Abba, please explain it to me again.” The young girl looked at her father with imploring eyes.
“The prophet Jeremiah says that those who glory must glory in that they yada’ Yahweh—not in their wealth or their might [Jer. 9:23, 24, HCSB].1 Hosea says that we must press on to yada’ the Lord, and that He will come to us as surely as the “spring showers” [Hosea 6:3, HCSB]. This is what I want more than all things, Abba. How do I come to yada’ Yahweh?”
The father looked at his daughter tenderly. He sent his sons to the yeshiva, where they were taught by the rabbis. How he wished they had half the passion for the Torah that his daughter had.2 “ Yada’ means to know something or someone by experience, Mary. But even more, yada’ speaks to the promise—the covenant—between each of us and our Maker. Yahweh made a covenant with Abraham based on the relationship they shared. Abraham obeyed when God called him, and as they journeyed together, they became good friends. To Abraham was given the privilege to yada’ Yahweh.”
Mary thought about her father’s words as she built up the fire and kneaded bread that evening. Abraham did not understand where he was going, she thought, yet he obeyed and grew to truly yada’ Yahweh. How can I, too, follow like that? “I do not know how to yada’ You, King of the universe,” she whispered, “but You know this is truly the desire of my heart.”
* * *
Early the next morning Mary slipped out to walk in the fields outside of town where she frequently went to pray. “Oh, my Yahweh,” she breathed. “Help me. I willingly choose to surrender all that I am and be Your very slave, my Lord. I just want to understand how to truly yada’ You.”
When she opened her eyes, she realized she was not alone and abruptly stood to her feet, feeling embarrassed, unsure of what the other morning wanderer had heard.
“Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you.” What a strange greeting, Mary thought as she squinted into the gray light. Who is this stranger?
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”3
A barrage of thoughts crashed through Mary’s head. She fell again to her knees, looking desperately at the man who could only be a messenger from Yahweh. But what was he talking about? She was engaged to be married, but the wedding was still many weeks away. She had so many questions she did not know where to begin. “How can this be,” she stammered, “since I have not been intimate with a man?”
The stranger looked her directly in the eyes and calmly explained. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary barely heard the rest as he continued. He said that the Holy Spirit will come upon me? The power of the Most High will overshadow me? Oh, Lord Yahweh, I prayed for yada’ . . . I told You I would be Your slave, but this is more than I can understand. Quietly words from the prophet Isaiah flowed clearly into Mary’s mind. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14, HCSB).
“The virgin. Immanuel,” Mary whispered. “God with us.” Her eyes suddenly widened in revelation. “The Messiah! He will be with us. Yahweh Himself is coming to teach us the meaning of yada’.” With tears cascading down her cheeks, Mary repeated to the holy messenger what she had told Yahweh only minutes before. “I am the Lord’s slave. May it be done to me according to your word.” Suddenly she was alone, watching the sunrise as she knelt in the dew-soaked meadow.
* * *
As Mary walked back to the village, her head and heart were crowded with thoughts and emotions. Would anyone believe her? What would her parents say? What would Joseph do? Would they stone her when they found out she was with child? But the messenger had promised the Child would be Immanuel! God with us! Like Abraham, who knew not where he was going, she too was on an unfamiliar path, but she also must obey.
And then she remembered Elizabeth. The messenger had said that Elizabeth, too, was with child. One pregnancy was as unbelievable as the other— but Elizabeth was an old and wise woman. She would listen without judgment. She would help Mary think this through.
When Mary arrived back home, her parents thought it strange when she suddenly insisted that she had to leave immediately to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
No objections would deter their determined young daughter, so they sent her and an escort to the Judean hill country with their blessing. When Mary burst through the door unannounced, it seemed that Elizabeth had been waiting for her. With a smile brighter than the noonday sun, Elizabeth reached out her arms and said, “You are the most blessed of women, and your child will be blessed! How could this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For you see, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me!”
Mary collapsed into Elizabeth’s ample arms and sobbed. Elizabeth knew. Mary didn’t have to repeat the long speech she had rehearsed all the way from Galilee to Judah. The relief was like the breaking of a dam, and the older woman just held the young girl and allowed her to release all that had been closeted inside her. When Mary finally raised her head, though her face was wet with tears, there was an expression in her eyes that could be described only as the purest joy.
Dipping back into her memory of the psalms that she had studied with Abba, Mary pieced together a song of praise that flowed straight from her heart: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, because He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for me” “just as He spoke to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever.”
