Summary: Mary and Elizabeth offer us some insights into the disciplines and practices of the interior life.
1. The first is Prayer--
e.g. A brother said to Abba Anthony (Anthony of Egypt), "Pray for me." The old man [Anthony] said to him, "I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God." (Ward 1975,3)
And one of the Desert Mothers, Amma Syncletia, considered prayer to be like a mother bird sitting on the eggs in her nest, crucial even when "no measurable progress can be noted."
Staying prayerful in Advent is important as we can cite the example from the German tradition about the “Advent Teufel”—the “Advent Devil”—whose assigned task is to keep people so busy, so distracted, and so over-extended during the four weeks leading up to Christmas that they completely lose sight of the meaning and ultimate purpose of the Season of Advent and of Christmas Day.
2.Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was also a biblical instance of spiritual direction and mentoring.
Regarding the value of direction, in the Prologue to the Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross asks why some people do not advance in spirituality. He answers: “Sometimes they misunderstand themselves and are without suitable and alert directors who will show them the way to the summit.”
It is Elizabeth’s attentive listening to Mary’s words of greeting that sets off the unborn John the Baptist’s joyful leap, and Elizabeth herself utters a blessing that underlines the close connection between faith and attention to God’s word.
As a spiritual director, Robert Marsh invites the directee to focus on one pattern or issue that emerges from the person’s life over the last month and to revisit a particular instance of that. From there the person may be able to bring into the present an unnoticed encounter with God. The director may then be able to see which spirit is at work (‘good’ or ‘bad’) and make this explicit to the directee as part of learning to discern for him or herself.
The session takes the person from remembering an encounter with God from the past several weeks to meeting God again here and now.
With Mary and Elizabeth, this was “mother to mother” or “woman to woman” mentoring.
Both were experiencing key life transitions. Their shared experience of pregnancy extends the bonds of kinship between them and provides sustenance, strength and support to both, breaking the isolation that could bar each of them from entering into the deepest possible understanding of themselves and of the course of their lives.
What is God doing in your life? Where is God active in your life?
Spiritual direction and mentoring is even more important in these chaotic times. e.g. The Archangel Gabriel told Mary to go mentor and spend time helping Elizabeth. And Elizabeth is happy to see her.
In fact, the desire for direction is the mark of the Good Spirit.
St. Ignatius Loyola tells us that the devil loves secrecy (like a false lover for couples in courtship), since he can easily have his way with one who is not open to a good director. Similarly, John tells us in the Dark Night that the desire to submit to a spiritual guide is a sign of a submissive, obedient spirit.
So, what is mentoring? Jake Kircher defines it as when someone who has “been there, done that” takes someone who is “getting there, doing that” under their wings.
Mentoring isn’t as much about age as it is about experience. Elizabeth was much older than Mary, but Mary had the experience with a relationship with God that Elizabeth didn’t have yet.
Mary remained with Elizabeth three months which indicates the daily give-and-take of what transpired between them and suggests that the relationship between mentor and protégé is one that develops patiently, taking its time as a matter of accompaniment, not as a single simple intervention.
Research suggests that mentor relationships often prove beneficial to all parties involved. Those who are mentored often report more rapid promotion, higher salaries, greater awareness of their organization’s structure and politics, and higher ratings of both career and life satisfaction that those who are not mentored (Bolton, 1980; Jacobi, 1991; Kanter, 1979; Kram, 1985; Roche, 1979; Zey, 1991).
Mentoring appears to create a fundamental transformation in the way protégés perceive themselves, their careers, and their relationship to and value within the organization (Zey, 1991). Mentoring is also markedly important for women and minority group members who typically have had less access to mentoring (Johnston, 1987; Shea, 1994). Underrepresented group members may effectively utilize mentoring as a means of gaining advantages equivalent to those traditionally afforded to junior members of the majority group.
3. Elizabeth’s words to Mary, ‘Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”