by the Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
I’ve had a couple of visitors staying with me for the start of Advent. I met them at a hotel near Crewe. I’d been there to give a guest lecture to around 80 women and men, candidates studying part time for ordination, or as Readers, with the All Saints Training Centre. The pair I picked up needed somewhere to stay just until the middle of the week. After that one of the students had space for them for the next few nights. I was informed that they had no special dietary needs, and would be happy for me to take them along to anything I was attending that felt appropriate. If I add that one of them was quite visibly well on in pregnancy, that they are both about 8 inches high, and fashioned from some sort of unglazed material you may guess that these were no normal guests.
What I’ve been doing is taking part in the Advent tradition known as ‘Posada‘. It has become quite popular in many schools in recent years. The central ritual is that figures of Mary and Joseph are passed on each day from one person to the next, symbolising the journey towards Bethlehem. In an age of social media, it’s no problem to circulate photographs of the couple, so that others can join in the journey. It also brings a clear reminder of what this season is about into homes that may otherwise be decorated with entirely secular symbols.
It was unusual to have such an obviously expectant mother-to-be.
Most Posada couples are simply extracted from nativity sets, and only feature Mary after the birth of her son, her gaze directed to the one she has brought into the world. As the infant is not part of the Posada journey, the connection to the child is quite lost.
Being accompanied through my round of engagements always helps me look at what I do in a fresh light. Can I explain what I’m up to and why to my observer? Do my words and actions make any sense from where they are sitting?
Most often, I’m being shadowed by a talented cleric who has been invited to spend time discerning whether they have any sort of call to being a bishop. I can safely assume a level of understanding of Anglican lore and Church of England culture. But this couple were very different.
What does the life of a 21st century diocesan bishop look like to a nine months pregnant young woman and her partner? What does it say to her about the world into which her child is so soon to be born?
Posada will help me ponder on those questions. I’d expected that.
But what has surprised me is how this “Mary with the bump” has helped me glimpse into her world. Her hands are placed on her stomach, tenderly caressing the child within her. The very posture of her body gives a sense of how powerful is her expectation of his arrival. She longs to hold him in her arms and love him. And I’ve found myself caught up into that anticipation and excitement too.
I long for his coming even as she does. And now there’s not long to wait!