The book pens a journey with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a framework for pondering life lessons, or songs, of grace-filled "yes" to God.

This blog continues to explore the implications of these songs in daily life. Here you will find ten additional reflections on each of Mary's "songs." May they continue to encourage your heart. ~Carla

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Change of Season

April 1st marked the first anniversary of the publication of Songs of Assent.  This year has been an amazing season of watching a creative work breathe on her own and find her own way in the world.  Every time I have held my breath as I leafed through the pages wondering if I really said what I wanted to say, my pulse has  slowed down gradually and I have thought, "It's alright.  It is good just as it is." And I can say this even when I have been pointed to rich truth in the last year that I wish had been included.  

The new publishing technology of print-on-demand (POD) books has offered Pam (my sister and illustrator) and me a medium for creation that has come with the delightful adventure of marketing the book as it was written: receptively, one opportunity at a time.  There came a day a few months ago when we sold a book that appeared to be a "fourth generation" word-of-mouth sale.  I didn't know the person who told the person who told...well, you see what I mean. I value such delightfully nuanced connections incongruously made possible by our high-tech world.

To cap off this first year Pam and I went to London this March, in part to conduct a two-day conference on Songs of Assent.  As I prepared for this delightful trip  I revisited all five of the biblical texts on which the book rests, and discovered new treasures.  You won't find these thoughts in my book--they are hinted at in my last five blogs, and fleshed out in mp3s to be available for purchase sometime later this spring on a new website, (If you want the mp3s of the 2nd day of the conference where I speak in depth on receptivity and wisdom, they, too, will be available for purchase in the near future.) 

But with the first anniversary of publishing and the London conference, I find my heart and mind moving to other topics and other sites.  You can find me blogging regularly at  on themes connected to worship, and, soon, on a more open-ended blog to be housed on my new site.

However, if you are new to Songs of Assent, I invite you to explore the blogs I have written here this past year.  You can organize them by "song," and because the original themes from the book were uppermost in my mind during this past year, I hope you will encounter insights that will enrich the reading of the book. 

And, whether you are an old friend or new, I invite you to check back here for an announcement on the inauguration of my new website.  I would enjoy your continued company as we learn new songs of "yes" to God to accompany the ones we already know.  

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Mary Modeled

I do not find it surprising that Mary was a compassionate friend. Neither is it astounding that Mary would believe her son could help her friends. “Do whatever he tells you” sounds a lot like an outwardly directed version of “Let it be to me according to your word.”

But there is more. 

The problem was really quite defined.  No guesswork involved as to the nature of the need or the human perplexity as to how to meet it.  They had run out of wine before they ran out of party.  The anxious moments behind the happy communal occasion were not earth-shattering in the vast panorama of human existence.

Yet here, in the quiet, unobtrusive moments of a family’s crisis where human limitations were only obvious to a few behind-the-scenes-players—here began the miracle of Jesus entering into the heart of human anxiety.

But not without his mother tasting a bit of that anxiety as well.  Was she perplexed with her son’s response?  She certainly doesn’t get an immediate answer.  And she had had eighteen years to adjust to the rules of engagements her twelve-year-old had once ushered her into: I must be about my Father’s business.

So there she was: friends anxious over the wine they cannot produce out of thin air,  Mary intimating that Jesus might step in, only to be reminded that he answered to a higher authority.  But if Mary was at all anxious or perplexed, it was only for a moment.  Her rebound was such a lovely example of what Hans ur von Balthasar calls the “the passage from light to light.”  She knows Jesus can help. She does not know if, when, or how he will act.  But in the meantime, she re-directs the attention of the servants. “Keep your focus on Jesus and wait.”

 There is another kind of response we can make in those all-too-human moments when we are confronted with our human limitations.  We can allow the dark moments of uncertainty to become a condition rather than a passage.  There’s no more wine  (or money, or job, or relationship). And we can get stuck in the darkness, struggling to find another supplier, setting up our own tenuous securities, building bigger wine cellars.

When anxiety is a condition rather than a passage we will do ANYTHING to deny that behind the fa├žade we are finite mortals who would find our greatest freedom and joy in dependence, not independence, on bringing our need to Jesus, rather than seeking other ways to replenish the wine at the wedding.

But, of course, when Jesus acts—in his own way and in his own time,  in response to dependent human need, the wine is SO much better.  What a delightful first step in a whole series of Jesus' revelation of himself in the midst of human anxiety---whether in supplying wine, or raising a friend from the dead.  And his mother? Through her last recorded words she teaches us how to move from light through the darkness and back into light.  Quite a mentor, that Mary. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mary's Path

Her story began in earnest with a clarion call from an angel.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”  But not too many chapters in, the plot got more complicated.  An old man in the temple recognized this unique family for who they were, rejoiced that the Lord has allowed him “to see thy salvation” and then has a serious conversation with Mary.   “This boy is destined to be the rise and fall of many, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be discerned, and, oh, by the way, a sword will pierce through your own soul, Mary.

At some point in the next couple of years, Joseph would awaken her with a dream that Herod was purposing to kill this child.  And so they left Bethlehem under the remaining cover of darkness and made their way to the land of exile, Egypt.  When did she hear that her Bethlehem friends’ infants had all been killed? 

