Light Your Candles Quietly: Keeping Advent with Mary, Vol. 2

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are” -Alfred Delp

An Invitation to Ponder


When I first started asking God and myself what it means to be a mother who prays in the midst of the chaos of life at home with kids, what it could look like to practice prayer when my life was not quiet, when most of my attempts at a personal prayer time were interrupted and distracted, I begin to think of any examples I could find in scripture.

The Bible doesn’t say a lot about how to be a mother.  But it follows one mother more closely than any other.

Her name is Mary. And she has become my biblical example of prayer.

See, she has one sweeping, inspiring, beautiful prayer. It’s the prayer she prays when she comes to terms with the reality of what’s happening to her. It’s the prayer she prays when, in the early stages of her pregnancy, she visits her cousin Elizabeth, who confirms for her the divine truth that Mary knows but has probably feared to believe: she’s carrying the son of God. Mary is not making this up, she realizes. This is the most real thing. God is in her, shaping a child out of nothing.

So she bursts into a prayer that can only be described as its title declares: The Magnificant. My soul magnifies the Lord, she says.

We used to sing those words when I was a kid. We used to sing, “Come magnify, come magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt his name together!” I get stuck on words sometimes. I think what does it mean to magnify something so broad and profound as the God of the universe? How can I be a magnifying glass, a microscope of sorts for the unseeable, for the ineffable? For the one so large that his greatness is terrible?

My soul magnifies the Lord.

She wept and prayed and gave her life to the task. And then came the child. Then came the fear and the escape to Egypt. Then came the return home to Galilee and the other children and the everyday demands of life with her carpenter husband and her growing brood.

I take a lot of comfort that there are no more accounts of Mary’s breathtaking songs from that point on. What scripture tells us in our brief encounters with Mary as a mother of a little one is this: she pondered. She pondered when Jesus was born, after the shepherds arrived with their fantastical story of angels splashing into the sky like lightning. And when her twelve-year-old son left her side to challenge the rabbis in the Temple, when she couldn’t possibly understand the depth and power within this boy was she was raising. She couldn’t possibly grasp how near he could come to the unknowable God she worshipped. So she pondered. The English Standard Bible says: She treasured these things in her heart.

How can I learn to ponder? And is pondering a kind of prayer?

For those of us parents deep in the trenches of everyday life with our kids, I believe Mary is our example of how to live in wonder, how to recognize and sit with the astonishment of the mundane, how to connect prayer to even the most difficult challenges of parenthood: the tantrums, the poop in the pants disasters, the moments you’re sure your short temper has really ruined your kid’s life this time. What does it mean to live in those moments of frustration and heartbreak, aware that God is with us, aware that God is Emmanuel?

Advent is about waiting, yes. But prayer is a choice we make in the waiting. The prayer of pondering becomes taking it all in and asking God to sit in it with you. Sometimes you ponder the magic of the moment, sometimes the mess of it, sometimes the mystery.

Pondering becomes prayer when wonder and gratitude meet, when there is no other thought but to say thank you and what does it mean and it is beautiful all at the same time.

So, we have the opportunity to join with Mary in the glory and the mystery, in the fear and the mess of Christ’s birth. And if we join her in this waiting, we are invited to imitate her simple prayer life.

It’s a gift, isn’t it? This opportunity to ponder. We get to recognize when God shows up. And we honor it: in our hearts, in our words, in those moments while we clean the scraped knee or wipe the disgusting bottom. We recognize God’s nearness and we shake our heads at the wonder of it.


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  • Christie

    I love this! Pondering as prayer …
    Also, considering how much I have to ponder, I recognize again how God-saturated my life truly is (when it sometimes seems only about the dishes and the tantrums – theirs and mine).

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    This is so beautiful. And yes, I think pondering can be prayer. Victor Hugo said something similar: “There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

  • Diana Trautwein

    Amen, Micha. Amen. We get hung up on this idea that to truly ‘pray,’ we have to retire to a quiet space, with our neat list and talk for 30 minutes. The longer I live, the more I realize that’s about as far from prayer as possible. Prayer has much more to do with longing, with a deep desire to pay attention, to listen. Even two minutes spent in wonder is a whole lot more prayer than 30 spent talking all the time. Yes, there is place for words – of course, there is. But silent wonder, the lifting of loved ones’ faces as they float through our mind’s eye, the groaning with someone who is suffering, the tears that come almost supernaturally with either grief or joy — this is prayer. Pondering is most definitely prayer. Yes!

  • Jen

    Thank you for this Micha. Ann Voskamp made a similar point recently, about pausing “at the end of one smeared moment, and before the next.” I love the word ‘smeared’. And I love the word ‘ponder’. Thank you for giving me something to carry with me as I venture downstairs to wrestle my children into their clothes!

  • Nancy

    No place to comment on Thankful, so I am commenting here! I am thankful for your links to great books! (love Rohr!, I am reading God With Us (daily advent devotional with a different author every week, ranging from Kathleen Norris and Luci Shaw to Richard John Neuhaus), and your sharing your thankfuls with us! I am also thankful for the energy that abounds around us at

  • Sam

    I immediately downloaded his book, Micha! What an amazing quote, and thought. (like your other friend, there was nowhere to comment on today’s post, SO I came here!) Also, I so agree with you that there is nothing sweeter nor cuter than our children singing. Thomas has learned a “Happy Birthday Jesus” song at school and I have caught him singing it in front of the Nativity scene…and then my heart just fell right out of my body! SO SWEET.

  • michaboyett

    Isn’t Ann the best? “One smeared moment.” I need to beg my friend Annie to paint something beautiful with that “smeared moment” quote in it. Thanks for the comment, Jen. Hope the children wrestling turned out just right. :)

  • michaboyett

    That’s a good word, Diana. That prayer has much more to do with longing. I love that.

  • Haley

    Thank you for this gift. Thank you for encouragement today, when I spent the morning sure that my “short temper has really ruined my kids’ life this time”… I can ponder even this, and keep watch for the promised grace.