The Joyful Mystery

‘El misterio gozoso’
Carravagio's The VisitationYesterday was the annual remembrance of “The Visitation” as recorded in story, in the Christian Bible. With words and phases that almost rhyme, would any of the more than 20,000 branches of Christianity ever compare Elizabeth to Sarah? In old age? Would any of the more than 20,000 branches comprehend much about Judah, and the given  split, in history, with the kingdom of Israel? Would any of the more than 20,000 branches connect the saving ….associated to Judah? What was most true was the loyalty of Judah to Yahweh, after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in c.722-721, leaving Judah as the sole remaining kingdom, with the old language.

“The Visitation” by 17th-century Italian painter Mattia Preti.

To be a companion, bringing new life, with Elizabeth, so alone.  In the “Hill Country.”  Note the invisible in the story – Zechariah and Joseph. The quiet in the house.  Mostly, Elizabeth needed someone to talk to? Do you know the history of the Hill Country in Judah?  Did Mary even know Elizabeth was pregnant, or was she only looking for a place to escape?  In the start?  Some scholars refer to this period as an independent kingdom of Israel, fully independent. Taking, according to Wikipedia, the title “basileus” and expanding into the neighboring regions of Samaria, Galilee, Iturea, Perea, and Idumea.

In any story there is TIME and PLACE, like the independent kingdom of Israel, in a story of freedom, just before the Romans arrived, with the installation of Herod the Great.

Breath-taking. Leaving. Like Abram, only more suddenly. Move. Letting go! Sacrifice. Behold the connection of leaving to the sacrificial.  Did Mary tell her betrothed? Or her parents? That she was going? What about the personal safety of Mary and the fetus, in Hill Country? Was this the first? Had another woman in the history of the Hebrew Bible been in her situation, only to lose the fetus? Was Mary alone, traveling into Judah, under the leadership of the Pharisees, with their continued adherence of the Pharisees to the purity laws and tradition. Yikes!

Zechariah, a priest at the temple in his town, in Judah. With this protected status … in the beginning, closest to home. With all the history, in Hill Country, to arrive with a muted Zechariah.  When noticeably pregnant, with other noticeably pregnant women, there is an extra thrill when you missed your period and wanted a child.  Only unmarried Mary did not, at this point of her life, want a child or she would have been stoned to death!  Enthusiasm? Excitement and mutual congratulating?  Mary left home, to move into the home of Zechariah, a priest, with all of the emphasis to the purity laws and tradition.

Due dates. Single unmarried Mary. Before the Visitation, was the LEAVING in the story, by Mary, like the Call of Abram? Or more like the sudden leaving, like Jacob? In either saving or being saved, locate the sacrifice in leaving, with the sacrifice of a protected STATUS, from home.  Leaving for Hill Country, as quickly as Moses had the Hebrew slaves leave Egypt, only for Judah? Where cousin Elizabeth lived with the priest Zechariah.  Not just an inherited but his given priesthood, based upon his branch of the 24 branches of priesthood in his time. [As the invisible becomes visible]. So would Zechariah turn her in?

Did the fetuses listen with tiny, eager ears to all the concerns over purity?

A “given,” based upon what you don’t know or think that you do, about the MYSTERY in the mountainous southern part of Israel. There is always the unknown of a present age about all the “givens” a child is born into.  Like the “givens” lost when you knew the end of a story.  How did Elizabeth even know she was carrying a male? Concerning “the [MALE] prophet and One to be proclaimed, yet to be born?  I can imagine it [her own pregnancy] is similar to Mary and Elizabeth’s joy and enthusiasm,” writes Colleen Chiacchere on the Creighton Online Ministry website which got me challenging her perspective. The unquiet ghosts, “leaping between and among you, those two frisky fetuses.”

