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The eve before the birth of Jesus, we remember his very pregnant mother, Mary. Few scriptural accounts tell her story. Yet, thanks to the rich imaginations of the first followers of her son, stories of her abound.

James, some say the half-brother of Jesus, collected these accounts circulating about Mary and published them in The Protoevangelium of James (145 CE). One of these treats of Mary and Joseph’s arduous four-day journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth:

And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his sons led it, and Joseph followed.

From that source, the fourteenth-century artist and monk Theodore Metachites replicated Mary and Joseph’s journey in late Byzantine mosaics, found in the inner narthex of the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul, Turkey. Ahead of them walk Joseph’s two sons from a previous marriage. Because robbers infested the roads, travelers joined caravans for safety.

Instead of a lowly donkey, however, the artist, has Mary astride a white horse, then, only owned by the wealthy or used by generals in warfare. The horse’s bridle and saddle blanket offer a human touch.

So, it’s ultimately about story, which ones you choose for inspiration, for inner enrichment, those with purpose and meaning.

The Infancy Narrative has always spoken to me.

“For the first time, I’ve seen his face—from yesterday’s ultra-sound,” she said, rushing into my kitchen, deep laughter roiling her three-trimester belly. Her brown eyes fired like sparklers on a hot summer night as she pointed to the films on the counter. “Look, there’s his nose, somewhat squished, but there it is. His eyes, blinking…” Then knowing hands smoothed her unborn son beneath her grey T-shirt, a loving gesture I’d experienced the last five months of receiving her help. “And just three more weeks until his due date—time for him to practice using his body before delivery. He’s all there.”

It had been an unusual five months of sharing, a vital learning experience for me. Never had I been so close to a pregnant woman as her unborn baby developed. And my helper, was also a registered nurse. Cheerfulness ballooned her spirit and countered anxiety, belly-kicks and sleepless nights, dietary changes, hydration, awkwardness, and diminished energy. Her long brunette ponytail was tied up in a knot as she prepared and served meals, looked after my bungalow, and took phone messages.

However, last night’s significant contractions warranted a trip to the hospital. My prayer for her safe delivery and son filled the night, only to be upended by this morning’s call. “I was only seven centimeters, so they sent me home. I hope to go back soon.”—Certainly a major reversal, but no complaints.

It seems to me that Hezekiah wants to see his laughing mother’s face. He will come.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word. Thus began the pregnancy, like none other, of a comely virgin living in Nazareth, the land of Judea over two thousand years ago. Her name was Mary. Like those with child around her, she moved into the dailyness of the growth in her womb—She marveled.

Her quiet presence nurtured a place within the religious imaginations of her Son’s lowly folk who embellished her story, like His, into carols around the world. One of these honors her pregnancy and dates back to seventeenth-century Germany.  

Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison.
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison.
A little child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

And as the two are passing near,
Kyrie eleison,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear.
Jesus and Maria.

The carol, referenced in the hymnal Gesangbuch of Andernach, was universally known and liked at that time.

Its composer, perhaps a peasant smarting under conflicted political leaders, identified with Mary’s suffering; she, too, knew the prickly heal of the Romans, whose presence had raped their land, rendering it a place of thorns and bareness.

Yet, the composer’s hope unfurled like a brilliant pennant in his psyche, remembering the fetal life Mary bore in her womb and how it was changing the perception of herself. She would now be responsible in a new way.

Not only did he remember, but he surrendered to this new power already at work through Mary’s willingness to participate in the strange life opening before her. In place of thorns, now grew roses.

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