Last week we had a visit from Lara’s Godmother Barbara. Twenty years ago she was our midwife, she was involved in the birth of our first daughter Eva and became her Godmother and then she was present at the precarious and premature birth of Lara and was her Godmother too. Barbara is now high up in the health service advising on Midwifery, we had not seen her for a few years so the reunion was particularly poignant as she was able to witness Lara’s dramatically transformed face. It was a visitation full of promise and memory.
When you see someone that you have known for many years and then been apart from for a time there is the inevitable catching up, the telling of one’s story between then and now. Looking back I always feel the passing of years and a disappointed musing on how little I seem to have achieved, or rather how all the things I said I was going to do have shrunk from lofty targets to more life sized milestones. It is so easy to allow that disappointment to tarnish a visitation, trying to cover up our ordinariness with more claims of what we might achieve in the next gap between meetings. Sitting with Barbara I realised that this way of looking at my life was deeply flawed. She saw us for what we are, an ordinary family framed and shaped by our loves. Our love of our children, who are all traversing the journey to adulthood. Trying to build adult relationships with the beings we gave birth to. The visitation gave us the chance to see our journey through the eyes of someone who loved us and cared about what we had been through.
In the biblical story of visitation a young pregnant-out-of-wedlock woman visits her older cousin who happens also to be pregnant, beyond the scope of her childbearing years. There is much for them to be frightened and concerned about. The pregnancies are accompanied by auspicious messages about the gestating lives they carry. What explodes between them is joy. They allow the upsurge of new life to overcome whatever fears they are hiding.
Each of our visitations has this pregnant potential to take us under the surface of our lives and to reveal a deeper current that is full of joy. This is not a frivolous or fleeting feeling, or a naive optimism born of denying the darkness. This is an open eyed willingness to look at the whole trajectory of our lives and see an underlying holding, the true acceptance that what is contains within it all that we need. Mary sees in her pregnancy the overturning of the accepted order, suddenly the hungry are filled and the rich sent empty away. The unmarried and the too old are both transformed. They tell their stories to each other and under the grandiose rhetoric of the gospel writer is a more ordinary wisdom that a visitation requires a courageous faith that my life in all its twists and dead ends has meaning and is still pregnant with a generous, yet ordinary providence.