Q&A: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. He became Archbishop of Cape Town in 2007, the youngest person ever to be elected to this position. His book, Faith & Courage: Praying with Mandela, recounts his ministry of prayer and presence in the final years of Mandela’s life. We are grateful to be able to ask him more about his life and ministry.


1. What is your hope for this book?
My hope is that it will encourage others to write about their stories of faith and be courageous in articulating them. There are many milestones that people pass in their lives and one of my milestones as a Christian was being fortunate enough to be asked to minister to Nelson Mandela in his “quietening” years. His was a story of faith and courage which transformed me, so my hope for others is that readers will learn about the spiritual side of Nelson Mandela and be transformed by his story.

2. What is your favorite memory with Nelson Mandela?
My favourite memory was visiting him when his health was beginning to fail, and because he had woken up late we were sharing breakfast with him. Looking at the number of people waiting to see him, I asked, “Tata (Father), don’t you get tired having to see so many people?” He was visibly upset, and rebuked me, “How can people tire you? People don’t tire me – people energize me.”

3. What is your favorite prayer?
My first visit to him [Nelson Mandela] was going to be on St. Barnabas Day, so we looked ahead of time at the lessons for the day. Looking back, the end of the prayer still moves me profoundly:

And we ask that now, in the quietening years
He may find around him those who may be as Barnabas to him,
Warm friends to delight his heart, and cheer his days,
And, dear Father God, we pray that you will hold him close
In your ever-loving, ever-lasting arms,
Today, tomorrow, and always.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We had the sense that he was beginning to slip away, so we wanted words that as we prayed would remind him that he had entered his last days. The prayer reminds me of my own mortality and I hope that when those days come for me I will have people with whom I can pray and who will offer prayers of encouragement.

4. Is there a moment you would describe as the most profound in your life? Could you share that moment?
It was the time, which I write about in the book, when I was walking to school during unrest in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. White army conscripts in a Casspir, an armoured vehicle, all carrying guns, saw me and began to chase me. As I looked back at the Casspir coming for me I thought they can’t really be wanting to run me over, but on the other hand there were stories of people being run over, so I ran into the yard of a local mechanic and hid under one of the cars he was repairing. The mechanic confronted them and they went away.

The incident said a lot about the courage of the mechanic, an unarmed black man standing up alone to a vehicle full of armed soldiers. But it also said something about those conscripts, forced to serve in the army whether they wanted to or not – they could have ignored the mechanic and killed or maimed me with little fear of the consequences. So that was an important moment of grace in my life, a lesson that even in the midst of difficulties people who have the power to harm you can choose not to.

5. How does faith fuel your work?
Stories like this, and stories in the Bible where you see God prevailing in situations of darkness and anxiety, remind us that our God is in charge of our destiny, holding us in the palm of his hands. When as Archbishop I have to deal with past ills of the Church and administer disciplinary canons, when I have to deal with difficult politicians and business people, my faith reminds me that it is not about me – it’s all about God, a God who calls you and me and who empowers us to do God’s work. These stories speak not of a faith that says all manner of things shall be well, but of a faith that calls me to get my hands dirty and deal with the everyday messiness of people’s lives, of our environment, our neighbours’ lives.

6. What do you think the most important thing about forgiveness is?
Forgiveness heals you. Reflecting on those young white conscripts who had my life in their hands – some of whom had killed youngsters of my age, on the power they were given and on the system that produced them, for me to pray over that experience, to forgive them and to move on, has made me feel whole. Forgiveness takes away the sense of wanting to know why they took it upon themselves to chase me and frighten me; it takes away the pain.

But it also gives you the confidence to confront that which creates an unforgiving situation and points to what might turn it around. Each time I go back to my ancestral home in South Africa – Makgoba’s Kloof – I can’t escape the fact that settlers and missionaries took our land and rewrote our history for us, creating prosperity for themselves and impoverishing our community.

Reconciliation and forgiveness have to be ongoing, and my task is to say forgiveness is possible, not by forgetting the past but by helping people to find ways of making amends. Desmond Tutu tells the story of how, if I have stolen your bicycle, then seek your forgiveness, I can’t keep your bicycle and continue to ride it. To enable forgiveness to happen and enable people to move on, there has to be restitution.

