At the wedding feast in Cana, Mary notices that the wine has run out. The fact that she notices this, is in itself somewhat amazing. Amid the hustle and bustle of all those guests, the hum of steady conversation, the loud laughter, and the music and dancing, Mary notices this hidden detail: the wine supply is depleted. In her first century Jewish culture, such a situation bordered on the tragic. It meant that this festive celebration, with its traditional days of feasting, would be brought to an abrupt end—and an embarrassing end for the young couple and their families.
What does Mary do? She seeks out Jesus. Again, even this task wasn’t as simple as it sounds. For the guests would have been divided into two distinct groups: the men on one side and the women on the other. Mary would have to navigate to the other side of the crowd to find her son among all the other men. But she does this and soon she spots him—perhaps laughing with a few friends or even dancing. I see him a little surprised when he sees her. He stops immediately and goes toward her. Now what? he wonders. Is something wrong? What could have made her seek him among the men—in the middle of a party? Mary takes Jesus aside and speaks to him softly. He bends down his head to hers to hear her above all the noise.
And Mary says, “They have no wine.”
Her words are a simple statement of fact, a succinct summary of the situation. She doesn’t go into a lengthy explanation as to how this could have happened and who might be to blame. Nor does she need to tell him what an embarrassment this is for the families. He would know that. She doesn’t tell him how powerless she feels or how bad she feels for the two families. Her coming to him is ample evidence of both. And Mary doesn’t even tell Jesus what he should do. Even when he says to her, “My hour has no yet come,” she knew him well enough and trusted him enough to say to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
And we all know what happens next. The water is changed into wine. Or, as the poet Alexander Pope wrote so beautifully, “The conscious water saw its Master and blushed.”
In her book, More Hidden Women of the Gospels, Kathy Coffey writes that, in this story, “Mary also models the stance of prayer. Many words are not necessary; God understands the need.” There are times, I believe, where a simple statement of fact can be a very good prayer: “Mom’s sick… Our school is struggling… So many refugees… He needs a job… It’s hard for me to trust you, Jesus…” Sometimes even one word can be our prayer. These past weeks I’ve sometimes prayed with only one or two words: “Covid… Afghanistan… planet earth… Ida… Haiti… our children… our leaders…” Or I pronounce a single person’s name. Then I just sit with the word for a few moments, sometimes letting my heart ache, or eventually listening for what God may be calling me to do. Perhaps there’s something concrete I can do. Or maybe God might be calling me to greater trust, patience, awareness, love.
Kathy Coffey offers this suggestion: “Perhaps some complex dilemma you face now awaits resolution—maybe needing you to invite God, through prayer, to enter in. Try phrasing the situation in about five words, as Mary did for Jesus.”
At times when we pray, we might pour out our thoughts and feelings in an avalanche of words. And that’s fine too. But at other times, our prayer can be more like Mary’s “They have no wine.” And sometimes our prayer may even be wordless as we sit in God’s presence… in pain… in wonder… in grief… in fear… in joy… in thanksgiving.
Do you ever pray with few words? If so, how do you feel praying this way?
Have you experienced wordless prayer? If so, when and why does this kind of prayer arise in you?
Mary had to seek Jesus amid the crowd and the din. Does anything ever “crowd your life” or make so much “noise” that you find it difficult to find Jesus? If so, what do you do about this?
Our prayer today can be this beautiful video by Venture Worship. The song is called “New Wine.” As we go about our daily activities, perhaps our mantra can be the closing line: “Jesus, bring new wine out of me.”
As usual, I invite you to share your thoughts and comments below. We all like to hear what our readers are thinking and feeling.