Day 14 and Nouwen is talking about the Visitation, when the newly pregnant Virgin Mary travels to stay with her much older cousin, Elisabeth, who is also pregnant in unlikely circumstances. He says “The story of the Visitation teaches me the meaning of friendship and community“.
Indeed. Sharing our stories wth people in similar circumstances is profoundly affirming. We discover that we are not alone, strange, odd or even mad. Our experiences may be unique, but aspects of them will resonate with others. And it’s relatively easy to do with the happy experiences – the pregnancy that progresses smoothly, the ups and downs of families, the shared hobbies and passions. But what about the difficult experiences? The miscarriages, the broken marriages, the feeling of never quite fitting in, of illnesses mental and physical? Sharing the happiness with other happy souls is easily done, it comes bursting out of us.
Sharing the sadness with those who understand and with whom experience resonates requires courage, no small degree of self awareness, and sensitivity to those who hurt as they listen. Revealing our own fears and inadequacies is difficult, doing so while being alert to their effect on others, while watching for the trigger points, is really hard. Listening to others as they press all the buttons which release our own inner monologues is draining.
But was that conversation between Mary and Elisabeth really so joyful? We hear the happiness, the joy of expectation in the Magnificat. But Mary and Elisabeth were all too aware of the difficulties too. Mary was to endure a long journey while heavily pregnant. Elisabeth had a husband who had been struck dumb. Both were coping with whispering neighbours, pointing fingers, and a huge weight of responsibility, as well as knowing they were blessed.
I seem to be struggling a bit this Advent. I’m living in a world where things are not black or white, they are in glorious technicolour, which is so much more complicated than black, white or greyscale. Any short reflection of necessity has to be focused, but I am uncomfortable with that tight focus – it ignores too much, excludes too many. I would love to reach out to others, I try to do so – but with “day-brightening laughter”? Yes, but only if it is shared and helpful.