7. What else would you like those reading to know?
The book is not only about South Africa. Particularly the last chapter looks at how we have become entrenched in our little corners in the Anglican Communion and forget about the biblical mandate to forgive, the biblical mandate to reconcile. So the book gives us a glimpse into the hope and the grace that is in store for us as Anglicans, as Christians, as people of God, when we work at forgiveness and reconciliation.

Forward Today: Are we becoming a courageous church?

Dear friends in Christ,

I’m writing this week’s Forward Today from Atlanta, where I’ve come to the Rooted in Jesus conference. Our friends at ECF have organized a massive conference, with nearly 1,500 attendees. Even more impressive than the size is the way organizations have worked together to build a conference that is, well, rooted in Jesus Christ and in our lives as his disciples.

Forward Movement is hosting a pre-conference Discipleship Intensive. I’ve really enjoyed the conversations among participants about how we can be more effective in making disciples. Not surprisingly, it has a lot to do with leaders modeling lives transformed with discipleship. Disciples making disciples.

If you are in Atlanta, please stop by the Forward Movement table in the exhibit area. Several of us are here for the conference, and we’d love to meet you. If you’re not in Atlanta, you can follow the conference hashtag (#rooted2020) on social media. I’m sure there will be lots of coverage in church media, as well as blogs and posts about what’s happening here.

Beyond this conference, I’m excited about what’s happening in our church. In many places, people are choosing to leave the comfort and safety of Christendom with its model of parishes as preservation societies for the adventure of living the Gospel. To be disciples is to live in a way that chooses transformation, that embarks on journeys, that embraces change, and that takes risks.

What might our church be like if we could be more courageous – more willing to be adventurous? Imagine a courageous church. A church like that would be worth joining, worthy of sacrifice and devotion. A church like that will inevitably grow. A church like that will burst with love and witness. A church like that will be living only for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s be that church.

Yours faithfully,

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


Today’s Flash Sale: Vestry Resource Guide & Guía de recursos

Whether you’re a new vestry member or a seasoned veteran, the newly revised (2015) Vestry Resource Guide is essential reading. With a deliberate focus on the importance of lay and clergy leadership teams, you’ll find comprehensive information and advice about the ministry of the vestry, leading faith communities, stewardship, and navigating clergy transitions.

 

Esta guía, en versión revisada, es una lectura esencial para toda persona que participa en una junta parroquial. La guía pone énfasis en la importancia de que la junta parroquial y el rector o rectora trabajen en equipo. Incluye información completa y consejos sobre el ministerio de la junta parroquial, cómo dirigir feligresías, mayordomía, y qué pasos tomar cuando cambia el clero.

 

 

Regular: $15
Today: $11.25

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Women & Angels of the Bible: Eve and the Angel at the Gate

Forward Movement Managing Editor Richelle Thompson recently chatted with Lindsay Hardin Freeman, author of the popular book Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter, and Kate Moorehead, author of the newly released Angels of the Bible: Finding Grace, Beauty, and Meaning.


“There’s this notion that the human being can only take in so much light, and I think we grow in our capacity to take in the light. The season of Epiphany is a season of showing so appearances of light basically are of Christ. And the more that we can look at that, the greater our capacity becomes to drink it in. Just like when we pray, the more we pray, the more capable we are of prayer. It’s really a discipline. It’s a practice. I think we have to practice opening our eyes to the acts of God in the world, to beauty. We have to practice looking for beauty, practice looking for the works of the Holy Spirit in the world. And in that way, the more we look, the more we see and our eyes are open. So Epiphany is a wonderful season as the light is coming back into the world, especially in the north, it’s still quite dark. We’re searching for the light, but the more we look for it, the more we find it.”

Read the full interview here.

You can also listen to this conversation in a special episode of the Forward Day by Day podcast, released on January 17, 2020.

Forward Today: Shine in our hearts

Dear friends in Christ,

Just two days ago, we celebrated the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which of course recalls the adoration of the magi. It bears repeating that this feast day reminds us, among other things, that Jesus is for the whole world. The magi came from far away–and they were not among the chosen people. Yes, Jesus is for those who are near and those who are far. Jesus is for those we expect and those we do not expect.