And what did she make of another escape, this time in plain view, when her twelve-year old remained in his Father’s house, while she, along with his “father” frantically retraced their steps.  It must have a panic-stricken experience to misplace this son, and an emotionally-jarring one to be reminded of the prioritizing of his fathers. 

But that sword would probe for still more of her heart when Jesus began his ministry, beginning with her neighbors wanting to throw him over the cliff.  How DID one start a conversation at the well the next morning in the midst of such anger and rekindled suspicion?

And then there was Jesus himself, who made no apparent effort to spare his mother.  His mission was fixed, he listened only the Father, and it created uncomfortable moments of reorientation of family: who are my mother and brothers? There was at least one meal left uneaten when they tried to rescue him from himself, there were brothers who did not believe, and ultimately a Jesus who proclaimed that he had nowhere to lay his head.  If I were Mary, I would have wanted to shout, “there’s a mat waiting for you at my house!”

There are moments of reprieve; when a woman in the crowd wants to praise Jesus’ mother, Jesus merely redirects the reason from her body to her spirit—blessed are those who hear the word and keep it.  “I am the handmaiden of the Lord” certainly qualifies.

But in the midst of the struggle to understand this son, while experiencing the lack of understanding of her neighbors and family, Mary does not waver.  A mature woman eventually stands under her son’s cross, bearing the final severing from her son as the sword cuts all human ties to Jesus as she is given to John to be cared for.   Her vocation to live in front of the sword has been carried—all the way to the cross.

All along she is favored; God is with her.  But such loving favor does not spare Mary from pain and fear, from walking for long periods without light, without understanding, without unity among those she loved best.                                                                         
But when we last see Mary, seated in the upper room, waiting with the other disciples and her other children for her son to send His Spirit, I expect we are seeing the calmest person in the room.  She has walked her own unique road of discipleship.  Yes, a sword has pierced her soul, but it has not destroyed her.  Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord said would be accomplished.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Magnificent Song

Gabriel sends Mary hurrying to Elizabeth with a child in her womb and wonder in her heart.  One wouldn’t think she could be more filled at the moment.  But the Holy Spirit who has overshadowed her womb spills out all around her.  John the Baptist leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth is filled with awe, wonder and blessing upon blessing for her young relative.  In the end, Mary sings a magna, a song of “great things.”  She sings it with so much beauty and skill that some contemporary biblical scholars believe it was humanly impossible for Mary to have sung it.  Surely the early church later placed it in her mouth.  I tend to approach the issue from a more child-like place.  It was rather impossible for a virgin to bear a child, too.

The song is a masterpiece of biblical poetry.  It begins with the testimony of one hidden woman, and ends with the Word God spoke to Abraham and his seed forever.  Mary looks forward with joy to a church of which she, in hidden humility, has become the vanguard; she looks backward to the God who, remembering his compassion, has never ceased to uphold a small nation called Israel.

But the centerpiece of this crown jewel is verse 51: “He has shown strength in his arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”   Mary’s God, Yahweh, “He who causes to be,” has initiated his ultimate creative act by begetting his own son in the vulnerable womb of an unmarried girl.

Only One endued with the potency of real creative strength could act with such effectiveness in the midst of weakness.  A lone sojourner with a barren wife becomes the father of many nations, a reluctant shepherd with nothing but a staff and the name of his God becomes the deliverer of his people.  A faithful, but impoverished, daughter-in-law collects left-over grain and becomes the great-grandmother of David.  A monk struggling under the weight of guilt becomes the catalyst for the Reformation…and I find myself pondering the secret places where this strong, creative arm is moving even now.

Mary teaches us this: the contrast to God’s creative power so often manifest in weakness is the illusory strength of the proud who are “scattered in the imagination of their hearts.”  I only wish I didn’t know what that meant.  But I do.  My heart has often been too easily fired by a vivid imagination that creates paper-thin pseudo-reality for a moment (or a year)—only to watch it “scattered” with the first gust of real wind.  

Underneath the beauty and power of the poetry is the wisdom of deeply distilled truth.  Ultimately, Mary paints a portrait of the heart of our God with pristine clarity.  “This song lacks nothing; it is well sung, and needs only people who can say yes to it and wait. But such people are few.” ~David S. Yeago

Father,  please send your Spirit into our hearts, that we may be given wisdom to internalize your priorities, eyes to see their incarnation in our midst, and hearts to wait patiently for that which is hidden to be revealed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Four Fiats and the Substance of Faith

No, I’ve not taken to writing new slogans for Italian made cars that can be trusted.  That is a Fi-at’.  I am writing instead about fi’-at, the great “let it be done” in redemptive history. This fiat is not a resigned acceptance, a sort of spiritualized “que sera, sera, whatever will be will be.”  Rather this fiat is a living desire—“It is so, may it be so.”  There is passion and strength and purpose and abandon to this “let it be.”

After all it’s an expression that we find first and last on the lips of the Godhead.