After three months of visiting with her gray-haired cousin, Mary ’s waist was noticeably enlarged under her flowing robe, and Elizabeth was great with child. The two women had daily shared the miraculous experiences of their God-ordained pregnancies along with the homespun responsibilities of daily living, but Mary knew that it was time to go home. It was time to share her story with her family and Joseph.
* * *
As she headed home to Galilee, she thought of the verses from the psalms again and the promise God had made to Abraham and his children. Abraham, the friend of God. Abraham, who had received the covenant. Abraham, who had experienced what it was like to yada’ Yahweh. All the way home she prayed to have the faith of the famed patriarch.
“Abba,” Mary asked after the initial greetings had been exchanged upon her arrival home, “will you walk with me out in the field before sunset?” Looking at her quizzically, Mary’s father pulled on his outer garment and opened the outside door. The two walked in silence, leaving the village behind—both absorbed in their own thoughts, and wondering what the other was thinking.
Mary had practiced her words carefully, but in her anxiety the story just tumbled out with tears of both anguish and joy. “Abba, I prayed to experience yada’, and Yahweh has answered. The child I carry will bring the relationship of yada’ to all of us in a way far above and beyond what I ever could have imagined.” Her father was silent for what seemed like an eternity, and his face was full of shadows in the setting sun. Mary could not guess what he was thinking. When he finally turned to her and spoke, she saw that his tender eyes were filled with tears.
“Yes, my daughter. At last the Messiah has come. And the King of the universe has chosen you to carry Him and nurture Him. You are called to mother the One who will save Israel. Like that of Abraham, I fear that yours will not be an easy journey. But Mary, my child, Yahweh has answered your prayers. You will indeed have the blessing to yada’ Yahweh as no one has ever done before. And as no one—ever—will do again.”
1 Texts credited to HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.
2 Mary clearly had a good mastery of Scripture to be the instructor of the Boy Jesus. “As a little child He [Jesus] was daily at His mother’s knee taught from the scrolls of the prophets” (Ellen G. White, Education [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903], p. 185).
3 This story refers to passages from Luke 1:24-56, HCSB.
Isolation. After weeks of social distancing, quarantine, and sheltering in place, the word “isolation” may sound like the very last thing you’ll ever want to experience again. Ever. Extroverts have been beside themselves from “day one” of this totally unfamiliar state called “isolation,” and even introverts have begun longing for eye-to-eye contact with something other than a computer screen. And all those people who had been talking about “living off the grid” went quiet, seeming to have lost most of their audience.
The Bible often speaks of seeking one-on-one time with God, and Jesus frequently exited the frenetic pace of ministry to spend time alone communing with His Father. Jesus invited His disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Spending weeks in quarantine does not necessarily mean that we have been increasing our time alone with God—or that we came out of it feeling particularly “rested.” “Isolation” seems to speak more about whom we don’t see than whom we actually do see.
Have you ever considered a planned time of “isolation” with God—one that you chose rather than one mandated by government? For those who have never journeyed alone, such an adventure sounds curious at best and dangerous at worst. For the past 10 years, however, such a trip has become a focal point in my life—a retreat with Jesus that has become the very center of who I am and how I view the world. During that week I have no responsibilities and no schedule—and as an extra blessing, little cell phone reception!
When I head home again, I have cleared up questions, worked through anger, and spent an amazing amount of time with the One who loves me most. I come back feeling “still” inside, secure in the work He has given me to do, and sure of who He is and His limitless love for me.
If anticipation is half of the joy, then the joy of this time of escape begins at Christmas each year when my husband hands me my gift. I smile knowingly, but he always comes up with a creative way to express the this-coupon-good-for-one-week-in-Maine idea. He repeats his yearly quip that this is the perfect gift because he doesn’t have to enter a mall, it is always the right color and size, and he doesn’t have to worry about me returning it! (And every year I still laugh!)
From that moment I begin counting the days until I pack up and head north. Right about the time spring graduations are over, I am on the road!
My days in Maine are like no other. I wake up long before sunrise, so I can hike to my favorite rock and watch the first drop of the red sun peek over the sea. It is there in those early-morning hours that I most feel Jesus’ presence. There is something about experiencing the magnificence of sunrise alone with Him that confirms who He is as Creator and God of heaven’s armies. I listen to music that is sequestered in a playlist for this week alone—music that expresses His splendor and His intimate presence. I sing. I journal. I photograph. I walk along the massive rock admiring the view and talking to Him.
