The Magnificat and the Media of the Church: Amplifying the Voice of the Voiceless (@Byers_Andy)

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I spoke at CNMAC on “EcclesioMedia.” By this awkward word I am referring to the specific media God has assigned to the church (like preaching, the sacraments, communicative spiritual gifts, etc.) as well as media the church appropriates and uses for communicating with one another or for communicating who God is in the world (like music, visual arts, and even digital social media).

In thinking about media from this angle I have been captivated  by the choral singing of the Magnificat.

I work as a chaplain at St. Mary’s College here in Durham. This means I get to hear our lovely choir put that ancient prayer of Mary from Luke 1:46–55 to song. What so astounds me is that these words sung all over the world—voiced for centuries in cathedrals, chapels, castles, and even via radio and television—are the words of someone who had no real voice in society.

The Magnificat is a prayer of the voiceless.

Mary was a scandalously pregnant teenage girl. No one in the first century cared what a pregnant teenage girl might have to say about anything. And Luke has Mary and her cousin Elizabeth voicing the prayer of another voiceless female: Hannah from 1 Samuel. Hannah was an infertile, marginalized woman whose prayer for deliverance is not even audible—she prayed silently that day in Shiloh, only moving voiceless lips.

Both 1 Samuel and Luke record the reigns of powerful men. The former records the kingly rules of Saul and David. Luke reminds us of the men who were ruling a the time of Christ’s birth, including the king of kings, Caesar Augustus.

No king cares what a pregnant teenage girl has to say, or what an infertile ostracized woman has to say. But before a king speaks in either of these books, a woman sings. Before kings decree, powerless women pray.

Though she had prayed without sound in 1 Samuel chapter 1, her voice is unmistakably clear in 1 Samuel chapter 2. God has heard the voice of the powerless and voiceless. And in gratitude Hannah’s voice is now LOUD.

In Luke, Zechariah is rendered voiceless when he fails to believe in Gabriel’s message that his barren wife would conceive. Of all the males mentioned in the opening of Luke’s Gospels, none of them are louder than the voices of the powerless females. The once-barren Elizabeth “exclaimed with a loud cry” we are told in Luke 1:42. And then we hear the voice of the teenage Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord….”

When church choirs take up this voice and sing the Magnificat, it is an instance of amplifying the voice of the voiceless. Kings and lords, mayors and MPs, have all heard loud and clear the speech of one who the ancient world (and even the modern world) would easily turn a deaf ear to.

But the voices of the poor crying out from ash heaps and dung piles receive the attention of the ears of God. And when we sing out their songs, we make loud the voices God cares most about in this noisy world of power. The media of the church—”EcclesioMedia”—is an alternative media outlet for the lowly and voiceless.

About AndyByers

I serve as the Chaplain for St Mary's College at Durham University while working on a PhD in the Department of Theology. CODEC has also taken me on to work as a theological consultant of sorts for the BigBible blog. My first book is about cynicism toward the church and disillusionment with God—'Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint' (IVP Likewise, 2011). My latest is ‘TheoMedia: The Media of God in the Digital Age’ (Cascade Books, 2013).