More like morning sickness? There is this great unsettling, with the loss of this protected status, when you live in a town and your own pregnancy becomes more apparent over time. Did you ever learn the history of the tribe of Judah which alone remained loyal, at first, to the house of David, though the tribe of Benjamin would join Judah?. The two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north – according to Wikipedia – co-existed uneasily after the split. But in the beginning, for 60 years, the kings of Judah tried to re-establish their authority over the northern kingdom, with perpetual war between Israel and Judah. What was most true was the loyalty of Judah to Yahweh, after the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians – compare the Babylonian captivity to the Egyptian slavery – with the siege of Jerusalem – including the destruction led by the King of Babylon of the first temple built under the fourth-born son of Bathsheba [was he the eleventh son overall, like Joseph?] by David, born in Jerusalem – leaving Judah as the sole remaining kingdom, in c.722-721.  According to Wikipedia.

Is there the missed theme — the same one found in the The Book of Genesis — of gut-wrenching separation much later to come, in this fully developed kingdom when measured against the culturally-related-but-politically-distinct northern kingdom of Israel. With the olive industry there, in Hill Country.  Did they [the fetuses], asks Colleen Chiacchere in Creighton University Online Ministry, swim and sway with your voice?  John and Jesus?  Did they feel the love of your hospitality? Do you even KNOW the history, Colleen?  Why does understanding of the past look so inevitable?  Why do you steal the mystery, about the lingering conflict over power and shared dominion in Judah, in having to choose between being king and being High Priest?  With The Visitation, in Hill Country, did you comprehend the sudden fear in having to choose, with the suffering to come? So did Zechariah even know Mary was pregnant, when she arrived?

“Does he know how we are related?”

Mother and son. Husband and wife.  Cousin to cousin. “Does HE know? About what you are carrying?”

The prophet. Make ready the way. In a place with the tomb, as well as an unsettling concern about purity.

After you left home, there would be the day Mary would have to return after the VISITATION.  Did you feel the shared aloneness of Mary with Elizabeth?  In either saving or being saved, locate the comeback in the story …. Surrounded by Sadducees and Pharisees, as well as Zechariah. And the Sadducees did not believe in Resurrection.  In stories of comebacks, in stories of authentic sacrifice, with the continued theme of separation, note the theme of the competition between Church and State over purity laws. And Mary seemed to be in violation of purity laws that Elizabeth surely understood.

The split between Judah and Israel. The air on the mountaintop. Light air. Hill Country. Prior to the gut-wrenching destruction of the Temple, one of the factors that distinguished the Pharisees from other groups was their belief that all Jews had to observe outside the Temple the purity laws (applicable to the Temple service). As Josephus noted, the Pharisees were considered the most expert and accurate expositors of Jewish law.  According to Wikipedia, “during the Hasmonean period, the Sadducees and Pharisees functioned primarily as political parties. The major difference was the continued adherence of the Pharisees to the purity laws and traditions of the Jewish people in the face of assimilation. The Pharisees demanded that king Alexander Jannaeus choose between being king and being High Priest.”

Behold The Visitation!  In Hill Country.  In the conflict of Church and State, the fidelity of one to the other, the Pharisees demanded that king Alexander Jannaeus – the Hasmonean – choose “between being king and being High Priest.”  According to Wikipedia, “Alexander Jannaeus openly sided with the Sadducees, in adopting their rites in the Temple which caused a riot in the Temple and led to a brief civil war that ended with a bloody repression of the Pharisees. On his deathbed, Alexander Jannaeus called for a reconciliation between the Sadducees and Pharisees; he was succeeded by his widow, Salome Alexandra whose brother was a leading Pharisee.  In the conflict between her first born son Hyrcanus who sought Pharisee support, and a younger son, Aristobulus who sought the support of the Sadducees, the nation was drawn into, after 90 days of Hyrcanus’ rule, civil war which was ended when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem in 63 BCE and inaugurated the Roman period of Jewish history, with the infamy of Herod. Herod was victorious in 37 BCE.  Antigonus was delivered to Antony and executed shortly thereafter. The Romans assented to Herod’s proclamation as King of the Jews, bringing about the end of the Hasmonean rule over Judea, according to Wikipedia.

