As we celebrate this most joyful time of year, let us not forget to pause and ponder the true reason for the season, and give thanks to those who sacrificed everything to make it possible.
I always like to think about Mary, the Mother of Jesus. I consider her one of my heroes. She is actually a fitness hero as well as a spiritual inspiration. Think of what she accomplished physically during her first pregnancy alone, and then throughout her life! At the beginning of her pregnancy, she walked from her hometown of Nazareth to Jerusalem to be with her cousin Elisabeth. That’s around 65 miles (105km), and mostly uphill. A double marathon, with morning sickness. Then, Mary was compelled to travel back to Nazareth another 65 miles (105km) once Elisabeth’s delivery date approached. According to Josephus, a biblical historian, it was taboo in those days for an unmarried woman to be in the house at the birth of a baby. So, she had no choice. It must have taken an extraordinary amount of courage for Mary to go back, as she faced the real threat of being stoned to death once her village learned she was an unwed betrothed teen. Blessedly, love (and angels) triumphed, and Joseph was waiting to take her as his wife. Soon afterwards, Mary was once again leaving her village and heading to Bethlehem for Herod’s tax. She was in her last trimester by then!
“The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 113 kilometres (70 miles) as the crow flies, but the winding mountain trails that Joseph and Mary had to travel is about 145 kilometers (90 miles), and the climb is about 400 meters (1,312 feet). At walking pace it would take them more than a week to cover that distance and height.” – Wiki
Over a week of walking on dusty roads, heavy with child, experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, back-aches, hot-flashes, and any other myriad of last-trimester discomforts. There were no restroom facilities. She was sleeping on the hard cold ground at night, and during the day she possibly sat atop a sweaty donkey (scripturally, there’s no mention) but it is likely she may have been hoofing the trek herself. After a week or more of this treacherous and arduous travel, there weren’t even any showers waiting for the poor woman! No hotel. No mattress. No pillows. No pedicures. No hospital birthing room with hot tub… Zip. In fact, no one made room, or seemed to care. Instead, Mary the mother of the Son of God ended up with a smelly cave filled with animals, a pile of scratchy hay for her delivery cot, and a feed bin for her baby’s cradle!
And what about all those midnight cravings during her long trek? She was burning massive calories each day, and was ‘eating for two’? Did Joseph run out for some pickles, or chips? Maybe a little Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey? Nope. If she was lucky, they may have found some nectarines, figs or dates along the way. However, I imagine those could have stirred up Mary’s heartburn pretty nasty, so she probably toughed it out and stuck with the pita bread and water..or, (if she had an iron-clad stomach), some goat cheese.
After all of this ordeal, and the birth, a bunch of strangers crowded into her little makeshift delivery room. All we really know of her personal observations comes from Luke: “And Mary pondered these things in her heart”. She certainly had a lot to ponder!
Afterwards, did Mary get to settle down in a nice little cottage in the suburbs for the rest of her life and tell her story to the knitting club? Nope. God warned Joseph in a dream that the baby was in great danger, and Mary had to do some emergency packing for International traveling. It is estimated that the child Jesus would have been anywhere from 12 mo. – 2 years old. In other words, an active toddler. This trip involved traveling down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, through Gaza across the unforgiving Sinai Desert into Egypt, past the Pyramids and along the Nile – about 350 miles (563 km). I’ve personally followed the Holy Family’s trail, (in an air conditioned tour bus), and walked trails in the Sinai and Egypt areas. (including a late night hike up Mt. Sinai to watch the sunrise…but I digress). I found these weeks of my Middle Eastern journey a bit uncomfortable by my modern standards, and very physically taxing. When I imagine walking the entire trek as Joseph and Mary did, exposed to the elements day after day, carrying a toddler and trying to protect him, searching to find enough water and food along the way, it is difficult for me to comprehend. This would be classified under “extreme tourism” today.
“Along the sand-swept trails there would have been no toilet facilities, no privacy, no water or other travel needs. Life was tuff in those days for the traveler! In the summer time the heat could reach up to 120 F. and in the winter there is often snow along that route. The way included mountains, valleys, rivers, desert and wilderness. There were bandits and killers hiding along the wayside. For those who could afford it a donkey was brought along to help carry supplies.” – Arthur Blessitt
According to Arthur Blessitt’s fascinating estimations:
Total: 12,187 Miles (19,612 km) Mary the Mother of Jesus Walked by the time she was about 50 years of age! This means that Mary the Mother of Jesus Walked almost ‘HALF’ the distance around the world!
