This was my second visit to St Anne's Chapel, but last year I obviously missed the significance. God had a special surprise for me today... This Chapel was built to honor the grandmother of Jesus, who history records was named Anna. A sculpture there (below) depicts the passing on of Israel's faith from Anna to her daughter, Mary, who God would choose to mother the Lord Jesus Christ. I have never once thought about the mother that raised Mary, and what a special role she had in molding her to be ready for her magnificent call. I was so moved, that I spent the better part of the hours following writing down these thoughts...
|Sculpture of Anna (the Grandmother of Jesus) as she teaches young Mary faith in the God of Israel
Following His Steps… to St Anne’s Chapel
God created the family to be the means through which faith would be passed from one generation to the next. An atheistic society is the most hopeless of all, as the very fiber of civilization is doomed to unravel.
Herein lies the beauty and the sacredness of motherhood. Children are a gift of the Lord. Blessed is the home that is filled with them. In the biblical record there was no greater heartbreak than to be barren and left without a child through which to pass on your faith. Duty and joy co-mingle as a mother passes on her love of the Lord Jesus to her children and then to her grandchildren. Only in this way does our faith live on.
The sculpture which depicts this beautiful truth stands at the back of the church dedicated to Anna- the mother of Mary. I was drawn to its beauty and snapped a photo before my eyes filled with tears as the Monk nearby explained… The scroll in Anna’s hand contains the words of the Shema- a prayer- a statement of faith, repeated day and night by all God fearing Jews and taught to their children at the earliest of age.
Anna was teaching her daughter Mary, who would be chosen as the mother of our Lord Jesus, how to turn her heart regularly to the God of Israel. Mary’s hands are dutifully folded in prayer and her eyes cast toward heaven as a tender learner. I could almost hear her whisper as she gives voice to her growing faith...“Shema Israel. Hear oh Israel. The Lord our God. The Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Amen”
This beautiful truth had obviously past from dutiful tradition to delight by the time the angel visited Mary with the blessed news that she alone had been chosen to mother the long awaited Christ. And while the story of Mary told throughout history has long been romanticized, it brought with it grave consequences. Mary would instantly become an outcast among her people. Even her family would question her character. She would be left alone; with only a man she hardly knew, to carry the cross demanded of the mother of our Savior. These were only the beginnings of the pains she would bear… Only 33 years later, she would watch in agony as her precious, sinless son was tortured and finally put to death on a brutal cross.
Women through the ages have marveled at what it would be like to have the blessing of such a calling… but few would willingly take up the cross she was called to bear. I want to have a heart like Mary’s- quick to say as she did… “I am your humble servant. Let it be done to me as you have said.”
In my life that looks quite different on a practical level than it did for Mary, and yet in many ways it is not different at all. I was probably ten years older than Mary when I became a mother and while I loved the Lord with all of my heart, I knew so little about what it meant to be entrusted with such a high calling in passing on my faith to the children God gave me. It is likely that Mary, as a teen girl, could not grasp the full meaning of her call from heaven either. It is a role we must all grow into as we are sanctified in our faith. This is by God’s design. In ultimately fulfilling this role, we need only a willing heart of a servant that says “yes” regardless of the cost.
As women awaiting the arrival of our children through birth, we dream wildly for them and often look to them as a fulfillment of our dreams or an extension of ourselves. While this is not necessarily wrong, I believe that this is a sad reflection of our self-centered culture, far removed from the Biblical mandate of motherhood. In looking at this beautiful sculpture today, I was convicted of my sin in this area. I was ashamed too, for even carrying over a similar attitude toward the children brought to me through the gift of adoption.
Before leaving my hotel room this morning, I bowed in prayer and begged that God would open my eyes to see something new. In that instant, my prayer was answered! Through this lens I suddenly saw my children through different eyes, but most significantly I saw the orphan through different eyes.
An orphan, in losing parents, has lost everything… A name; an identity; stability; a provider; a protector; a future… But most devastating of all- they have been cut off from the faith God ordained a family should pass down from generation to generation.
In light of this biblical mandate, nothing could be as devastating a loss as a child left an orphan. Is it any wonder heaven cries out in defense of the orphans among us and declares that true religion demands that we look after them in their distress?
If procreation is the first order of our faith, then adoption is the second! As a Gentile, I was born into the family of faith through adoption. I need not grow up void of the hope I now possess. There cannot possibly be a greater love extended to the very least of the least than in the precious gift of adoption! God, in His love, modeled this blessing most perfectly in adopting you and me as His children in the faith.
I am embarrassed to admit that I misunderstood this work of God when we began our adoption journey over 12 years ago. When a checklist was set before me as to my desires for a future daughter, I checked only “healthy” and as young as possible. Kate was both. A healthy 12-month old little girl… straight out of my dreams. She was perfect, and perfect is what I was looking for.
I did not know then what I know now. God was doing an unseen work in my heart, gently teaching me what it would mean to more willingly die to myself and my dreams in order to accomplish a deeper work of faith, not only in my life, but in the life of my adopted daughters as well. He was preparing me step by step for the journey planned for our family. With each adoption, He opened my arms wider and wider for children with greater and greater needs. Needs I would not have dared consider for that checklist only years earlier. The Lord was ultimately teaching me the infinite value of every living soul, created in His image and passing on to me His desire to bring hope to the least of the least.
Today, as I looked upon that sculpture standing in a most magnificent sanctuary, I saw God’s call on my life more clearly than ever before. I saw especially the faces of my precious daughters, Abby and Rebekah, both born with Down Syndrome and home from China for a relatively short time.
They begin every morning with the singing of the Shema on the way to school. The sound of the shofar calling them to worship thrills them! Then, together, they repeat the very words Grandmother Anna taught her daughter, Mary, to eventually recite it in unison with her son, Jesus Christ and all those who would follow Him. How blessed to hear their eager voices as they join the chorus of saints throughout all time…
“Shema Israel! Hear, Oh Israel. The Lord our God. The Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Amen”
My daughters are orphans no more. Never is this more beautifully displayed than as they embrace the faith that has become their own only through the blessed gift of adoption. May God be glorified as hope fills our home in the passing down of faith from our generation to the next and to all that are to come.
|This sanctuary was not only beautiful, but an amazing place to sing together! Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!