I’ve noticed that North Americans use the term “visit” in a very broad sense. Whereas in NZ we might plan to visit someone (face to face), Americans will also speak of “visiting” with a friend on the phone.

It took me a while to work out what was unique about a USA “visit.” It wasn’t simply that it wasn’t necessarily face to face. It seemed to have more to do with the fact that there was usually no agenda and it was pretty informal. An invitation to “visit with” someone seems to be much closer to “I just want to spend time or to even waste time together”

Most often our days are filled with business catch-ups, or networking over a 50 minute coffee with the aim of building our earthly kingdoms. While these meetings might be useful, they rarely deal with the real stuff of life and friendship. It’s wasting time together that provides real friendship and food for the soul.

This is the kind of visiting that comes to mind when I think of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth in today’s gospel passage. She didn’t just pop in for a quick catch-up but as the scripture makes a point of telling us she stayed for three months.

I imagine the two of them having a great time, especially since Zechariah was unable to speak after his encounter with the angel!

When we visit with someone for an hour or two we don’t usually get to the stage of wasting time together. We know the catch-up will be brief so we don’t waste time.

But when we spend longer together simply for the sake of being together the visit doesn’t have to be all talk and we can relax. There can be silence with time to sit together perhaps each with a book, talking every now and then, then a break for a walk or food then more chat and more silence. This is a real visit and in this relaxed restful environment friendship blossoms. The ultimate is when the visit includes a night or two or three.

The “Visitation” of Mary to Elizabeth was the sign that these two women were good friends and together they had found safe company away from the chatter of those who could not see the presence of God in their unexpected pregnancies.

The painting above is the work of African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner. I saw an exhibition of his work a few years ago and was moved by many of his depictions of religious scenes including this one  named “Visitation.” I love the way Tanner depicts the reaction of Elizabeth when Mary turns up at her door.


An Invitation

  • Take time to visit with a friend in the next few hours, maybe in person, or at least a phone chat for no reason apart from to savour the friendship and waste time together.
  • Take time today to visit with Jesus, setting aside 10 or 20 minutes in the midst of your pre-Christmas busyness to know his presence with you and his love for you.


O Antiphon: 21 December

“ O Rising Sun,
you are the splendour of eternal light
and the sun of justice.
O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death.”

2 Responses to "visiting"
  1. Thank you John for gently leading us to recognise that in our ordinariness of activities it brings out the Divine Presence and the hidden messages that is present in the ordinary daily encounters. I love the point of constant reminding about the spiritual meaning of visiting , phone calls – spending time with one another in persons, phone calls – to being connected with …

  2. Yes Fr John, indeed reminds me of a time when we would visit aunty, uncles, cousins and stay for a week or so.
    We would form great bonds of friendship just being together and spending time.
    Maybe In heaven we will relive those times

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