Forget those reality show “islanders”. Mother Mary was the ultimate survivor! What a woman! This post has focused upon her physical sacrifice and endurance. Another post could duly be dedicated to her emotional endurance and spiritual faith. I truly love and honor Mary. Some day (in the next life) I look forward to hearing her life story, told from her perspective.
The Following Video includes clips from movie “The Nativity Story” set to a beautiful song I had never heard before, entitled “Heaven In A Manger“.
What a great post, Soprano. Mary is simply amazing. I too look forward to hearing her reminisce about her life. She’s definitely worth honoring and appreciating more often than we’re inclined to do. Thanks for a great reminder.
While reading Luke 2 today, I was struck by one little phrase in verse 16 about the shepherds. It seems to denote not only their physical, but spiritual fitness: “And they came with haste..”
Clean Cut – Thanks for your comment. I agree with you!
Mary is my very favorite scriptural superwoman. Think that God had to choose from among all of His posterity the one woman fit to be the sole mortal parent of His own Son! And this humble woman was the one. I think your post summarizes why. She bore the Son of God under very trying circumstances. A lesser woman may have had her faith shaken. Perhaps she would have wondered, “If this is the Son of God, surely He would not permit His only Son to be born in a filthy stable.” But Mary just pondered those things in her heart. She fled when the angel said to. She returned to Nazareth when it was time. She bore other children. She appears to have been widowed at a fairly young age. Her Eldest, who normally would have been expected to impart to her support, had very little of this world’s goods, and was an itinerant preacher, so He could not always be there to support her. And she most likely expected Him, like the rest of Israel, to deliver the covenant people in a political and military sense. Then with what anguish she must have watched her Son murdered by the priests of her own people, and that by a most tortuous method.
But through it all, Mary’s answer was always as her first answer. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And now, thousands of years later, all Christendom still remembers her as the mother of the Son of God, and great and mighty men still praise the name of this humble maiden of Israel who toiled without recognition and rendered to the very Messiah that service that only a mother can.
Sweet: Beautiful sentiments. Thank you
We need to do a much better job of paying homage to the great spiritual and physical accomplishments of women in the Church. Thanks for raising Mary as another great example. I loved all the statistics.
Reading your essay reminded me of all the great physical travels made by Emma Smith, some of which were without Joseph.
Someday I hope to study a Priesthood/Relief Society manual titled something like: “Wives and Mothers of the Prophets.” There would be much to learn. Much.
S. Faux – Great comment. Wow, I would definitely love to see that new manual you have suggested!
Thanks for posting the video, and I’m glad you like the song. Pardon the plug, but it’s available for 99 cents on the iTunes music store. 🙂
God bless –
Hi Paul! Thank you for stopping by. You have written a beautiful song!
I encourage all of my readers to lend their support.
This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read in a long time. It really makes you stop and think just what an incredible woman Mary must have been. I love reading things like this at this time of year. It goes way beyond the traditional nativity story.
Absolutely great article, Mormon Soprano!
I didn’t get the chance to read the whole thing through until now, and it really does make you stop and think what Mary had to go through. There were also a few times where I had to stop and laugh about the many things WE complain about in our modern day and age! We would have died if any of us had to go through with what Mary and Joseph had to endure on their travels.
Thank you once again for sharing this us. I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year!
Raymond – thank you for reading, and for your nice comment. I totally agree with you. We 21st Century-ites are all a bunch of wimps and could never have survived living in the first 16 or so Centuries… Wonder if we were office workers in the pre-existence? – Merry Christmas!
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Wonderful insights! Personally, I think that Mary probably walked to Bethlehem instead of rode the donkey. I’ve been on a donkey and I’ve been 9 months pregnant and I can say I think it would be more torture to try to ride a donkey being that big than it would be to walk!
Heather – excellent point. (Not to mention the effect the smell of sitting on a sweating donkey would have!)
I’ve also had that thought about riding on a donkey when nine months pregnant–no thank you! I’ll walk. It always makes me laugh when she’s portrayed as being in labor on the donkey! Um, no.
Thanks for the mileage indications–I would have had no idea about how far she traveled. Wow. Good food for thought.
Thanks for your comment Jeanna! I agree.
Yes, to everything except she probably didn’t have any Braxton-Hicks contractions. Those are usually more noticeable after the first pregnancy. 😀 Wonderful sentiments.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Merry Christmas, MoSop