Aristobulus III, grandson of Aristobulus II through his elder son Alexander, was briefly made high priest, but was soon executed, allegedly due to Herod’s jealousy. In 36 BCE. His sister Mariamne who was married to Herod, also fell VICTIM to the notorious jealousy of Herod, the proclaimed King of the Jews. The sons of Herod by Mariamne — Aristobulus IV and Alexander — were in their adulthood also executed by their father, according to Wikipedia.

 In stories about Homeland Security, about all the “givens” in Judah, after the perpetual wars over purity,  over what side you or your family were on, would you anticipate some vengeance by the victors – these Pharisees – in choosing between being “Jewish”  between a king and High Priest?  So Hyrcanus II lived amid the Babylonian Jews, who paid him every mark of respect, as he was held by the Parthians … since 40 BCE.  For the next four years, until 36 BCE, when “Herod, who feared that Hyrcanus might induce the Parthians to help him regain the throne, invited him to return to Jerusalem.  The Babylonian Jews warned him in vain.  Herod received him with every mark of respect, assigning him the first place at his table and the presidency of the state council, while awaiting an opportunity to get rid of him.  As the last remaining Hasmonean, Hyrcanus was too dangerous a rival for Herod.  In the year 30 BCE, charged with plotting with the King of Arabia, Hyrcanus was condemned and executed,” according to Wikipedia.

So what year had Mary been born? And since the birth for Zechariah, his years had included all of this history and maybe a change in the Culture.  The duty as people of faith is not to disconnect from the real world the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, from your idea of Mary and Zechariah — as Colleen Chiacchere did yesterday on the Creighton University Online Ministry website.  And to leave home is always the first sacrifice, in building upon and confronting the great Unsettling Sacrifice.  In the face of assimilation, in a society seen as oppressive.  And note the unconditional in this story, for those willing to keep moving, to start over – not to be made into a statue.  With the command, “Do not be afraid!”

So in her world at the time, why did Mary leave?  How did she know Elizabeth was pregnant, except from her own Call, like Abram’s.  Or did she know?  But there was the Obedience, to move forward, if she did not know quite why.  Otherwise the threat was in a conflicting belief – by those who knew that you were betrothed – between the issue of fidelity and a betrayal, as seen in adultery.  Go!  To Hill Country.  Behold – for those dealing with the loss of independence in the kingdom of Israel, under the Roman Empire, under Herod the Great – the Genealogy!  In the conflict over belonging, in a society seen as oppressive!  Note the conflict over power in the story, when surrounded by so many of your kinsmen, with this shared idea of independence and purity.  But what is the connection of purity and dependence – relying upon Someone else or something else for your safety?  Behold the handmaid, living with the reduced set of circumstances in the inheritance, dealing with loss… of purity?  Pregnant, living in the home of a priest, with the gut-wrenching tension between Church and State.  Were the Pharisees now allied with Herod, so the God of Abraham might survive?  Was the birth right passed on by Sarah and Abraham connected to purity?  Behold all the tension over purity, over paternity.  As Mary is taken in as the insider, not outwardly challenging the law of purity, but would she be stoned?  And how well did Mary even know Zechariah? Was he a Pharisee? Or a Sadducee who did not believe in Resurrection? What had become obsessive to the Pharisees, when there was only one way to think, to worship, would become the threat of the very same human condition, whether as the last person on earth — or the first — and feeling so all alone.

God. The stories. The secret immensity of God’s fertility. People like to read about themselves, besides knowing what horrors happened yesterday.  History up close, in the news. But not history far away. Did you ever hear the command, in the story of The Visitation, given LOT, with his own virgin daughters? “Flee for your life! Do not look behind you, nor stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, lest you be swept away.” The HILLS saved Mary? Surrounded by the crowd of your kinsmen — as your loving cousin, immersed into the culture of Hill Country, with all the ardent desire for a child of your own.  To pass on the invisible.

