Songs of the Spirit: Magnificat

Magnificat by Micah Hayns ©

This post was written by Revd Philippa White (Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral) as part of a series for College Chapel, January 2021

For Mothering Sunday 2021

Luke 1: 39-56: The Magnificat

In a still, quiet, starlit night, a baby stirs.
He snuffles and whines and nearly cries, and his mother puts out a sleepy hand to soothe him. Very quietly, so as not to wake her husband, she starts to sing.

‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour; for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.’

The baby is six weeks old and his parents have taken him for the service of thanksgiving. He’s restive. His mother takes him into a corner and settles down to feed him, arranging her shawl carefully so as not to expose herself in the temple. As he sucks, she curls herself around his tiny, beloved body, and gently sings to him.

‘Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things for me and holy is his name.’

He’s a toddler now. Full of energy and silliness and independence. ‘Amma, Amma, can I help? Abba, Abba, let me do it!’

But at the end of the day, with his sticky face scrubbed clean, when they settle down for bed, he listens to his Amma telling the stories of Hashem, the Holy One, calling out in fire and cloud and darkness and bringing his people out of every danger. Of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. And then she sings him to sleep.

‘His mercy is for those who fear him, from generation to generation.’

When he’s twelve, he stays in the Temple. What else would he do, if not listen to the stories of Hashem, the promise that they are the chosen people, the treasured possession? What else would he do, if not ask the questions that bring to mind Hashem’s promises. That justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like streams; that the rich and corrupt will be swept away and those who have no power, be raised up; that light will come at last to all people. Someone had sung that to him in this temple once; his Amma had told him that. Nations will come to your light, and kings to your dawning brightness, he quotes.

When she finds him, he looks at her reproachfully. Amma, have you not realised what you’ve been teaching me since the day I was born? ‘He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;’ he sings back to her, and runs to her with a smile. In their embrace she realises for the first time that he’s nearly as tall as her. His work will soon begin.

These are her treasures when he does go. He comes back, from time to time. Sometimes he brings his friends: Peter, who hides his shyness in bluster, and Andrew, quiet and steely. James and John, whose mother she tries to like. Thomas, melancholy and utterly devoted. She welcomes them all, joins in their talk of God. He asks her to lead the prayers, sometimes.

‘He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.’

Sometimes she goes to see him. Sometimes she sits with the men, sometimes she stays with the women. Sometimes she just joins the crowd. She sees him heal. She sees him feed five thousand people. She laughs with delight when she hears him call out ‘blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.’

She’s close enough for him to hear her, so she whistles her song and catches his eye, and he smiles up at her.

‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.’

And she’s there on the day he dies.
As close as she can get.
Clutching at Mary, at John, at the others as they cry.

Screaming.

Curling herself around his broken, bloody, empty body.
Dragged away at last, taken to John’s house, where she sits in the corner, hunched around herself.

And all she has to hold on to is the words she mumbles again and again:


‘He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, Abraham and his seed forever.’

You were faithful once. Why can’t you be faithful now?

Have you shut up your compassion from us? Have you utterly deserted us? Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, whether we want to praise you or not. But make this stop.

Infinite days. Two endless nights.

At dawn on the third day John picks her up as if she weighs nothing and takes her to the room where his friends are gathering. They are kind. They are ashamed of themselves and being kind to her salves their guilt.

Until the door is flung open
and in runs Mary Magdalene
and the Light dawns.
And Mary said:


‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Written by Revd Philippa White (Precentor of Christ Church Cathedral) as part of a series for College Chapel, January 2021


Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

4 thoughts on “Songs of the Spirit: Magnificat”

  1. I found that deeply moving Philipa, thank you so much. The visceral description of Mary’s experience
    relates deeply to my experience of Motherhood in all the stages of my children’s lives as they slowly move away from my arms into adulthood. Beautiful and painful.

    Like

  2. Thank you for a beautiful, emotive, and thought-provoking piece of writing. I was especially struck by the scene of Mary looking on as Jesus echoed her magnificat in the beatitudes – I’d never made that link so directly before.

    Like

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