My oldest daughter is shy. Very shy, in fact. If you take her to the playground where a bunch of other kids are playing around and another little girl comes up and asks my daughter if she would like to be her friend, my daughter’s first reaction is to freeze and/or run away.
One time when she was three-years-old, we were at a playground when a bold two-year-old approached her. “Would you like to be my friend?”
My daughter immediately ran away, with the two-year-old chasing after her. “Wait! What’s your name?”
Now, the two-year-old had an older sister who was four years old. She saw the commotion and she became immediately curious. So, she came up to my daughter and stood there, just looking at her curiously without saying a word. And my daughter, as shy as she was, felt comfortable to just gaze at the four-year-old without any obligation whatsoever.
For a long time, the two girls just stared at each other. Then, suddenly, a smile erupted over my daughter’s face. She lifted up her hands in excitement. And from then on, the two girls were friends.
So! You could imagine my daughter’s reaction when she saw this picture of the Visitation. She erupted in a smile and raised her hands, saying, “Yay!”
It is a picture of Mary and Elizabeth meeting each other, with Elizabeth’s arms raised in joy. Lilies, the symbol of purity, sit in the pot, just next to the Virgin Mary’s hand while she gazes up at Elizabeth, smiling. Likely, the Holy Spirit is prompting Elizabeth to cry out, “The Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of the womb!”
And yet, it is a beautifully intimate scene of two people who, while reveling in the Holy Spirit and their mutual love of God, are also cognizant of each other as friends and love each other for their kinship and friendship.
And, looking at this picture, I had to think of my own friendships that I’ve made in the past year or so. You see, I am also shy. While I don’t run in the opposite direction whenever someone approaches me like my daughter does, I definitely freeze up sometimes and feel very awkward and uncomfortable meeting new people.
Yet, last year, I made the decision to finally go to the Mom’s group that my parish hosts (they even have free childcare available!) and meet with the various moms around the parish.
And I loved it.
We prayed together. We talked with each other. We would swap tips and tricks with each, as well as share our horror stories with raising children so that we didn’t feel so alone. We read through the mass readings for Sunday, since we knew that there was a huge chance that we would be distracted in mass, having young children and all that. We updated on each other on our own walk of faith. We celebrated when any of us got pregnant, no matter which number pregnancy it is — something that has happened quite a bit, as we are a rather traditional parish! And, when we needed help, we opened up and shared with these women the struggles that we were going through, as well as do our best to support each other in physical ways.
It has changed me in such profound ways, just walking with these holy women and sharing our lives together in this time that we have together.
And, as I look at this artwork, I can’t help but reflect on this relationship that Elizabeth and Mary have with each other. I’ve blogged about this before, but Elizabeth lived quite a long way from Mary — almost a hundred miles away! Plus, she was pregnant. She could have said during the Annunciation, after the angel Gabriel gave her a strong hint to go to her cousin Elizabeth, “Okay, God, I’ll have Jesus… but you know how you told me about Elizabeth, with that strong hint that I should go serve her because she was pregnant? Yeah… thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stay home.”
No! She made the trek to meet Elizabeth, despite the distance. And, once they met with each other, they gloried in God. Here’s the gospel account that describes their meeting:
39During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, 42cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 45Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”46 And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;47my spirit rejoices in God my savior.48For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.49The Mighty One has done great things for me,and holy is his name.50His mercy is from age to ageto those who fear him.51He has shown might with his arm,dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.52He has thrown down the rulers from their thronesbut lifted up the lowly.53The hungry he has filled with good things;the rich he has sent away empty.54He has helped Israel his servant,remembering his mercy,55according to his promise to our fathers,to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”56Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
Walking with God is a beautiful, wonderful thing. But walking alone with God? That can seem painfully isolating at times. And so I find it absolutely beautiful that, after the Annunciation, God sent Mary on a journey to go to her cousin, where she would have company and fellowship.
We humans were not made to be alone. We were not made to be isolated. We need time to be with each other. To talk with each other. To love each other. To serve each other in faith, love, and truth. Even Mary, as saintly as she is, sought out Elizabeth to love and serve her.
And, once we do, we have a chance to love God all the more.
And so! If you have any chance to join any ministry — or maybe even start one, if there is not one available — can I strongly suggest that you do so? Even if it sounds scary at first. Because walking with God is important. But having friends and fellow pilgrims to walk along with you?
That can be such a beautiful gift.
Because I’m curious! What sort of ministries or fellowships does your church offer? How has that changed your life or strengthened your faith? Comment below!