An Inquiring and Discerning Heart
An Advent Reflection
Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
Her name was Leslie, and upon her baptism, she was our newest Sister in Christ. As Cynthia and I sat there with our 20 confirmands at the Cathedral of St. Philip, we shared with each other how much we loved adult baptisms. Leslie was the only baptism on Sunday afternoon, and as she stood there in front of the bishops and the people, I found myself watching every moment of the ritual so closely. She stood at the font and renounced the evil influences of this world as she affirmed her faith in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. I found myself whispering the words along with her. Do you renounce the evil powers of this world….I renounce them….Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior….I do….Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love….I do…..I do….(BCP 302). The waters of new life splashed across her head and trickled down her face.
After she was baptized, Bishop Whitmore dipped his finger in the chrism oil and made the sign of the cross on her forehead. She was sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. She turned to face the congregation, her new family in God, her brothers and sisters, the myriad faces with whom she was joined now in the Body of Christ. The bishop offered a beautiful prayer for her as she took these first steps into her baptismal life:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed on this your servant the forgiveness of sin, and have raised her to the new life of grace. Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works (BCP 308).
And, as she turned, I noticed she was pregnant.
Her name was Miriam, and she was from common folk. Her parents were Anne and Joachim—at least that’s what folks tell us. She was a young girl, engaged to a carpenter named Joseph. Her parents trusted him to take care of her, and they planned to make their home in the sleepy little town of Nazareth. Nothing exciting ever happened there. Until it did.
The light startled her as she worked around the house that day. The figure came out of nowhere, telling her that she was going to bear a child who was going to be…the what?! Mary had a choice. She could choose how she would respond to this invitation. How could she turn and face her community? The text says that Mary pondered what sort of greeting the angel was giving her (Luke 1:29). The Greek meaning here tells us that Mary deliberated what the angel was telling her. She wrestled with this news, analyzing it in her mind, looking at the possible outcomes. After Jesus was born, shepherds came to see him, sharing their own experience of seeing angels who sang and danced and urged them to travel to see the Incarnate One. And, as Mary heard their story, the text says she treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The curious thing here is that the Greek meaning tells us Mary brought together all the associations she was feeling around this experience. She symbolized it (looking at the Greek), bringing together these events into a deeper, more resonant insight into the reality she was embodying. Mary’s experience of pondering recognized where she was…and where God was leading her.
Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works (BCP 308).
The first steps Leslie took in her baptismal life followed in Mary’s steps some two thousand years later. Leslie is Mary. We are Leslie. Together, we are all joined as very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people (BCP 339). In our Christian life, we are called to constantly ponder the meaning of our existence within the Body of Christ. We are called to listen for the accounts of others around us, to be open to the messages of angels—divine messengers bringing tidings of great joy—within the ordinary days of our lives. And, we are called to bring together the myriad experiences of our lives, discerning them through the indwelling Spirit of Christ which constantly nudges us into new spaces of grace.
Such is our Christian practice, a life of faith, prayer, and compassion, in which we share in Mary’s fiat, her willingness to be God’s vessel in the world today. Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word (Luke 1:38).