Breaking through to the next level often requires unorthodox thinking, and praxis. The new thing rarely comes while you continually do the same thing over and over again, that failed in the past.
Take the 1977 case of neurologist Dr. Sachs, who after exhausting every AMA approved remedy for his patient Mary Ann, decided to go totally outside the box! His ultimate prescription: read a short story, by H. G. Wells! You see, Mary Ann, had an unusual problem. At the ripe old age of 88, she began to hear things. Not just voices, but songs! It came on suddenly. Mary Ann woke up in the middle of the night, the first time. She asked others in the Nursing Home why they weren’t disturbed by the music? Can’t you hear her beautiful clear voice?! But they just gave her a funny look, with raised eye-brows. So Mary Ann went to the doctor, expecting to be told that she was going crazy. But the doctor said, ‘let me run some tests.’ And the results were astounding! Dr. Sachs was able to assure her that the Irish ballads, sung by the female voice she described, were not the same as a psychotic episode, she wasn’t going crazy, but that a small stroke had caused what’s called a “musical-epileptic” episode.
Yet for Mary Ann, it still didn’t explain the woman’s voice, which seemed somehow vaguely familiar. What was that song, she kept wondering? And who was it that was singing? This was not something Dr. Sachs could determine scientifically. It could be a repressed memory coming to the fore. Then again, it could just be some annoying Christmas song that you can’t get out of your head!
But stepping outside the box, Dr. Sachs had “an idea”. Mary Ann had told him about her childhood. He knew that Mary Ann was orphaned by the time she was 5 years old, and that she came here from Ireland to live with her Aunt. And as an adult, Mary Ann had no memories of those first 5 years in Ireland. It reminded him of the short story by H. G. Wells, and the plot about a man who could magically open the door to his, pre-conscious, infant past, and hear what is denied to the rest of us: the sounds of earliest childhood. Perhaps Mary Ann’s disease had opened that door in her, and the voice she was hearing, the beautiful ballads and lullaby’s, belonged to her mother.
After reading the story, she told Dr. Sachs, that’s it! It fits! I can feel bits of my childhood again; I feel my mother’s arms around me; it’s her singing! 33 years later there is no new scientific break through. Yet, those were the songs that mothers in Ireland sang back then.
It seems that, all through this testing time, Mary Ann’s brain had kept healing her stroke, slow but sure. That should have been a good thing, but it also meant that the song was fading. She told Dr. Sachs that she ‘missed her disease very much,’ for it had revealed something much more real to her than the darkness she felt from the growing silence of it’s healing over.
Our world, entering the darkness we know in Advent, needs healing and release. We need thinkers, outside the box. Doctors who can connect traditional healing with new and innovative healing, to release us from this darkness.
Jesus said, ‘Tell that one down in the deep dark’ dungeon ‘what you see and hear’, that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Jesus comes to break through to the next level, and to lift up the lowly. “Tell John what you see”! Everything is new again, in the coming realm of God. Was that ‘hope enough’ for John down in the darkness of Herod’s dungeon? Does it give us delight and hope too?
The mark of courageous faithfulness, of hope in the midst of darkness, is nowhere more evident than in Mary’s song, the Magnificat. Mary is carrying a deep dark secret within her. She is to give birth to the Son of God, by the Holy Spirit. It would have been normal to wonder if she was going crazy. Mary was too poor to have a doctor, much less a neurologist. But she does have a relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant, one that she trusts. Carrying the secret with her to Judea, she seeks her cousin’s counsel. ‘No, you’re not crazy’, Elizabeth tells Mary. You are blessed! ‘What do you hear in your heart’, she asks Mary? ‘I’m hearing a song’, she says. ‘I see things differently now. I want to share my secret with the world, that all I have, all I am, wants to praise God. For God is a God who is with, even the lowliest. Then Mary sings the song to Elizabeth, “[God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly”, sings Mary; “he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”.
In these days of deepest darkness we wait with expectation and hopefulness. We wait for our LORD to break through to a whole new level; to act outside the box. Already a song is breaking forth. We are not crazy to believe that the darkness, our sadness and losses, and all our fears, will be restored to wholeness. Jesus burst forth, not only from the womb of Mary, but also from the darkness of the cold stone tomb, to reveal the light which no darkness can overcome; ‘My soul proclaims your greatness, O Lord”, sang Mary, completely sane, as she broke through to the next level, and let out her deep dark secret.
Jesus leads us out of our darkness. What else can we do, but break out in song! It’s a song we can’t get out of our heads, and don’t want to. It’s the song that breaks us through to the next level. A song that is our hope and our joy! Amen.