We are near the beginning of the Epiphany season, a whole season devoted to basking in the light of God’s love. Our prayer book’s Eucharistic preface, prayed to God the Father, says during this season, “in the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

This Epiphany season reminds us that the life and ministry of Jesus is not only an event in the past, but a reality that changes everything. Even our very hearts are changed, as Christ’s light shines brightly through us.

Sometimes the evil of this world seems so powerful, that we might worry it will extinguish God’s love. But we need not be afraid. I hope that the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds us all that God’s love is stronger than fear, sin, and death. I hope that we will resist evil at every turn, confident in God’s love for us and for all creation.

During this Epiphany season, as war looms, my prayer is that Christians can be bearers of God’s love and light into the world. Against all the fearful, hate-filled noise in our world, let us proclaim the glad news of hope, redemption, mercy, and grace.

Do you see the light of Christ in your own heart? How might you share that light with a world in need?

Yours faithfully,

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Image: Public Domain Pictures


Today’s Flash Sale: A Journey with John

The Gospel of John starts with poetry and moves through the great story of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection with literary flair and deeply theological underpinnings. John focuses on Jesus’ last years of life–his public ministry and “signs” –what this gospel calls miracles. Join A Journey with John with fifty days of scripture, meditations, and prayers written by dynamic spiritual leaders from across the United States and around the world. A Journey with John is part of the 50 Day Bible series, which includes Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and is an extension of The Bible Challenge, a global initiative to encourage daily engagement with the Word of God.

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Earth & Altar launches in partnership with Forward Movement

Earth & Altar and Forward MovementForward Movement is pleased to support today’s launch of Earth & Altar, an online magazine with reflections on theology, history, liturgy, preaching, spirituality, church practice, and the arts. The magazine seeks to provide accessible, thoughtful, and compelling reflections for the good of the church and God’s mission in the world. The magazine takes its name from G. K. Chesterton’s hymn text, “O God of earth and altar.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Earth & Altar as it seeks to be a much-needed voice for our church,” said the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. “The content will be of interest not just to church leaders but for all those who value thoughtful, engaging commentary on matters of interest to Christians.”

Forward Movement’s support includes publicity and awareness as well as some editorial consultation. However, Earth & Altar is entirely independent, and it will have its own editorial voice. Earth & Altar will especially seek to provide a platform for voices traditionally on the margins of the church because of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, and geography.

The Rev. Dr. Chris Corbin, who serves as editor-in-chief of Earth & Altar, said, “Earth & Altar is committed, above all else, to the idea that the Spirit is stirring something up and that the mainline can be the epicenter of a real revival. We’re so excited to be working with Forward Movement and just see that as further evidence that God is up to something in all this.”

Earth & Altar will generally feature a new article most days, with some content in Spanish. The website is earthandaltarmag.com.

About Forward Movement
Inspiring disciples and empowering evangelists around the globe every day, Forward Movement has been producing excellent, innovative resources to encourage spiritual growth in individuals and congregations for more than eighty years. Learn more and explore resources at forwardmovement.org.

Join Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry in reading the Gospel of John

Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry calls upon followers of Jesus to join with him in the Good Book Club, reading the Gospel of John each day during the Epiphany season.

The Good Book offers an array of resources developed by partners from across the Episcopal Church, making it easy for people to read, learn, and wrestle with the Gospel of John, said Bishop Curry. The church-wide Bible initiative starts January 6, 2020.

“John’s Gospel is a marvelous gospel,” said Bishop Curry. In John, “we get some of the most powerful and pregnant moments of Jesus teaching about love and the Way of Love.”


Joining the Good Book Club is easy: Open your Bible and start reading! In addition, Episcopal and Anglican partners have come together and prepared resources to support the journey, including print and online Bible studies, webinars, reflections, blogs, and social media posts. New this year is a set of downloadable bulletin inserts with the daily readings and cartoons drawn by well-known artist Jay Sidebotham. ChurchNext is offering a free online live Bible study, led by scholar Vicki Garvey. Both the Episcopal Migration Ministries and the United Thank Offering have prepared excellent group studies, available for free download. And for those interested in daily reflections on the readings, check out A Journey with John, one of the Bible Challenge series books available from Forward Movement.

