I suddenly knew I was looking at it from the wrong angle, and I gave the cloth in my hand a quarter turn. Immediately I saw a beautiful and coherent golden pattern…. In wonder, the pattern had emerged, to be seen in all its beauty by those who could learn to make the quarter turn. —Helen Luke, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
As soon as Mary agreed to be the mother of God, she took being different to a whole new level. No one really understood what it was like to be her–and that’s assuming they believed her, which I’m sure most didn’t. Add to that the awkward timing of events. Getting pregnant before she was married complicated things, to say the least. Thankfully, God sent an angel to bring Joseph up to speed, and Elizabeth had an inner revelation of the truth so that Mary wasn’t completely alone to process what was happening to her.
I imagine her loss. This was not the life she’d anticipated. She would be talked about, misunderstood, and excluded. She would never know in her earthly life the powerful effect she’d have on generation after generation of Christ followers.
But there were moments when Mary could make the quarter turn and see the “beautiful coherent pattern” of her life, the wonder-filled possibilities and realities growing in her womb. In those moments, her grief turned to joy.
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.–Luke 1:46-49
This Advent, I’m invited to make a quarter turn and see that Christ is being birthed in me out of where I am and who I am. A quarter turn one way, I see gift. A quarter turn back, I see lack.
“You know my big, beautiful Christmas cactus died this year,” I said to my spiritual director.
We met in person again for the first time since Covid relegated us to boxes on a screen. As is my pattern, my thoughts spilled out before my Elizabeth.
“For years, that plant got me through the dark days of winter. It always bloomed before Advent began and accompanied me through Christmas, a tangible sign of God’s presence. But now it’s gone.”
To make a quarter turn, you don’t have to move from where you are. You simply need to shift your gaze a little to see what God sees and feel what God feels in that moment.
“What does God see?” my director asked.
I closed my eyes and saw God smiling, holding my hand. “God’s with me, doing something in my inability to be what I’d like to be and my inability to let go of wanting life to be different.”
She asked me what I wanted to be different, and I told her about recent experiences that were hard for me.
What’s God doing? I wanted to know. I wanted it to be as clear as pink blossoms. But it wasn’t.
Then I recalled something James Finley said in his talks on the Dark Night of the Soul. “If you understood it, it wouldn’t be what you’re looking for. It would be just one more thing that you understand.”
A quarter turn didn’t give me understanding. I didn’t suddenly see why I’m the way I am or why God doesn’t fix the bits that seem broken. I saw that the knowing my mind can grasp is not the only knowing I need. A different kind of knowing is being birthed.
My soul wasn’t about to break into song, but I did feel a bit of hope.
In wonder, the pattern had emerged, to be seen in all its beauty
by those who could learn to make the quarter turn.
—Helen Luke, Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
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Advent 2: Wonder
After the angel’s greeting, Mary was told she would give birth to the Christ. What might God be birthing in you that will bless the world? It may be something you’re invited to do or let go of. It may be an invitation to come alongside someone and be their Elizabeth. It may be a desire to take a few moments with God making a quarter turn. Perhaps you’re being drawn to step into believing you matter, that you belong, that you are seen and loved.
When Mary heard the angel’s message, she was perplexed. “How can this be?” She was filled with fear and wonder. What goes on in you as you receive the news that God is birthing something in you?
As you light the second advent candle, name what you think God may be bringing to life in you and tell God (and whoever is lighting the candle with you) how you feel about that.