“Until the tender-throated babe is born,
how should the milk for it flow from the mother’s breast?
Go, run across these hills and dales,
so that you may become thirsty and hunted by heat;
then, from the thundering cloud,
you will hear the voice of the water of the stream[.]”
- Rumi, Masnavi III
After the birth of Jesus, Mary observes a time of separation to bond with the baby and respect the ancient purity codes while her body recovers from the birth. Traditionally, this period lasted for forty days after the birth, and was brought to an end with the presentation of the child in the Temple as well as a sacrifice to God in thanksgiving and dedication. Helminski links these forty days to stories in the scriptures of all three Abrahamic faiths as well as the time required for the development of a fetal heartbeat.
In the Christian tradition, the Feast of the Presentation is observed on February 2nd, where we light candles in honour of the prophetic proclamation that Jesus would be a “light to enlighten the nations.” Luke 2:22-40 tells the story of Simeon and the prophet Anna meeting the Holy Family in the Temple. Simeon gives Mary joyful and rather ominous news:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
In Muslim tradition, the story is a bit different. The Quran possibly echoes a short proclamation in the Syriac Infancy Gospel, possibly composed in the 6th or 7th century. In Surah 19, Mary returns to her people “in time,” carrying the baby. Those who see her believe that Jesus is an illegitimate child, and say, “O Mary, you have come to us with something amazing! O descendent of the prophet Aaron, your father was not an evil man nor was your mother unchaste.” (19:27-28)
Mary says nothing, for the angel who brought her water and dates in the desert has instructed her to remain silent. Instead, she points to the baby. The people are baffled until he speaks:
“I am a servant of God. [God] has given me the Book and made me a prophet, ad made me blessed wherever I may be, and [God] has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live, and has made me kind toward my mother. And [God] has made me neither arrogant nor bereft of grace. And so peace is upon me the day I was born, and the day I shall die, and the day upon which I will be resurrected to life once again.” (19:30-33)
“When God allows Jesus to speak, he manifests [Mary’s] spiritual power as well as his own. It was through Mary’s profound fortitude and trust in God that the voice of Jesus opened, in support of them both, to uphold Truth. …With the speech of this holy infant, came the arrival of justice through Mary’s surrender and love, God’s Love.”
This story, like that of Simeon and Anna, is a story of unexpected and powerful truth-telling, a foretelling of the remarkable life that Mary’s son would lead.
in her presence,
that she heard
and was still –
to Your Will,
and, yet, her own
You gifted her
to stand strong
before the people
in her arms.”