And as the sun rises higher, dispelling the sacred morning ambiance, I scramble down from my rock and return to my room. There I prepare simple meals, indulge in deep, uninterrupted Bible study, write thoughts and prayers on paper, and take out brushes and paint to share a tiny bit in what it feels like to create.
But it is the outdoors that is always calling me, and it is not long before I am pulling on my hiking shoes once again and disappearing down pristine trails of pines or hopping rocks along the coast. The tourist season in Maine doesn’t begin until July, so as I walk the empty trails, I just talk to Jesus out loud.
Before you go, think things through to assure yourself the best experience possible.
As I look back, it seems there is always something specific God is trying to teach me on our rendezvous together. One year, I had to struggle with my own heart, wrestling to release my adult son to the Father’s superior parenting. Another year, I felt hushed as He told me to slow down and look closely, not missing the details around me. Last spring, I, like Moses, asked Him to show me His glory—and I understood the copious nature of God in a whole new way.
Sometimes we discuss problems in my church. Sometimes we discuss problems in my family. Most of the time we discuss problems in my heart—and how I struggle to give them over to Him. It usually takes me two or three days to finally get quiet enough inside to slow my normal racing thoughts and actually listen, but during those last few days I feel as close to heaven as I imagine I will ever feel on earth.
Have you had enough of “isolation,” but need something that can fill up whatever it is that feels so empty inside you? It could be Jesus calling you a little closer and wanting you all to Himself for a while. But before you go, think things through to assure yourself the best experience possible.
Talk to Jesus about it. If this is a “getaway” for the two of you, give Him some weigh-in on the plans. He knows a great deal about timing and weather and other factors that simply are not available to you. Ask Him if there is something special the two of you need to talk about while you are alone together.
Choose a quiet place away from normal vacation chaos. Each of us has different preferences regarding locale, and you want to choose somewhere that feels like “a happy place,” but keeps the distractions at an absolute minimum. If you are going to a place you have never been before, research the site carefully so you have accurate expectations. Remember that your personal safety is always a primary consideration.
Research supports the idea that it takes two to three days to really break from your normal thought patterns, so plan on being gone at least five or six days.
Pack comfortable clothing, appropriate footwear, and any necessities you will need. Shopping is not the focus of this trip, so try to plan ahead so you won’t have that distraction.
Include in your packing the things that foster peace in your heart: Bibles, books, journals, pens, art supplies, music, instruments, binoculars, camera. This is your time to indulge in all the I-don’t-have-time-for-that activities. Before you leave, make a plan about screens and technology, leaving behind what is unnecessary so that you can truly “be still and know that [He is] God” (Ps. 46:10). Let your friends and family know when you will be available for them to check on you—but turn off your phone at other times.
Be patient with yourself as you learn to be quiet. We have very little in our culture that fosters this type of experience, and it takes some concentration and determination to stop “doing” and just “be.” Practice being constantly in God’s presence—and never let yourself entertain the idea that you are alone.
During the time I am not in Maine, I often go there in my mind. When I cannot sleep, I lie in bed talking to Jesus and revisiting the refuge we share. I close my eyes and retrace the familiar paths, reliving what it feels like to walk them again.
Stumbling down the rugged path, I smile at the vast blue sea stretching out to my left. I always catch my breath when I round the bend and see the mammoth rock in the distance, lying close to the rocky shoreline like an enormous beached manatee. Wild cherry blossoms scatter like snow in the ocean breeze, and all colors of brave spring wildflowers find ways to grow in the unlikeliest places. I weave my way between the rocks until I get to the base of the giant mountain I call “my rock.” Centering my loaded backpack, I start the familiar 75-foot climb to the top. Balancing on the narrow ridge of
rock, I jump up a boulder to a diagonal slide of limestone that leads to a small flat area where some scraggly grass dares to grow. Getting to the final steep ascent, wedged in a spiny crevice, I heave myself up the last 20 feet to the top. Golden lichen covers the rolling waves of stone, and I jump from rock to rock until I stand at the highest point. My backpack falls to the ground as I face the rising sun and tears roll down my cheeks.
Once again, I stand in His presence. My heart is at home.
Kandace Zollman is associate pastor for nurture at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in suburban Washington, D.C.