This is the third year for the initiative to encourage scripture engagement, led by Forward Movement. Other partners include the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, the Episcopal Asset Map, Building Faith, Episcopal Church Foundation, The Living Church, Forma, GrowChristians.org, ChurchNext, Missional Voices, the Episcopal Church’s communication and evangelism ministries, RenewalWorks, and the dioceses of the Central Gulf Coast and Pennsylvania.

“I look forward to reading John’s Gospel with you,” said Bishop Curry. “May this coming year, this Epiphany—as we celebrate the coming of the wise men—be the coming of new wisdom, new life, and new love as we read John’s Gospel together.”


The Good Book Club website lists the daily readings and partners as well as a variety of resources and formation tools. Spanish resources and information are available here. You can also sign up for a weekly email that previews the coming readings and highlights participants and partners. Organizations, including dioceses, that would like to partner and develop resources for the wider church should contact Richelle Thompson at rthompson@forwardmovement.org.

Forward Movement is a ministry of the Episcopal Church that inspires disciples and empowers evangelists. With offices in Cincinnati, Ohio, Forward Movement offers online resources, digital products, books, pamphlets, and Forward Day by Day. Learn more at www.forwardmovement.org.

For more information, contact Richelle Thompson at rthompson@forwardmovement.org or 513-721-6659, ext. 315.

Forward Today: Good news of great joy for all the people

Dear friends in Christ,

Advent is in its final days, and Christmas approaches. Every year, in these last days before Christmas, I get impatient for Christmas to come. Can’t wait to belt out “O come, all ye faithful” on Christmas Eve.

A couple of days ago, I read a sad op-ed by a priest bemoaning the burden of preaching the “old, old stories” at Christmas. He added that the people “didn’t want you messing around with them.” Well, of course the people don’t want us to mess around with the story of Christmas. It is part of the most amazing story ever!

I hope we will not take the advice of those who want us to ignore the deep truth in the Christmas story as it is told in the Gospels. Some in the church are embarrassed by the claims. Some outside the church are distracted by how the story of Christ’s birth stands in stark opposition to the consumerism and violence of our time.

By all means, I hope we all remember and retell the old, old stories at Christmas. I hope every preacher tells the wondrous story of Christ’s birth in their sermons, for many who come to church may not know them. I hope every one of us who claim to follow Jesus will remember and retell how his life on earth began. If you are opening gifts around the tree, maybe you’ll take a few moments to read the Christmas story from Luke 2 just before ripping off all the paper. (And I say this without condemnation. No one loves ripping the paper off packages more than me, except for maybe my dog.)

Christmas offers each one of us a gift. In the Christmas story, we remember that God the Father cared about us enough to send his son into our world. In the Christmas Gospels, we remember that God-among-us entered our story not in a palace but in a manger. The glad news of Christmas was told first to shepherds, not princes. Jesus Christ ruled with mercy and love, not with power and might. Christmas reminds us that God’s grace is the real deal, and it finds us where we are.

Tell the Christmas story. Tell it to your children and grandchildren. Tell it to strangers. Tell it again to yourself. And then savor the gift of God’s great love for us.

All good wishes to you for a blessed conclusion of Advent and then a happy Christmas.

Yours faithfully,

 

 

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Image: Pixabay


Today’s Flash Sale: Walk in Love

Take a journey through The Book of Common Prayer, the Christian life, and basic beliefs of our faith, guided by two Episcopal priests-Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe. Walk through the liturgical year, the sacraments of the church, habits of daily prayer, and the teachings of Anglican Christianity. See how our prayer shapes our belief and our lives and how our beliefs lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Regular: $22
Today: $16.50

*Discount is valid until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time

Women & Angels of the Bible: Mary and Gabriel

Managing Editor Richelle Thompson recently chatted with Lindsay Hardin Freeman, author of the popular book Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter, and Kate Moorehead, author of the newly released Angels of the Bible: Finding Grace, Beauty, and Meaning. You can also listen to this conversation in the December 6 episode of the Forward Day by Day podcast.

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Richelle: [00:00:43] Welcome to this conversation with two of our favorite Forward Movement authors. We have Kate Moorehead, author of Angels of the Bible: Finding Grace, Beauty, and Meaning, which has just been released. Kate is the dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida. And we welcome Lindsay Hardin-Freeman, author of the best-selling Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter. Lindsay serves as a priest at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Both women are here today to talk with us about the role of women and the role of angels in the Bible.

