I showed up 20 minutes late to meet my friend Mary at a small, hip coffee shop in the suburbs last week. We greeted each other warmly and chatted about our lives, curled around hot drinks to ward off the winter cold.
Although she is 15 years older than me, Mary and I are dearly connected friends who have shared similar pains in our lives over the last year. She feels like a kindred spirit to me, and these moments to catch up are sacred.
As we got up to leave, she handed me a copy of a Janet McKenzie painting of the Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. It showed the two dark-skinned women, wrapped in layered shawls, standing close together with somber faces and closed eyes.
My friend pointed to the women and said, “Look, it’s us! We are both having something mysterious and new being born into our lives, we just don’t know it yet.”
The story of the visitation is a happy one: the delivery of good news, the treasure of shared experience. But the women in this painting look serious and intimate. Sometimes, my friend explains, joy is not smiley. Sometimes it is deeper, quieter. Sometimes the mystery we bear in our lives, though beautiful and good, is heavy and powerful.
My Advent expectation has been like that this year — more still than hectic, more weighty than cheerful.
I took the picture with me to my office at church, where I taped it up next to my computer. When I look at it, feeling my kinship with Mary, the expectant mother of God, and Mary, my friend who walks through life with me like an older sister.
I look at the faces of the women in this painting and I remember that it is holy to carry joy, even if it is carried quietly. I remember that newness will be born in me, even if I am solemn at its coming. And I remember that through the process of becoming, I will never be alone.