At the moment of creation. God says. “Let there be light [according to MY word].  And it was so.  And at the pivotal moment where the God man sets his face toward the cross, Jesus cries out, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).  These are bookend fiats. The creation fiat brings life in all its fullness, the crucifixion counterpart embraces death and all that provokes it so that fullness of life might again be restored.

And in between these two firm acts of will lies the response of a young girl. For Mary’s “let it be to me according to your word” is this living desire of a mere creature to surrender her whole life as a tablet for God to write his story upon. 

But Mary’s deep receptivity is not based merely on the presence of a terrifying angel with amazing news.  Gabriel first establishes the basis on which his words are to be trusted.  She is folded into the Mosaic covenant in which the presence of God is synonymous with God’s favor.  And she is directed to the Davidic covenant where a child from her womb will be given the throne of his father David. 

Her fiat rests on the foundation of substantive revelation.  She is drawn as participant into a story she already knows—at least in part.  And in the gracious confidence of recognizing truth and responding to it with all her heart, Mary borrows a bit on her son’s total embracing of personal death so that others might live.  Fiat this side of the fall always comes with a price.

Yet there is one final fiat.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is the “let it be” of the Church and every Christian soul within her.  Perhaps we would do well to learn to pray the Lord’s prayer with the immediacy of Mary.  May your kingdom come, your will be done on this bit of earth, in the dust of my flesh, that heaven and earth might just kiss each other on this day, in this place.

“It is so. May it be so.”  Today.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Favored Ones?

“I renounce the lies the enemy tells us about you, dear Father of Jesus.”  

The scene?  Last  Saturday afternoon as our class on the Sacred Actions and Ministries of Worship gathered in a little historic chapel at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies for a service of baptismal renewal.

The teaching on renouncing the schemes of the evil one was behind us, the water in which we would meditate on what it meant and still means to be brought into Christ through baptism lay before us, and in between was the moment to turn  away from the centripetal force of the world, the flesh and the devil and affirm once again the foundational realities of our faith.

An earlier class discussion on Satan’s lies yielded this reflection: “What lies does the enemy tell you about God the Father?”  “Whatever I do isn’t good enough.” “He tolerates me, but is never pleased.”   “He is distant and I can’t find my way to Him.”  “He shows his favor to others, but not to me.” 

The latter comment was my own.  I have recently become painfully aware of my unbelief that God truly favors and delights in his children, and that his heart was, is, and always will be to bless us. 

In the last decade I have lost my child-like wonder of God's favor.  It has not been a particularly smooth season, and somewhere along the line, my need to endure, while true, has been overshadowing God’s immense heart of mercy, love and delight.

And so, last Saturday, in addition to the ongoing repentance of my unbelief, I renounced the liar who buzzes around my head with the image of a God who demands but never delights.

I'm back home now and my thoughts return, as they so often do, to Mary, who is told she is highly favored.  “Oh, but Carla, that’s Mary.  She was unique, and the favor extended to her was truly extravagant. Even the Greek word employed to describe God’s favor to her is only used…twice.”

Twice.  Once in Luke 1:28: “Greetings, oh favored one, the Lord is with you,” and once in Ephesians 1:6: “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Oh.  In the fullness of time Mary was the first to be highly favored. But she is not the last.  She once bore the Beloved, that the Beloved might bear us forever.

Greetings, oh favored ones.  The Lord is with us.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Difference It Makes

A casual observer would have thought, “Now there is a woman who needs a life.”  New Year’s Eve: My husband, in the midst of his busiest season at the college bookstore (and having shoveled for three hours on the college’s holiday snow crew) was in bed at 9:00 and I was watching half a season of “Murder, She Wrote” reruns and crocheting a scarf.

But I really do have a life.  And in the midst of smiling at Angela Landsbury and making up a scarf pattern as I went along, I was considering this question: “What difference does it make that I am a Christian as yet another year begins?”

Fireworks rang out very close by as the year changed—Wyatt reports that he was awakened by our backyard neighbors putting on quite a lovely display, and I could hear the uninhibited cheers that accompanied the popping and the colors.  Hurrah, 2010.

A different set of celebrations was bookending my New Year’s eve. I was musing about a wedding where a new teacher took large jars of water and made from it the richest of wine.  And I thought of the vision of a time to come where God, having wiped away all tears, announces, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

What difference does it make that I am a Christian as this new year begins?  I, along with my brothers and sisters throughout time and space, have been drawn into a story of re-creation, where we are profoundly loved by a God who makes small things, like a wedding party, richer; and is making large things, like “all things,” new.  His arm is strong, and he will NOT let us go. And this gives me the courage and hope to celebrate the coming of a new year. 

I no longer possess the natural optimism of the cashier who looked at me with determination and said, “2010 is going to be a GOOD year.  Let’s hope the economy continues to get better.” Neither am I a cynic who has concluded that nothing will ever change—although I am old enough to sympathize with the impulse.

I am, rather, a woman gratefully drawn into the story of a God who would not and will not abandon his broken creation, and who continues to pour the new wine of courage, strength and hope into his people as we press in and press on—until that day when all things are fully made new.   Come, Lord Jesus. 

And that is cause for rejoicing.  Happy New Year.