Richelle: [00:01:27] So, Kate, Lindsay, we wanted to bring the two of you together because of your passion for exploring the Word of God and for digging deep into different aspects. We’re especially interested in chatting with you about the role of angels and the role of women in the Bible and how they intersect. We thought we’d start with the best, perhaps best-known interaction of a woman and an angel when Gabriel visits Mary and delivers the news that she’ll bear the Son of God. I want to invite folks to imagine yourself standing with Mary, a peasant girl living in Bethlehem as she hears these famous words from history. We witness what many would call the greatest moment in Christianity–and for us as Christians, the greatest moment in world history.

Let’s hear the story from the Gospel of Luke, the first chapter, verses 26-38: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Richelle: [00:02:14] Kate, tell us about the angel Gabriel in this moment. Draw a picture for us.

Kate: [00:02:19] Well, as many of you know, angels are a great mystery to us, but we’re so blessed now with Quantum mechanics to be able to reconsider them as being possible, both physically and scientifically as well as mystically. So we’re thrilled to be able to come back to Gabriel in a way. The word Gabriel in Hebrew means the strength of God. We know that this  angel was probably quite something visually. We know that angels were not mortal, so they didn’t procreate, which probably means the same gender–or maybe the word is transcending gender–but probably not male or female. We know that Gabriel was an archangel. So along the  celestial hierarchy, he would have been rather low, believe it or not, and would have been visible to Mary and to human beings, whereas most of the angels in the hierarchy were not visible, at least not to the physical eye. Still I imagine he was something else to behold. I don’t think we can possibly fathom all of the appearance. There is great art depicting him in so many different ways. And I say him, because we’re used to that. But I could say her.

Richelle: [00:03:41] So Lindsay, Kate talked a bit about the angel Gabriel. Paint a picture for us of Mary. How do you imagine Mary is in this moment?

Lindsay: [00:03:50] Well, I imagine her as a girl of about 14, because that is just about when girls got married in that time. She was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter, and he was an older man. She’s betrothed, and I believe she was excited about that moment. She is ready to get married. She’s ready to lead a normal life.

Lindsay: [00:04:27] We don’t have any sense of her having much money. I picture her in a home in Bethlehem, perhaps a two-story home, like many of the rudimentary homes of the day. Perhaps Mary is sweeping a dirt floor when the angel comes to her. There is no record of anybody being with her. So we have the sense of her being overwhelmed, because being a good Jewish girl, she knows ancient history. She knows there are good angels–and ones who deliver terrible news. Maybe in the back of her mind, she’s wondering is this is like the angel of death. I mean, this is this is a lot of trepidation for a 14-year-old girl just ready to get married to this handsome carpenter husband of hers.

Richelle: [00:05:24] It’s easier for me to imagine Mary. It’s still harder, I think, for me to picture Gabriel. Kate, what do you think the angel Gabriel looked like?

Kate: [00:05:40] There’s no denying that angels consisted of a huge amount of light. In some artistic depictions of Gabriel, he’s nothing more than this huge beam of light that sort of looks like it’s about to move. So we know  he must have been blindingly bright. Most heavenly beings were filled with light. And we know that that he was different because he says, you know, don’t be afraid. You know that you’ve found favor with God. I’m not here to hurt you. So his presence must have been somewhat accosting initially. One of the first things angels often do is to reassure. That means that we as human beings are probably initially frightened by the what we call the apparition, the appearance of an angel.

Lindsay: [00:06:41] Kate, a minute ago in your wonderful description, you said that we can know about angels metaphysically and physically. Is there more evidence these days of what they might be?

Kate: [00:07:03] Well, we know now that there are so many dimensions that exceed our perception. So the reality that there could be beings that we can’t see is very true to science now. We exist in three dimensions and have time as a fourth\. But there are many more dimensions than angels can exist. So how angels integrate into our dimension and appear to Mary is one of those mystical questions. I don’t know the answer to that. Even when we  describe the angel, it’s hard to find words that are adequate because we’re talking about such a mystical experience. So the only thing we can do is is to keep our minds and hearts open and be looking around for something that transcends language.

