Thursday, December 10, 2015

To Come To A Fuller Understanding Of The Magnificat Through Its Context: From The Gospel At Solentiname


We came to the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, traditionally known by that name because it is the first word in the Latin.  It is said that this passage of the Gospel terrified the Russian Czars, and the Maurras was very right in talking about the "revolutionary germ" of the Magnificat.

The pregnant Mary had gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who also was pregnant.  Elizabeth congratulated her because she would be the mother of the Messiah, and Mary brok out singing that song.  It is a song of the poor.  The people of Nicaragua have been very fond of reciting it.  It is the favorite prayer of the poor and superstitious campesinos often carry it as an amulet.  In the time of the old Somoza when the campesinos were required always to carry with them proof that they had voted for him, the poeple jokingly called that document the Magnificat.

Now young ESPERANZA read this poem and the women began to comment on it.

My soul praises the Lord
my heart rejoices in God my Savior,
because he has noticed his slave.

"She praises God because the Messiah is going to be born, and that's a great event for the people."
" She calls God 'Savior' because she knows that the Son that he has given her is going to bring liberation." 
"She is full of joy.  Us women must also be that way, because in our communitiy the Messiah is born too, the liberator."
"She recognizes liberation ... We have to do the same thing.  Liberation is from sin, that is, from selfishness, from injustice, from misery, from ignorance -- eveything that's oppressive.  That liberation is in our wombs too, it seems to me. " 

The last speaker was ANDREA, a young married woman, and now OSCAR, her young husband breaks in:  "God is selfish because he wants us to be his slaves. He wants our submission. Just him.  I don't see why Mary has to call herself a slave. We should be free!  Why just him?  That's selfishness."

ALEJANDRO, who is a bachelor:  "We have to be slaves of God, not of men."
Another young man:  "God is love.  To be a slave of love is to be free because God doesn't make us slaves.  He's the only thing we should be slaves of, love.  And then we don't make slaves of others.'
ALEJANDRO'S MOTHER says:  "To be a slave of God is to serve others.  That slavery is liberation."

I said that it's true that this selfish God Oscar spoke about does exist.  And it's a God invented by people.  People have often invented a god in their own image and likeness - not the true God, but idols, and those religions are alienating, an opium of the people.  But the God of the Bible does not teach religion, but rather he urges Moses to take Israel out of Egypt, where the Jews were working as slaves, He led them from colonialism to liberty.  And later God ordered that among those people no one could hold another as a slave, because they had been freed by him and belonged only to him, which means they were free...

I have reposted this because the insight that these impoverished peasant women and men, in a country under a despot placed there by an imperial power, the United States, who supported him in power, who trained the National Guard that terrorized and murdered them and their children, with impunity, is as good a context as we can find to understand what the birth narrative in Luke must have meant to those who first heard it in an out of the way corner of the mighty Roman Empire.  There is no way for someone who grows up in an imperial state, in 20th century affluence,  certainly not a white man living in the United States in the post-war period, to have their direct knowledge of what the words in the Magnificat means.  For me even my experience as a lower middle-class gay American man who grew up in a relatively modest economic milieu by American standards, doesn't get me near to it.  To try to get there must be an act of imagination that can only be accurately informed by considering what they and others in similar situations have to say.

The words of the Magnificat must have been astonishingly audacious to those who first heard it in the first century Mediterranean basin.  Especially when they would probably have imagined them said, not by a mature woman of even her twenties but a girl in her early teens, the common age of marriage.  For someone that age to claim what Mary does in this text might be unprecedented in literature up to that time.  I'd like to know if that's the case.  Imagine if a poor 14 year old Latina or African American girl who was pregnant and unmarried said something like that today what the reaction would be today.  It would be the butt of jokes and if it was believed it would be fodder for late night stand-up and the clever boys and girls of the online comment community.  Any influence it had in the culture would be laughed out of existence.  Only, that's not what happened in this case, perhaps something of a miracle, as so much about the unlikely existence of Christianity can be seen to be.   Any religion that teaches self-sacrifice, moral obligations and the need to love your enemies even as they persecute you certainly doesn't have the more pleasurable aspects of human nature on its side.  The current test of Christianity isn't science, it is the seductive pleasures of consumer propaganda.

I wish there were more musical settings that would give that aspect of the text more emphasis, by women who have that experience to give them a more genuine comprehension of the words in their fuller context.

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