces of mutual love and support, but we fumble as we try to create them.
Rather than be discouraged by missteps and shortcomings, though, I hear a call this. Mary and Elizabeth say yes to God as individuals, but then they are together in God’s call. Theirs are not two separate invitations, but one call to fulfill God’s loving plan of salvation for all people. Both women have a part in that call. And so do we. We, too, say yes as individuals to whatever God calls us to, and then we are invited to come together in a mutual yes. In our efforts to bring forth truly inclusive communities, we may take one step forward and two steps back, but we are moving. Taking halting steps is still a movement forward, and God is in our efforts, which is a good thing. We need God, the ultimate model of inclusivity and lover of diversity.
And speaking of God . . .
Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter reveals God’s presence with and within them. If Elizabeth ever doubted that her pregnancy was the work of God, she can trust it now as her pregnant virgin cousin stands before her. She can feel God’s presence within as her baby leaps at Mary’s greeting. Likewise, if Mary ever had a moment of doubt, Elizabeth’s recognition of her as “the mother of my Lord” would wipe all doubt away. Witnessing Elizabeth’s own miracle pregnancy, as announced by the angel, confirms the work of God within Mary, too. Through their encounter, each woman realizes the presence of God in in the other and in herself. The glory of God is mirrored between them.
This story can come true for us, too. God is present within each of us and within our communities. The creation of inclusive community is not the kind of miracle that God drops upon us; rather, it’s one to be worked for. That doesn’t negate the miracle, though. So, let us bow before God’s presence in each other and within our own hearts and let us draw near each other in love.
By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP
Photo: Schmalz, T. (2005). The Visitation. [Bronze] Omaha, NE: Creighton University Campus.
Photo credit: Sister Leslie Keener, CDP