Lindsay: [00:07:50] So I guess that when we hear the phrase “the heavenly host,” we’re talking about these beings. I have a sense–and this is not biblical– that perhaps there was a little music there when Gabriel appeared to Mary.

Kate: [00:08:05] Oh, yes. I mean, primarily angels sing. Music is one of those things that transcends language as well and is able to affect our emotions in a more direct way than the spoken word or written word. So pure love, pure music, probably become one in some fashion. And what’s so interesting to me, Lindsay, is here we are talking about women and angels who have both been rather sidelined throughout much of history. And yet without this particular interaction of both an angel and a woman, we wouldn’t have Christianity. I think we can both come to an agreement that women and angels are quite important

Lindsay: [00:09:11] Yes, at both the beginning of Jesus’s life with great incarnation and also at the end with Mary Magdalene. That’s kind of an amazing bridge, when you think about it.

Kate: [00:09:32] It sure is. And the interaction between the two of them is so fascinating to me as well, because it’s not sexual. And you would think it would be because she’s being impregnated by the,  by God. And yet at the same time, there’s no language of God overtaking her or anything like that. There’s a sense of God overshadowing, which is the same verb that’s used in the transfiguration when the cloud overshadows the mountain. But there’s a sense that God somehow empowers Mary or imbues Mary with the Holy Spirit in such a way that she becomes both God and human, both male and female somehow. But not that the angel takes her in any kind of a sexual way, but is more of a presence with her, which is gentler, which I like.

Richelle: [00:10:22] Lindsay, talk about this a bit from Mary’s perspective. I’ve not thought about that moment being a moment of conception or the idea of being with child of that very moment. What are your thoughts when Kate is talking about that?

Lindsay: [00:10:49] Kate and I tend to disagree on this question a little bit. I think that Mary had a choice in whether or not to accept this commission from God. Let me just say that that scholars over the ages have disagreed on this. One classic way of looking at it would be that Mary didn’t have a choice. But I think she did a choice. When I look over the great stories in our faith, starting with Eve leaving the garden, human beings have always had a choice of whether to do what they want or what God wants. Look at Jonah, when he went to the ocean to escape because he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. If you look at Eve leaving the garden, God certainly preferred that she not leave. But she did, and she encouraged Adam to do the same. When we look at all the great stories throughout the history of our people, the Judeo-Christian community, they have always had choices. So it seems to me that when Mary says, “God, let it be to me, according to your will,” that in that moment, there is a choice for her to say, “No. I don’t want it. I don’t want to do this, God.” Because if she had said that, I doubt God would have gone ahead.

Kate: [00:12:14] I agree with that. Very much so. I don’t know if it’s a yes or no question for her, but I do think that Mary actually absolutely agrees. And she absolutely echoes Isaiah when she says, “Here I am, a servant of the Lord.” And that’s the greatest response that we can have to God, which is “I’m here to do whatever it is that you want me to do.” When I say that God overshadowed her, I don’t mean to say overpowered her or didn’t give her a choice. But yet I think that in that presence that came over her, she was made more fully herself and was able to accept and able to be empowered in a sense. This was the absolute empowerment of a single woman to be able to agree to the greatest love in the world. So yes, in every way she was given choice but also given the capacity to answer. Does that make sense? Because of her young self, she might not have had the strength. She was overshadowed with a sense of strength and purpose.

Lindsay: [00:13:35] When we look at the concept of free will, we could say that God would not have known her answer, but that would from a linear, human perspective. I’m sure God picked somebody who God thought would say yes. But it’s important to me when I look at this passage to think of that choice: of whether or not to accept God’s Holy Spirit and of the tribulations that would certainly come with it. In a little while, of course, we’ll hear her hear that oft-repeated phrase: “She pondered these things in her heart.” All through her life, she was pondering. But just think of the grief that this poor woman went through.

Kate: [00:14:25] And the angel is very clear with her. I love how he tells the truth. He says that “a sword will pierce your soul too.” She’s going to experience pain and the angel is very clear with her about that. And she still agrees, which is marvelous.

