I acknowledge this may be a weird thing to read from a white dude but I thought of it, and I liked it, so I wrote about it. It comes from a boy raised by feminists, with heart full of appreciation for Lizzo, Mary, and others like them.
This is the time of year when the Biblical character of Mary, mother of Jesus, gets the most play. We remember how the angel Gabriel came to her and announced to her that she would conceive and bear a Son called Emmanuel (which means God with us).
What do you think Mary did the moment after the Annunciation? After the angel left the room, what did Mary do next? Usually she’s pictured with a look of shock (understandable) but later on, after she shares her story with Elizabeth, her elderly (also pregnant) cousin, she can’t help herself. She starts to sing.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.Mary, Luke 1
This song, the Magnificat, it’s one of the New Testament’s greatest hits. It has been set to countless tunes, in myriad languages, and every day, at the time of Evening Prayer it’s sung by the faithful around the world. As timezone after timezone is cast in vesper light, Mary’s song goes out.
In one sense, the Magnificat is the first proclamation of the Gospel. She was the first to know and to comprehend the gravity of the situation, and despite what the likes of Michael McDonald and the Pentatonix sing to you in Kohl’s, Mary actually did know what was going on, and she was the first person to proclaim it. Mary saw that this was the first trimester of the salvation of the world, particularly in social-political terms!
Mary announces, with prophetic fervor, that this is the turning of an age and those who have lorded power over her, her people, and people like her, are soon to meet their end. This is the song of a revolutionary who is proclaiming not just that the revolution has begun but that its victory is assured.
Despite this, artists often paint or compose this hashtag-movement-worthy #MagnificatMoment in tones far too meek and mild for the subject matter. There are notable exceptions (thanks Bach) but for the most part, painted or performed, the Magnificat is often inadvertently domesticated.
Mary’s Magnificat is the music of a free woman, whose freedom is so completely promised to her that she can’t help but break into song. This is a liberation anthem spontaneously sung by a woman who, though still under oppression, has full confidence that the Mighty One has done great things for her, and generations shall from now on call her blessed. That kind of confidence, that’s some Lizzo-Level shit. i mean stuff… sorry Mom. [Drop the beat]
I do my hair toss
Check my nails
Baby how you feelin’?
Feeling good as hell!“Good as Hell” by Lizzo
When I picture a modern Mary, singing a modern Magnificat, it’s “Good as Hell” Lizzo I see. Like Lizzo, Mary (on behalf of oppressed women like her everywhere) is “tired of the bullshit,” ready to dry her eyes, and walk her “fine ass out the door” on the old reality and into the Gospel reality which she has discovered in her own body.
In a recent interview, Lizzo reported “When I’m looking at my body and I’m shaming every little thing about it, I have to look at all of those things that I’m shaming, and I have to find love in those things. And I think that is why I’m able to call myself fat… I think it’s because I learned to actually look all of my insecurities in the face, call them by their name, and fall in love with them.”
The good news of the Magnificat is that God has seen what the world calls inferior, has called it by name, and has loved it to new life. For everyone who has been under the dehumanizing gaze of the principalities and powers of this world, Mary’s song is the cathartic chorus of liberating love even in the face of world-conditioned self-conscious self-loathing.
Look, I get it. I’m a cisgender white male Virginian. Mary’s song is not my song. Nevertheless, it is a song the power of which has always moved me, even second hand, and nowhere more than in the faith and worship practice of Black women.
From footage of pre-march civil rights prayer meetings, to my High School Gospel choir, to the urban mission church I interned with which was spiritually and physically held together by Black women, I’ve seen Mary’s Gospel lead mothers of the church from fatigue and defeat to Lizzo-level Magnificat moments over the course of one worship service.
I’ve seen Mary’s song come alive in the lives of Black Christian women. Theirs are the lives and bodies, like Lizzo and others like her, who have discovered a depth of love that is for them, rightfully theirs here and now. You can hear it in Black women’s voices, and see it in their bodies as they sing and sway their way back to this Reality.
It’s Mary’s song, and it has never been silenced. Its liturgical descendants continue to transport the faithful from the dark night of the soul to blessed assurance, from “sick and tired as hell” to “good as hell” Sunday after Sunday because of what the Lord has done.
I guess what I’m saying is that Lizzo’s joy reminds me of the Gospel.
The “Good News of great joy for all people” that was nurtured in Mary’s womb, born in Mary’s body, and in the body of her Son, it really is for all. If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to witness Lizzo’s joy, and the joy resounding in the faith of Black Women. Whether you’re one of the proud and powerful in need of emptying or the lowly and left out in need of lifting up, the joy Mary and Lizzo both have, it is for you too. Even now.
You’ll know it when it becomes yours. You won’t be able to stop yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll even do your hair toss, check your nails. You probably will. No matter who you are, when it hits you, the Gospel makes you feel good as hell.