In the conflict over to whom Your son would belong, over who would be saved, with involvement – some kind of personal involvement – with the use of Your fertility, in times of annihilation as You were so personally threatened, from having been immersed into a culture during this gestation period, when purity became, in the conflict of private and public lives, an obsession greater than life itself? Pharisees, thinking about the method of punishment which left most readers gasping! In this incredible story of The Visitation, there is this companion, Elizabeth also so alone.

Behold the weeping mentioned in “The Visitation” in a poem by Joyce Rupp, from her book Out of the Ordinary:

Elizabeth wrinkled and wise, weary from the child kicking inside, (already a hint of wildness in him),
The two of you, meeting at the door, weeping and laughing at the same time, each one GASPING at the other’s fertility.

Behold the gasping, at the same time.  Elizabeth over her aged fertility so much like Sarah.  Behold at the same time, a gasping over the innocent purity of Mary! In the first half of life? In the last half of the creation process? Bringing new life, in the saving connected to Judah, did you feel the gut-wrenching fear at this point of life, in creating, for each woman, giving birth into the forces of these times?  Each one gasping!   With even all the “givens” to a pregnant woman or to a chief priest — to any Creator — with a protected status.  Just as Moses was taken in by the Pharaoh’s sister, Mary is taken in by Zechariah.  In Judah. 

What was always true about Judah was this loyalty to Yahweh, as Church and State now co-existed uneasily, within the Roman Empire.  Where cousin Elizabeth lived in Judah, with a need, while carrying something, based upon age for a handmaid [like Hagar].  Behold this joyful mystery, connected to the Fear of the Lord – a fear at this point of life, in creating, for each woman!  Behold each woman, finding a safe place, to gestate, though at least the first trimester – or the last trimester – with God present in the world, hiding in plain sight, in the home of a priest.  A son of Abraham who had obsessed over purity, in an obsession to the birth right, which becomes somehow connected to “saving.”  So what does happen to those who obsess, who are not open to amending their lives, over all the “givens” of Creation? So much like Sarah, too, left with human wondering.  Would you be there at the end, for what you created?  Or Whom?  In Hill Country, where Abraham buried Sarah.  In Hill Country, in the early part of David’s reign, Hebron reached its zenith serving for the first seven and a half years of his rule as his capital.  In Hill Country, behold Judah and the split, in history, as the sole remaining kingdom, with the handmaid who says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”  In a story, as the Lord becomes much more than simply MY God!

Copyright © 2016.

God. The post script to the stories, with the Invisible, almost secret immensity of God’s fertility. Before birth. Before the “given” separation from a mother, with loss of this protected status. As insiders become outsiders.   As women become mothers, with new Identity … given.  Did you ever locate the invisible saving in the story of the Visitation? Before the saving of others, with all the Sacrifice connected to saving others.

So like the living symbolism of the comeback in the stories of Victims, for Isaac and Ishmael after their journey to Mount Moriah, there would be, after her journey to Hill Country, Mary. With these comebacks into the real world after. . . in the world split between Church and State. Living with the reduced set of circumstances in the inheritance, of purity. In ‘the above’ and ‘the below,’ with the purity still somewhere. To be found.

So did Zechariah even know how his silence, imposed, came to save? As the gestation period of his wife certainly disrupted his prayerful life …. in the beginning? And his son then was born to save others, connected to a saving of the mother of God? The quiet part of the Visitation story was as Zechariah figured out the mystery in his own muteness? Perhaps with the words of Psalm 46. “Be still ….. and know!”

Copyright © 2016.

Larry Gillick, SJ


Mordecai PaldielTo give birth into the force of these times, each one GASPING at the other’s fertility … in these perilous times.


