Guest author: Liz Budd Ellmann, MDiv
“The grandmother of God?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Saint Ann is considered the grandmother of God—the mother of Mary.” There was a pause on the telephone, and it was as if my heart had stopped. Something deep and visceral was moving inside of me at these words.
In the middle of our conversation—just after that pause—it felt as though this new SDI member was sitting just across from me, filling me in about her recent experiences in prayer. Even though we were thousands of miles apart, living in different countries, we experienced deep connection.
Together we imagined what the grandmother of Jesus might have been like: a devout Jewish mother, loving and compassionate, patient, and grateful for God’s gift of Mary. I particularly liked learning that Saint Ann is considered to be a legend, an unverifiable grandmother. The real grandmother of Jesus is a mystery.
Something opened up for me during our conversation. With excitement, I now feel a deeper generational connection with my faith and with all spiritual traditions. Certainly, in theology school and growing up I studied sacred scriptures describing the genealogy of Moses, King David, and the tree of Jesse. Yet, I don’t remember my heart ever being grabbed (or seized) by those long lists of lineage. My heart, however, was taken deeply by the grandmother of God.
Now I am curious to learn more about Buddha’s grandmother, Moses’s grandmother, and Mohammad’s grandmother. I did not find much by searching the Internet. This is the kind of discovery and learning that is best made through prayer, contemplation, and meeting with my spiritual director. In this sacred season, I will be praying with these amazing, hidden women who created the ultimate and definitive environment where agapé love would be born and eternally flourish. The fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God."
This is my hope for spiritual companionship: to be “Grandmothers of God.” Spiritual direction is the hidden way, the invisible way that prepares people to become fully alive in an increasingly deeper transformative relationship with God beyond all names.
Recently I witnessed my mother-in-law with her two teenage grandsons when they returned from seeing the new film, Life of Pi. She wanted to hear all about it. They started to tell the tale of Pi, an Indian teenager stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger. As they told the story they sometimes missed critical details that made the exact story hard to follow. But their grandmother was not listening to understand the details of the movie. She was listening for how her grandsons were telling their stories. She created space for them to struggle with the myriad layers in Life of Pi. She was fully attentive as they pulled back the layers in their own revelations. No judgment. Patient encouragement. Pure love.
I wonder how the grandmother of Jesus listened to him when he was a teenager.
What grabs your heart as you enter this sacred season of Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, and winter solstice? Who are the extraordinary, ordinary messengers being sent to help you grow closer to God?