It’s been customary for me to write something for International Women’s Day for the past few years, so much so that I even decided to make an appropriate “International Women’s Day” category so you can easily search for them. I thought this year would be different as I had no thoughts cross my mind, that is until I revisited a thought that was lingering in my mind all these years: why does everyone sing the Magnificat so … pretty?
I’ve been tasked with dancing to different versions of the Magnificat for many years now, but I always had these same thoughts. The Magnificat has a beautiful opening line that gives glory to and finds delight in God:
- My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
- my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
The cause for most musical versions of the Magnificat to be melodic, serene, and “pretty” is justified in this first stanza. But then we move into more verses, including this:
- He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
- and has lifted up the humble.
- He has filled the hungry with good things,
- and the rich he has sent away empty.
Um … what???!
Whatever image I had of Mary – sweet, innocent, young, virgin, polite, obedient, wholesome, quiet, docile, demure – had been turned over its head when I read these lines! Deep within this love song for her God was a song of justice, a call to action, a song of rebellion! The Mary that I knew and loved was made even cooler!
And yet, we often forget this Mary. We remember her “yes” but not these divisive words. We remember her following her child but never leading the way. But these words reveal that Mary was every bit the leader of the rebellion as much as she was a humble servant of God.
What makes these words even more fascinating was whom she was speaking to. She spoke these words to her cousin Elizabeth, after making a long journey to visit her. Mind you, she was pregnant, but she was only concerned with her cousin’s own pregnancy. She made this trek not to brag about her own blessings but to celebrate in her cousin’s. Mary made no mention about her Good News until Elizabeth’s own child “leapt for joy” and Elizabeth acknowledged her.
I absolutely LOVE this image! Just picture it- two women, experiencing miracles of their own, celebrating each other, giving thanks and glory to God, and to top it all off, looking into the future together! They see it clearly- this time things are different, things are about to change, and they are there to witness it all. And they are all for it!
On paper (and I’m talking about before knowing any Biblical or Sunday School interpretation of her), Mary is, well … considered insignificant. She is a daughter of an older Jewish couple. She grew up in the Middle East, in the poor town of Nazareth (where “nothing good” came from). Her country was occupied by the Roman Empire, who abused their power. She most likely had dark hair and brown skin, probably little to no education. Not to mention, she was definitely pregnant but definitely not married- which back then was not only a no-no but a cause for capital punishment aka death. She was made to feel powerless.
And yet this girl looked death and her society in the eye and said “NOT TODAY!” (or ever really because Mary was just that awesome). She went on and said yes and then upon hearing her cousin was with child, she got into “supportive sisterhood-mode”- literally packed up and left, not even taking a moment to tell the not-baby-daddy that she was pregnant and conceived through the Holy Spirit. Then she met up with her elderly cousin and reveled in being the queens that they are- without a care about being poor, old, unmarried, women, brown, or “other”. They saw this as a time to celebrate a God who was about to do things right for them and leave their oppressors in the dust. And they did not do this in mounted anger but in absolute glory and joy!
Mary’s song of rebellion fits in nicely with the chants and hashtags of Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, #MeToo, #TimesUp, the DREAMERS, March for Our Lives, and more. Her brown skin and youthfulness are similar to the features of those leading these movements. And yet, we forget about Mary and the true meaning of the Magnificat. We forget about Mary, whose name in Hebrew means “rebellious.” But this doesn’t really shock me- history has a way of forgetting about those who demand and fight for change, especially if they are young women of color.
This erasure is important to think about this International Women’s Day because we often forget about the roots of this named holiday – it was less about celebrating women and more about women demanding to be seen for who they were, the contributions they made to the world, and to be justly acknowledged, recognized, and compensated so. Can we start seeing Mary for who she is? Can we start recognizing her for the firecracker she was? Can we make her song as lively and as biting and as exciting as its meant to be?
Pretty is good and nice, but don’t let pretty distract you from what Mary means and who Mary is. Don’t let pretty distract you from who her God is and what her God can do. Don’t let pretty make you forget women and all that they can be, all that they can offer, all that they deserve, and all that they desire. Don’t let pretty make you forget that the oppressed are every bit deserving of justice, glory, joy, and love!
As much as I admire the many versions of the Magnificat I have heard and danced to, I want to hear a different Magnificat. The Magnificat I want to hear is like any one of the track’s off of Beyonce’s Lemonade or her sister Solange’s A Seat at the Table. The Magnificat I want to sing is like “Quiet” by MILCK, which became an anthem for the Women’s March. I want to pray the Magnificat like a prayer offered at Standing Rock. I want to listen to the words of the Magnificat chanted in protest in the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, Parkland, and on Capitol Hill. I want to imagine the Magnificat delivered the way Oprah Winfrey told the men of Hollywood that #TimesUp! I want to hear the Magnificat rolled off the tongues of the many immigrant women who have fiercely loved and fought hard to keep their families together, safe, and alive, even if it meant sacrificing all that they have known. The Magnificat I want to hear is a song shared among all women- ALL women, across all nations, all races, all sexualities and gender expressions, all faiths, all experiences, all ages, all abilities, all lives. This is the Magnificat that has my heart dancing, this is the Magnificat that magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God, my Savior!