3 comments so far

  1. paperlessworld on


    From out of The Call to KNOW – that ends before Sarah ever dies, in The Akedah, in an intended sacrifice of her only son – which comes with the recognized expectation to save. After Isaac is saved. In the unspoken connection of KNOWING to LOVING to SERVING. And if you read the Qoran, the same thing had happened to Abraham’s first born son. With all the handmaids, with all the names and identity connected to the command “TO KNOW!”, the great question of any relationship becomes WHEN?

    Behold the handmaid!

    Like the daughter of a cop, the middle child, a supportive, loyal, affectionate mother and a grandmother, but independent. What is the connection of what has been taken away, via the sacrifice, in the way of independence connected to THE CALL, in giving up the homeland? What happens to loyalty? Does loyalty to God and His people replace the former loyalties? Behold the substitution connected to the First Sacrifice! Behold this System Substitution!

    Behold the chronology of the birth of Ishmael, to the destruction of Sodom, in the birth of Isaac. After first giving up a homeland! Behold Lot, in being saved and then saving some how connected to The Future. Behold Abe, with 318 men, saving Lot and Sodom the first time. But without a certain amount of Truth and Reconciliation, as Sodomites thought they were worthy of salvation? Above all others, with their post-war freedom? Independent again? What is the connection of what has been given, to what has been taken away? Behold this tension, this balance between what is too much and what is not enough dependence which is connected to and constitutes “Peace.”

    Behold the second time! In the Book of Genesis, there are all the stories of FIRSTS, with a great need for Mercy! Behold the return, in the story. Afterwards! But there is, in order to learn how to really pray, first a lot more personally, the need for a body! Contrast what is taken way to what is given up/sacrificed. What is this connection of what has been taken away, as announced by Rachel, by Elizabeth, and what will be pronounced by John?

    Did you ever note how Sarah had amended her life? Behold the RETURN in the story, between the lines! What happens to Sarah as she loses her handmaid, as she sacrifice her handmaid, at the age of 89? Is Abraham not going to get his wife another one? What had Sara been taught in experience when “her son” – who she returned to Hagar – was half-Egyptian? Did you ever appreciate that her half-brother Abe had provided her a half-son? So as Sarah sacrifices her handmaid – when Hagar and Ishmael are set free – does Sarah becomes the handmaid? Or with her own son, they worked out the details?

    Behold the handmaid of the Lord!

    In Hill Country, “God has taken away my disgrace!” Behold the words of Elizabeth when she becomes aware of her pregnancy, as she goes into seclusion for five months. These words of Elizabeth are the same exact words of Rachel? About a mother’s public standing in a community? What is the connection of disgrace to “grace?” To lose something, like favor, connected to a public reputation in a name. To fall from grace, from being barren? Did you KNOW the unspoken connection? In the way of conversion, in spiritual journey, how unusual it had been for Rachel to be allowed to name her first-born son, Joseph, noting that God “has taken away (in Hebrew ASAPH) my disgrace”? And now the naming of John. The son who will bring the mother – Rachel, Elizabeth – “public honor,” in the eyes of others. A pregnancy connected to saving Grace, even before Mary’s arrival. In her seclusion for five months. Note vision in the story of the birthright of Isaac, in the story of Laban as Jacob weds the first time – or tries to wed [The DNA of Jacob is after all half that of Laban’s]. And it is worth noting that when Joseph delivered Egypt, his brothers, and his father from famine, to most of the kingdom of Egypt, the deliverance of his mother in days gone by, was invisible. So now to give voice to, to give vision to …. John. As his own father’s voice is taken away, like the disgrace of Elizabeth.

