Magnifying the Lord
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Luke 1:46-47a
In the days before the birth of Jesus, Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child who would become John the Baptist. Mary, pregnant with Jesus, sings her Song of Praise, recorded in Luke 1:46-55, which begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” (emphasis added). Some Bible versions translate this as “My soul proclaims the Lord…” I am generally uncomfortable splitting hairs over different translations, but this distinction is important to me. To magnify is to make larger or more visible. To proclaim is to tell about. Mary, in agreeing to birth Jesus, allowed God to become visible in the world. Thus, she magnified the Lord.
It is hard to know how much of the coming decades were known to or suspected by Mary at the time. From the retrospective view of the gospel of John, however, her soul truly did magnify the Lord. Indeed, two thousand years later, Mary is remembered and celebrated nearly as much as Jesus for her role in his birth. Mary, while not usually considered divine, does represent the feminine archetype in an otherwise patriarchal religious hierarchy. Symbolically, Mary represents the earth. She is the “formless void” the Spirit of God hovered over in the Genesis creation story, receiving and birthing the Word of God into physical existence (See Genesis 1 and John 1). To the extent that Jesus of Nazareth was 100% God and 100% human, the human part of Jesus came into being through Mary. God, being spirit, required a willing and human servant to give birth under divine circumstances in order to manifest on earth as Jesus. Mary willingly assumed that servant role.
In the passage above, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord. Although the definition of a soul is somewhat ambiguous, it generally refers to our innermost, spiritual essence. Our soul is our eternal connection with God, and it existed before we were born and will continue to exist after our physical death. It is the conduit through which our material and spiritual natures meet, allowing God to access us and allowing us to access God. When we pray, we are communicating through this invisible channel of the soul. Just as our bodies form and develop within our mother’s body, so the body of God formed within Mary. The way I picture this is as a spiritual spark emanating from God and penetrating the malleable material of the earth (Mary), causing it to coalesce into a physical human body. In this way, Mary was impregnated with God’s Word, and she birthed a human body in which the spark of God would manifest physically. Thus, God was magnified through Mary’s soul and became visible to us in human form.
The point is not that God is so small and meek as to require magnification. The reality is that our free will allows us to pay attention to whatever we choose, and most of us choose to focus away from God. God becomes nearly invisible to us as we lose ourselves in the busyness of our daily lives. The distractions of the earth are seductive. In addition, an experience of God is not something that is imposed upon us. It is always available, although few of us choose to attend to it. Mary is celebrated today because she chose, of her own free will, to allow God’s spirit to work through her in order to enter our material world as one of us. Her decision came with the high price of giving up life as she knew it. For many of us, giving up the life we know and cherish on this earth is a step too far.
Like Mary, whether or not we consciously recognize it, our souls magnify the Lord. The grandmother of a friend told him that a little piece of him rubs off on everyone he meets. His challenge was to make sure it was a good piece. And this is our charge, that a piece of God is magnified in everything we do and to everyone we meet. It is our job to make sure that what we magnify through our words and actions is a good reflection of the spark of God within.