Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste, to a town of Judah….  You know the rest of the story:  Mary went to the home of Zechariah, where she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child.

Gifts of the VisitationSometimes, though, it’s really good to see the familiar tale from a different perspective.  That’s what I enjoyed about Denise Bossert’s book, Gifts of the Visitation: Nine Spiritual Encounters with Mary and Elizabeth.

On the one hand, I knew about John leaping in his mother’s womb, Mary’s recitation of the speech which has come to be called the Magnificat, and so on.  Denise, though, brought those things to mind in a new way.  Often when meditating on Mary’s unique holiness and personal attributes, I’ve thought about the seven capital virtues.  (You know:  humility, generosity, meekness, zeal, solicitude, temperance, chastity.)

What Denise does, which is similar and yet somehow different, is examine Mary’s encounter with Elizabeth in light of the Holy Spirit’s gentle guidance.  Denise explains how Mary’s openness to the Holy Spirit brought about gifts in her own life.  Her list is a new one; she notes how the Spirit inspired in Mary a spirit of spontaneity, of courage, of joy, readiness, humility, adventure, hospitality, wonder and awe, and thanksgiving.

Denise’s own prayer life and her travels in the Holy Land inform and enliven the pages of the book.  Her insightful and creative writing makes her meditation a joy:

“Talk about a control-alt-delete on life!  Nothing would ever be the same for Elizabeth and Zechariah!”

Denise is generous, as well, in sharing her own personal struggles and those of her family.  She writes candidly about her husband’s conversion, about her adult daughter’s return home with two young children to once again share her parents’ home.

I loved her direct and engaging style:

At times, the wait was exciting.  Seas parted. Angels visited. Walls tumbled. A donkey talked. At times, the wait was difficult. Brothers argued. Kings failed. Generations were exiled. At times, the wait was terrifying. People died. Nations fought. God was silent.

And then, he spoke.

Each chapter closes with a reflection and prayer.  I found that the anecdotes I’d just read had prepared my heart to not only read the words, but also to pray the prayer along with Denise, to ask for a share in the graces with which God had imbued these two holy women. With God’s grace and with Denise’s encouragement, I could be a better person.

The Gifts of the Visitation includes a foreword by EWTN radio host Teresa Tomeo.  It’s a great read, but also a transformative reflection.  I recommend it highly.