I have memories of my grandma embarrassing me in church when I was a little girl. She would sing really loud and off-key. I couldn’t hear the choir or the piano; I just heard my grandma blurting out hymns like she didn’t care what others thought. It didn’t make sense to me. Being my bold little self, I remember telling her so. In her smiley, matter-of-fact way she would respond: “The Bible says make a joyful noise unto the Lord, it doesn’t say that it has to sound pretty.”
Today, December 8, is the 13th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today my heart honors and praises God for the power of two women who have taught me how to sing “yes” to God with the joyful song of my life.
I am amazed, today, that the psalm I most associate with my grandma is part of the liturgical readings:
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise. -Psalm 98
My grandmother wasn’t a Catholic; she was a faithful Lutheran woman. I don’t remember her ever talking about Mary and showing any images of her beyond the ones in Christmas scenes. Still, her faith and “yes” to God, like Mary’s, helped Goodness come into the world.
The matriarch of my big family and my rural neighborhood, my Grandmother, was a woman who had a wide open home and big, hospitable arms. She raised 10 children on a farm in Northeast Iowa and her maternal nature extended into the next two generations. In her home, children could play and farmers and neighbors could stop by for lunch and snacks. Myself, my siblings, my cousins and the other neighbor children were empowered. We would get help with our homework, collect nickels and pennies in payment for chores and learn how to cook. The house usually smelled like bread and soup and a quilting frame frequently took the place of the dining room table. The quilts she sewed were mission quilts and we knew that they were going to keep someone poor warm in a far-away land. Prayer books and Bibles were in every room. In closets there were boxes of Bibles and other treasures waiting to be given away. The home was warm and cozy and no stomach could ever feel hungry.
Like St. Paul, Grandma wrote important letters. She would send cards and notes to everyone she knew for every occasion. Tucked into every card were Bible verses that she hoped the recipient would later look up and study: Psalm 129, 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Psalm 98. Her practical, generous loving Gospel witness steered many toward faith and trust in God.
In the mystery of faith the power of another woman’s “yes” to God’s goodness lives on and changes lives. Our mother Mary was amazingly pure with Love and Light. Poor and young, she bowed to the mystery and allowed God’s might to come into her, be birthed through her and bring the universe to redemption. What she said “yes” to continues to unfold in women today, who sing “yes” to God and let God’s will be done in them.
Like Mary and my grandma, I seek to be the woman I am called to be. I wonder what particular mission I must do, how I must birth life, how I need to listen, how I need to serve and obey. I am grateful for the witness of Mary, the mother of God, and my beloved grandmother who remind me that my body is sacred and holds great potential for the spreading of God’s love. Because they said “yes” I have been formed to share and simply give all I can.
In all of our lives and in every place, women continue to sing joyful praise. Amazingly, diverse languages, tunes and rhythms somehow unite into harmony that helps free us all. Thanks be to God for the witness, the power, the love. May God bless women everywhere who work so hard to be free so they may sing more loudly and joyfully, even if it seems out of tune. May God help us all, women and men, sing our own joyful song!
This is Mary’s song:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” –Luke 1: 46-55