Lindsay: [00:14:38] And isn’t it wonderful that this greatest challenge, perhaps in the history of biblical history and in human history, comes down to this young girl? I mean, you think about the world changing, and it’s all in the hands of a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girl.

Kate: [00:14:57] Yeah, it is amazing. There’s a wonderful legend that I had heard about that—this is obviously totally extra-biblical, just a legend—but it says the angel Gabriel had actually been wandering the earth, asking who will bring the Christ child into the world. And Mary was the first one who said yes. So that’s another theory, which is that this had happened before. We don’t know.

Lindsay: [00:15:21] That would be a sign perhaps to understanding why God sent Gabriel to ask. I mean, would God be turned down by all these people? That is an interesting legend. I hope that’s not the case. But it’s an interesting story.

Kate: [00:15:39] Well, in a way, God is always asking. God asks all of us: “Will we bring Christ into the world in some fashion?” I think we all have to come up with our answers, don’t we? I mean all of us as Christians have to decide whether our purpose in life is to be his hands and feet and bring him into the world or not.

Lindsay: [00:16:00] It’s an interesting thought that spins the whole thing on its head, looking at David and everything that points toward Jesus’ birth and all those lines that go through in both Mary and Joseph’s biological background. It’s interesting to think about Gabriel wandering the earth with different cultures. That’s why it’s extra-biblical, I guess. It’s certainly interesting to consider.

Richelle: [00:16:32] This brings up the question for me. Lindsay alluded to it. Why doesn’t God just directly come to Mary? God speaks to other people directly and doesn’t use angels as kind of an emissary. And here is this pivotal moment in the history of humankind, and it’s Gabriel who is delivering the message.

Kate: [00:17:05] It’s true that God speaks to people. We know that in the story of the exodus, Moses very much wanted to see God but couldn’t see God. So God showed Moses his backside or in the Hebrew, “where he just was.” There’s a sense in which the human being can’t perceive God’s fullness. So the angel is meant to be something that we can see, something that is physical. Even if it’s just light, there is a being there for Mary to interact with. I think that in the mystery of God, God is always looking for ways to reach us. And for whatever reason, Mary needed this celestial interpreter or messenger to become accessible. It’s sort of like with my dog: I can’t explain the Pythagorean theorem to him, but I can get down on his level and telling him he’s a good boy and pat him on the head. I think God has to get down on our level in some way. God lifts us up through the celestial being, reducing the divine self into something that we can understand. I think Gabriel was something that Mary could see and understand.

Lindsay: [00:18:32] I wonder: maybe Gabriel was her guardian angel ever since birth. Perhaps Gabriel was assigned to the earth. You think of God being the God of the universes. And perhaps Gabriel’s assignment was right here.

Kate: [00:18:49] There have been associations of angels with stars and planets and perhaps different celestial beings that look over us. Maybe Gabriel just became visible to her in this moment but had been there from the beginning. So much of this is so far beyond our human brains and what we can fathom. But I do think that for this important of a conversation, Mary needed someone to look at.

Richelle: [00:19:32] Often in scripture when we encounter angels, one of the first things they say is “Don’t be afraid.” And here we are. Gabriel tells Mary, “You’re favored by the Lord, the Lord is with you. And, don’t be afraid.” So how do we hear that message today and why do you imagine Gabriel says this to Mary?

Lindsay: [00:20:07] I think whenever we hear the phrase, “The Lord is with you,” especially if you know your biblical history, that it’s a scary thing to think about it. Like, what the heck does that mean? And it’s not going to be what I had in mind, chances are. You think about all that biblical history when God was with somebody. And it’s pretty scary. So I think that that’s why Gabriel says several times, “Do not be afraid.” The world is going to turn on its head. But don’t be afraid; I’ve got you.

Kate: [00:20:42] Also, I think that to be in a relationship with God is to engage in life and change and growth. And fear is a natural response of the human being to any kind of change or growth because we are fallen creatures. We often want things to stay the same. We want comfort and safety. So it’s no surprise that any interaction with a celestial being that’s calling you into a higher form of living into change and growth is going to produce fear. So fear is a real part of the scripture in so many ways, and many of the great biblical characters are afraid almost all the time. Jesus himself was terrified in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think if we’re scared, it’s actually kind of a good sign—as long as it doesn’t derail us. And we certainly live in such a time of historic transformation with the Internet. I think people are scared all the time. We call it other words now: anxiety, stress. We’re scared. But that’s just a sign of life, of change and growth.

Richelle: [00:21:48] There are so many lessons in this story. The encounter between Mary and Gabriel and this whole moment is a hinge for humankind, a hinge for our Christian faith. What are some lessons that you take in your own life when you hear this story? How does it help shape your faith in your understanding of Christ?

Kate: [00:22:19] Well, I find it moving that, as Lindsay said, God would call a young girl. It reminds us that there is nothing about our reputation or our resumé that matters to God: Instead it has to do with the heart and the criteria that God has are so different from our human criteria. I also love that the angel points out Elizabeth to her and tells Mary to go see her cousin Elizabeth. God wants us to live in community. I remember having babies. There was nothing like being with another woman who was pregnant. I think God wants us to find support from one another. We may be afraid, but we’re not supposed to do this alone.

Lindsay: [00:23:01] I grew up thinking about Mary but the story didn’t really register with me until I became a mother. And then all of a sudden I started understanding Mary, who pondered things in her heart. She faced being scared—having to let her son go. Having to hear her son supposedly say, “Who is my mother? Who is my family?” She’s standing outside, wanting to get into to see Jesus, and he’s so preoccupied. And then at the very end, she watches him die just several feet from her. The way she accompanies her son through all these trials and tribulations and joy tells me the strength and power of this woman. These are powerful lessons for me as a mother.

Kate: [00:24:29] Any time a child is born to a woman, I think we sense the presence of an angel or God. I mean, the birth of a child is so mystical and so beyond our fathoming. It just blows you away. So it’s so marvelous that the incarnation begins in this manner of just talking with a woman and her having a baby. How much more divine can you get?

Lindsay: [00:24:59] Right, right. And sometimes Joseph’s role is underplayed, having this strong protective father, who listened to dreams. He responded and took care of his pregnant girlfriend. I mean, that’s pretty powerful, too.

Kate: [00:25:19] I’m grateful Joseph was willing to look bad. To be ashamed and to have people not like him. What a powerful, beautiful witness just to do the right thing!

Kate: [00:25:38] Yeah. The man never says a word, but he says a lot anyway.

Richelle: [00:25:48] A good lesson for all of us, right? Well, it’s been so wonderful to talk with both of you and to hear your stories and your insight. I know that this comes from a lot of years of research and prayer and deep devotion to spending time with God’s Word. Obviously, we did not cover the whole topic of Mary and Gabriel in this period of time, but is there something else that you want to add before we wrap up our conversation today?

Lindsay: [00:26:17] I think a great thing in this story of the Annunciation and in Mary’s life is just the whole sense of “Do not fear. I have wonderful things in mind for you.” And also the lesson to trust the young among us. They’ve got God’s world in their hands.

Kate: [00:26:39] And don’t be afraid if things hurt because sometimes the greatest things hurt on their way to accomplishing whatever God is doing. It’s a great perspective on our approach to pain, not to run away from it necessarily but to understand that just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean God isn’t working in your life.

Richelle: [00:27:00] Kate, Lindsay, thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to our next conversation as we explore the encounter of Eve with the cherub in the Garden of Eden. If you have questions for Lindsey or Kate or have a topic to suggest, please email us at editorial@forwardmovement.org. And we’ll pass them along.

Richelle: [00:27:19] Thanks for being with us today.

December Staff Picks

We invite you to check out our December Staff Picks. These books make great gifts AND great companions to the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. These titles are 10% off today only (December 5th, est).


Broken coverBroken helped my teenage daughters and me through some dark times. I’m grateful for Ryan Casey Waller’s willingness to share story after story of his brokenness and the brokenness of others in his life—proving that by sharing our wounds, we are all healed. Broken reminds me that even when I feel most insecure and damaged, I’m never alone.”


 

“I really enjoyed thinking about angels in new ways—and it was fascinating to learn about how art reflects different understandings of angels. I love having the paintings and drawings in the book!”


“What better way to start the new year with the first words of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning…” This resource is an excellent companion for the Good Book Club, which invites Episcopalians across the church to read the Gospel of John, from Epiphany through Shrove Tuesday.”