    What is the connection of what has been taken away, as announced by Rachel, by Elizabeth, and what will be pronounced by John? “God has taken away my disgrace!” To be given life. For her part in the inherited deception? Behold the substitution. System substitution. The deception by Laban results in twice as many years of SERVICE as first outlined. Just like for Ishmael, the son of a handmaid. To learn humility or to simply prove the strength of this invisible love? Substitution/Crossing. The younger daughter. The second twin son. The joyful suspense in deception. Even hiding her father’s idols, after leaving home, Rachel telling no one. To give up the Edge? In Bethlehem, where Rachel died. Being saved and then saving. The future. Joseph deceiving his own brothers, as to who he was. And speaking of deception, was there a need for a new name after the acts of the sons of Jacob whose entire purpose was in trying to pass on something in the way of spiritual power? With a vengeance, a lot worse than the original rapist’s, after the actions of the sons of Jacob, after the rape of Dinah, with the hood-winking of a lot of innocent men? In the story of deception connected to circumcision, just before Jacob was renamed Israel? Called by the name of Israel a second time by God while offering a sacrifice in Bethel. Just before Rachel died. Had there been deception connected to the 400 plus years of slavery, before Passover? Who allowed his brothers to be deceived, by their saving?

    Behold the give and take. Of LIFE. And concerning the vision part of what a prophet ever saw, are the Hebrew words of the firstborn son Cain – better translated “watcher” than “keeper” – still ringing in your ear: “Am I my brother’s watcher?”

    In Hebron when Sarah is buried. Yes, did you note how she had amended her life, as she loses her handmaid, as she sacrifice her husband’s first born son? What had Sara been taught in experience when “her son” – half-Egyptian who she returned to Hagar as Hagar and Ishmael are set free – about how to form a son? With her very own son, they worked out the details, with the God of Abraham?

    Behold the return in the story, of a son to his mother. In the Book of Genesis, there are all the stories of FIRSTS, with a great need for Mercy! Afterwards. But there is, in order to learn how to really pray, first, the need for a body.

    Behold the return in the story! With a name meaning “God remembered,” the prophet Zechariah had emerged under the reign of Darius. In his writing dated 519 to 517 BCE, the prophet Zechariah’s focus centered on the rebuilding of the Temple as well as the priesthood. Unlike the Babylonians, the leaders of the Persian Empire went to great lengths to encourage the rebuilding of the Temple, in order to keep “cordial relations” between vassal and lord.

    Behold the father of John the Baptist named Zechariah! From out of the Call to KNOW, to be given new life! In Hebron, when Mary headed, in a prelude to human form, in the Incarnation. In witness of the disruption in the lives of the mothers of prophets – behold the handmaid! And would either Mary or Elizabeth have a doctor? With Mary, mostly in hiding. In the mystery of the rosary, the STORIES of the joyful suspense – to be given new life– in the need first for a body, in stories of creation/fertility – as one thing leads to another – and Everlasting Life.

  2. paperlessworld on

    Mary did you know that it had been the handmaid of the matriarch who originally saved the patriarchs, when it came to a heroic future? By those Prophets giving voice to the voiceless. With The Bond. While experts studied the Blood Detection in connections to a time and place, connected to this place of origin, it is a Spirit and a Culture which would lead to Western Civilization. In this prayer to You of attachment, bringing you closer . . . to Me. Of course you knew, Mary, that Abram left. In the Call. All of his sons, in the birth right ….LEFT! Like Sarai left too. LIKE The Creator left. Did you ever know – in the story of the Spirit – the pains of giving birth to something . . . NEW … that begins when someone first leaves? Did you even know that feeling of being split? In delivery! Like in The MASS.

    • paperlessworld on

      In Hill Country, The modern-day name of the mountainous southern part of Canaan-Israel is Judea, the Greek and Latin [Roman] adaptation of the name “Judah.” With this geographical framework dividing the north and the south, that northern province of Galilee, separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, was decisively distinct–in history, political status, and culture–from the southern province of Judah. The natives of Judah despised their northern neighbors as country cousins for their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence. Like an Irishman in London, Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants were the butt of Judean humor. Religiously the opinion in Judah was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the Temple and theological leadership which was focused in Jerusalem.


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