Mary, Mares, Meteor Showers, and other Miracles

One Sunday morning this past December, my daughter was the lay reader for our church’s Zoom advent service. She read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, Verses 26-38. This is the part of the Christmas story in which the angel Gabriel drops a bombshell on a very young girl, who is about to be married to a carpenter named Joseph: “Oh hey, Mary, you luckiest of girls! Guess what? You are about to give birth to the baby Jesus.”

“Ummm…Hang on. How can this be?” Mary asks, “since I’m a virgin?”

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”

My daughter is probably about the same age as Mary was when Gabriel revealed his startling message to her. As she read the passage, I tried to imagine the panic and terror she would feel if she were in Mary’s shoes. I imagined my own crushing dismay upon suddenly learning that my baby was about to have a baby.

The true miracle is Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s astonishing revelation: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

Seriously, Mary?!

During this year of unsettling, sometimes devastating news on the personal, national, and global level, I have not been able to muster anything even close to Mary’s preternatural aplomb when given the news that she is about to become an unwed teenage mother. Her radical attitude of trust and openness to the possibility of the miraculous seem too passive, too naive.

Later that same evening, I cajoled my husband and daughter into joining me on a late night adventure: “The Geminid Meteor Shower is supposed to be amazing this year. It’s supposed to be really easy to see a ton of shooting stars tonight.”

For over two decades, I’ve been dragging my husband and children out to fields in the middle of the night on futile quests to witness celestial phenomena. We’ve shivered for hours in the dark, craning our aching necks to the heavens. What almost always happens is, just as we settle in and turn our gaze skyward, a thick blanket of clouds rolls in to obscure the view. Based on past experience, my husband was rightfully skeptical, but he pulled on his coat and merely noted with a wry sigh, “You really have a thing for these kinds of events.”

We drove a little way from our house and stopped on a quiet country road that traverses gently undulating fields. As soon as we stepped out of the car, a shooting star streaked through the sky directly in front of us.

We set up our camping chairs on the side of the road and burrowed under a shared blanket to watch for more meteors in the deep silence. Suddenly, we heard a strange noise. Our eyes strained in the darkness as we tried to discern what was making the noise. We could barely make out the outline of a horse. She had walked through the field and right up to the fence line to be near us. That night we saw more shooting stars than I have ever seen in my entire life. Our breath curled and intermingled with the horse’s in the chilly night air as we stood watch together. I couldn’t say which was more miraculous: the celestial fireworks, or the presence of the horse, who matched our every cry of wonder with earthy, companionable nickering.

In the darkest of hours, may we be open to the possibility of miracles. May we recognize the miraculous in whatever shape it may take. And may we accept these gifts from the universe with open arms and open hearts.

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