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The quintessential prayer called “the Hail Mary” goes like this: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen.” But you probably already knew that. What you maybe didn’t know — what I didn’t know until recently, even though I’ve prayed that prayer about a million times in my life (lots of rosaries…lots and lots of rosaries) — is that it doesn’t really start out the way you think it does.

The words in the first half of the prayer come directly from the New Testament, from Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who greets Mary when Mary comes to visit her. Both are pregnant. In fact, Elizabeth’s baby (known in future as John the Baptist) “leaps in her womb” when Elizabeth catches sight of Mary. It’s all very sweet. As it’s a greeting, it’s natural to assume that by “hail,” Elizabeth means, “hello” — a sort of “hey there, girl! You are marvelous!” But guess what? “Hail” doesn’t mean that.

In this sense, “hail” means “rejoice”: As in, “You are marvelous! Smile! Be glad!” Certainly, Mary had much to rejoice about: She was carrying the savior of the world in her womb. On the other hand…she was an unmarried teenager who was widely thought to have cheated on her fiancée and gotten knocked up. So…not so much. What did it mean to her to have her cousin greet her this way?

And what would it mean if we greeted each other that way? “Rejoice, co-worker!” “Rejoice, postal carrier!” Such a greeting would garner some odd looks, to be sure. But wouldn’t it also serve as a nice reminder that, despite our burdens, we all have something to rejoice about?

Maybe that something is just the fact that we have a new day in front of us, ripe with possibilities. Or maybe we should rejoice because, well, here we are, in a great country, with a job, with a family, with whatever it is we have. And we all have something. Even when the world feels as if it’s turned against us, even when we are at our most bereft, we have the love of God. A God that does not, by the way, have to love us, but does so anyway. Hailing each other in this way would serve as a nice knock in the teeth to remember our blessings…things we so often classify as simply what is due us, and not so very special after all.

So my word of wisdom to you today is “hail.” Hail, dear readers. Rejoice in whatever it is that makes you you. Because you are marvelous, to God and to me.



I entered the garden, my head stuffed with thoughts. (I’m so busy, but I’m not making enough money. When will my “next big thing” arrive? Am I on the wrong path?) It was my husband’s idea, getting year-round passes to our city’s botanical gardens. “We’ll always have something to do on the weekend,” he said. Now (What on earth prompted me to say what I said to our pastor last night? Do I need to bring dessert to the barbecue tonight?) we were there, and my head just would not shut up. Words clanged inside my brain. (Whatwherewhowhenwhatififnotthenwhynot?)

 But then something funny happened. God took over. He hit me with smells and textures and green, leafy things. Tea roses in yellow, pink and peach. Strawberry-and-cream pansies. Phlox and flares, lupins and live-4-evers. Orange poppies blooming big as my outstretched hand. Thyme, lavender, lemon verbena. I was knocked out flat.

And suddenly, all I could hear was the wind and the birds and my mind crooning rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice! Again I say rejoice!

 I takes a lot to shut off my brain. Fortunately for me, God knew where to send me to make it happen.

“When I look at the galaxies on a clear night – when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged…. I rejoice that I am a part of it.”

Madeleine L’Engle


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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