SAINT AUGUSTINE WROTE: "Mary conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived him in her womb." This icon (called the Umilenie) is of Mary in that moment. We can imagine the Angel of the Annunciation standing nearby and Mary is about to say, "Let it happen to me as you have said." Around her nimbus in Slavonic: "Rejoice O Virgin Bride!"
Saint Seraphim of Sarov (1754-1833) kept the Umilenie icon in his one room cabin in the dense forest near the River Sarovka. Look carefully, we can see it in this photograph of the prayer corner of Seraphim's cell. He loved the Mother of God so dearly in her Annunciation, he nick-named her, Joy of All Joys.
I fear we are losing joy. In a recent televised interview a man gave thanks for the Affordable Care Act which saw him through a very terrible sickness that would have taken his life if he hadn't had insurance for hospital care. He said that he gets hate mail every day, one anonymous person writing, "You should have died rather than my taxes go up so you could have insurance."
Maybe we remember the movie, Driving Miss Daisy in which the Jessica Tandy character, Miss Daisy Wertham, a wealthy 72 year old, Jewish, white, retired school teacher is being driven from Georgia through Alabama by Hoke Coleburn, her African American Chauffeur (Morgan Freeman).
We know it's around 1964 because of Miss Daisy's reference to the movie, My Fair Lady. Along the drive Hoke pulls Miss Daisy's Cadillac off the road and they share the lunch she has prepared. As they finish their meal two Alabama state troopers approach and calling Hoke, "boy" ask what he's doing with the car.
When Miss Daisy states that the car belongs to her, the troopers ask to see the car's registration and Hoke's license. The troopers make no apologies and depart. But as Miss Daisy and Hoke drive away one trooper says to the other, "An old nigger and an old Jew-woman takin off down the road together...that is one sorry sight."
We shouldn't say, "Oh, that was then, things have changed." If indeed the scene took place in 1964 and that perhaps the troopers were in their late 20's, they might well be still alive. And while that kind of hatred is by no means limited to the southern states, a young man who has lived there told me that bitter racist hatred endures - it's now just concealed.
A French nun I knew, who lived through Hitler's occupation of her country told me, "It was easier to live under Hitler than today." I asked how that could be possible. She answered, "Then, we had each other. You can't count on that today."
Maybe we could keep Seraphim's little Joy of All Joys icon nearby to remind us of joy and our human commonality and to protect us from the separating hate that has a mind to overwhelm and claim us. The icon's title Joy of All Joys reflects that Seraphim saw a cause for joy everywhere and beyond them all, the superlative joy of Mary in her believing and cooperative God-love. So....name your own:
- The garden's first snow (November Lite)
- A Chickadee landing on my seed-bearing hand ~ if I am patient
- A first visit to the grotto at Lourdes
- Offering Mass at the tomb of St. Francis and Assisi's Sunday bells
- Bach's Christmas Oratorio, even in August
- A bright July day at Kizhi Island in the Onega Lake ~ the wooden cupolas silver in the sun
- The arrival of dear, visiting friends
- The waterfall on the retreat property and its secret grove
- Someone brought an orchid for the house
- Yuri's Archangel Gabriel icon
- Narcissus: Rose of May ~ fragrant and deer resistant!
- The Sunday community gathering in the chapel ~ the children
- The four rescues here ~ especially when they are resting
- Julian Fellowes' promise of a sixth season of Downton Abbey
- And Seraphim is right ~ Joy of All Joys ~ the thought of Mary at Nazareth and Bethlehem!