Canticle: Luke 1:46-55.
This is the Song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat, one of those passages which gets used and used, especially because it is a hymn and has a significant place in a number of liturgies. It’s been set to music by just about everyone who’s anyone in church music. The first line is the basis of a Taize chant.
Lesson 2: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.
My first thought on reading this is: gosh, this is a very Quakerly sounding passage from Paul, whose letters are often the proof-texts for some of the parts of Christianity I like least. This isn’t really a surprise – Fox must have been familiar with all these letters, and chose to, as Paul instructs that we should, “hold fast what is good [and] abstain from every form of evil”. The instruction to “test everything” is a sound Quaker approach to prophecy, and over the years we’ve built it up into pretty much a method. We might sometimes forget to apply it, or choose not to use the formal methods (this blog, for example, has turned into a significant amount of writing and has attracted some attention, but it was never tested by a Quaker group; there’s me, and I ask God, and sometimes God tells me, and sometimes the answer I get is “your blog, your rules”) but we do have a method; for other things, I have used a full Meeting for Clearness process or a family version of it where discussion and discernment are interlocked. At the centre of the method is the idea that by tuning in several pairs of ears, and by listening over a period of time, we can become clearer about the constancy and coherency of the call we hear from God.
Paul (who was probably the actual author of this letter or most of it, although a few scholars have suggested otherwise) also tells the church in Thessalonica: “do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying” – which suggests that some people were trying to do just those things, but also reaffirms their importance to the kind of Christian life Paul wants to encourage. We need to test what we receive, because some of it might be created by our own egos or desires, but just as much we need to remain open to the possibility that real guidance will be given to us.
Most of us will not be called to a service as famous as Mary’s – who says in her Song that “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” – but that doesn’t mean that God, “regard[ing] the low estate of God’s handmaiden”, won’t also do “great things” for us and offer us great opportunities for service. I’m really relating to this at the moment, and to the call to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances” because I have just been offered a significant piece of support for a ministry I’ve been considering for a while. Less cryptic blog post about this to follow soon!