And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,…”
Finding a Voice When the Words Don’t Reach
“There are moments that the words don’t reach.”
This phrase from the Broadway musical, Hamilton, reminds us of those moments when we find ourselves in situations when the height of our joy or the depth of our pain cannot be explained by the human construct of language. Even the words we do choose feel inadequate, failing to honor or capture the essence of what we are carrying within us. They cannot successfully convey what we are carrying in our soul, causing us to dig deep to find our voice.
For many, including myself, music has been a vehicle by which I can virtually map out my entire life. For every major season and event, there has been a particular piece of music capturing that moment – giving voice to where I found myself. Music – classical, popular, rap, country – have been able, by the weaving together of words and melody (provided by another), tap into the depth of my soul – somehow telling my story – in a way that gives it and me a voice.
As we make this annual pilgrimage through Advent, I again find myself reflecting on the journey of Mary and her response to the news informing her of her destiny as the mother of the Christ child. I am in awe of her – she is young, unmarried, religious – and now, with child. Not only would she give birth to the Christ child, she would also witness her child being hated and executed. I can’t imagine the complexity of learning of her unique call on behalf of God. Perhaps it was this complexity that compels her to express herself in song – “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Perhaps she would not have otherwise found the words.
I am struck by the power of the imagery of this phrase of what is commonly known as the Magnificat (or Mary’s song). When faced with an unknown reality that would forever change her life, she finds and claims her voice in song. She affirms her humility in song. She proclaims God’s presence in song. Through her song, we get a glimpse into her soul – as she claims that her soul “magnifies the Lord.” Where others might have understandably taken flight, she finds the strength to not be silenced by the complexity of her life. Where others might have sought to hide, her song boldly reflects the presence of God in her life.
Perhaps that is one gift of the Magnificat – a timeless reminder that we who claim to be a people of faith and hope – do not need to be voiceless. It is a reminder that we can find our voice in the midst of it all – especially all that is confusing, questionable, and unwanted. Finding and claiming my voice has not always been easy for me. Feeling “less than” more times than I care to admit while growing up, I often felt silenced by those more articulate, those of a different race or ethnicity, those who appeared to be more sophisticated, more educated, etc… It took years for me to claim that I indeed had a voice – perhaps even one that needed to be heard at times; one that could contribute to the good of our church and society; one that would reflect the longing of my soul for a just world; one that would magnify the Lord’s faithfulness in my life.
And then about a year ago, I was diagnosed with Spasmodic Dysphonia – a vocal cord disorder for which there is no cure. From having sung solos at concerts for most of my life, I suddenly found myself shying away from using my voice in song. This diagnosis has taken my understanding of finding my voice to a new level – combining both the spiritual with the physical act of speaking and singing. In many ways, it is a new form of silencing—from which I have been called to dig deep to find my voice in yet new ways—perhaps in a song that can only be heard in my soul.
I am grateful for Mary’s finding her voice in the midst of the complexities before her. Her witness would not be as prominent as the witness of other disciples – but she faithfully modeled what it means to claim your voice – even in the darkest moments of the unimaginable. She gives me hope because not unlike the reality some 2,000 years ago, the challenges of darkness still threaten to surround us. These challenges can be framed by disease, fear, broken relationships, death, betrayal, loneliness, poverty, and more. But it is precisely there before the unknowns – overwhelming and frightening as they might sometimes be – that you and I are invited, like Mary to find our voice. So as you embark on this Advent journey – if there are places in your life where the words can’t reach, dig deep within and join Mary in her song. Let her words give voice to your journey as your soul yearns to magnify the Lord.