At first I had no idea where the lovely Magnificat we sang every night was from: "My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:46). When I eventually found it in the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, I was startled but glad to see that it was one pregnant woman's response to a blessing from another. It is the song Mary sings after she has walked to her cousin Elizabeth’s village, and on greeting Mary, Elizabeth, who is bearing John the Baptist, recognizes that Mary bears the Messiah. . . .
The Magnificat's message is so subversive that for a period during the 1980s the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation (a sanction that I'm sure the monasteries in that country violated daily). But when I came to its words knowing so little about them, I found that all too often they were words I could sing with ease at evening prayer, with a facile (and sometimes sleepy) acceptance. On other nights, however, they were a mother's words, probing uncomfortably into my life. How rich had I been that day, how full of myself? Too full to recognize need and hunger, my own or anyone else's? So powerfully providing for myself that I couldn't admit my need for the help of others? Too busy to know a blessing when it came to me?
From "Virgin Mary, Mother of God" in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 1998).
(With thanks to Vicki K Black)