When Mary and Joseph entered the temple in Jerusalem to give thanks for the birth of their son and to dedicate him to the Lord, they met an aging holy man named Simeon. Simeon blessed the couple and their baby.

But Mary could be forgiven for feeling that Simeon’s words were not much of a blessing. According to Luke, Simeon held the child in his arms, gave thanks to God for his birth and then, turned to Jesus’ mother and announced,

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:34,35)

The words must have entered Mary’s heart as a harsh and foreboding declaration. She has recently brought a beautiful child into the world accompanied by great pronouncements of the glory and power by which the world would be blessed through her son. Now Simeon speaks stern words of warning to the new young mother,

a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:35)

A prediction of tragedy, a promise of grief.

Simeon’s promise is deeply true. So much in the world is hard and painful. The world is often simply broken. Human relationships are broken. Communities are broken. Families, economies, world governments, churches, all institutional structures, are desperately dysfunctional. And, wherever dysfunction and brokenness are manifest, there is pain. But even with his clear-eyed vision of the “sword”, Simeon was also able to perceive the potential of a beauty that never dies.

It is difficult at times to perceive the presence of beauty, love, truth, and light because we do not want Simeon’s dark words to be true. We resist the brokenness. We long for security and safety. We want to hurry to the light.

But Simeon understood that, even for good, virtuous, godly Mary, there could be no life that was not lacerated at times by the ragged edges of suffering – “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Despite your faithfulness, no matter how good and righteous you may be, the sword will cut deeply.

Any belief system that attempts to shelter us from the dark realities that are an inevitable part of life on this fragile temporal plane is dangerous. Religion that pretends we can avoid the harrowing hurt of being human is bad religion. There are no free passes past the pain.

Faith does not travel in the terrain of magic. Faith moves, often falteringly, in the realm of mystery. There is no way to make sense of so many realities that cut into our lives. There are times when all we can do is watch and be present as the “sword” pierces our soul.

If we resist the temptation to flee the “sword” that “sword” may become an instrument of the surgery of love. It has the power to open our hearts to the deep reality of grace and gentleness that dwells at the core of all life. If we allow the “sword” to do its work, we may find we learn to sing Simeon’s song:

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles. (Luke 2:29-32)

When the sword cuts most deeply, there always remains the possibility of a deeper opening in our soul where we may find “peace.” When the world seems most broken, there remains the vision of wholeness and healing, that Simeon calls “salvation”. In the deepest darkness, there is “a light for revelation.”

The challenge of life is to develop practices that prepare us to know the “peace” even when all around us seems to be torn by turmoil. We seek to develop those disciplines that will allow us to face the brokenness with the hope of “salvation”/healing/wholeness in our hearts. We practice seeing the light when our circumstances make it easier for a moment to perceive the work of grace, so that when the darkness closes in, we may see that the light that has never stopped shining.

Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna are icons of faith. They hold the promise that, although life brings times that are terrible beyond imagining, the light, goodness, and truth of love are never defeated. And it may be that in those places of pain where we least expect it, we will most deeply perceive the presence of that abiding love that is the source of all life.


Alana Levandoski seems to sing the same song as Simeon and Anna:


There is always something deeper: