Saturday, April 21, 2018

and she pondered these things in her heart...

As a follow up to yesterday's reflection on learning the wisdom of Mary, I want to add one more thought: Mary is our model for contemplation. Twice in St. Luke's gospel - when the angel Gabriel announces her selection as co-creator with God, and, some 13 years later after Jesus has visited and talked with the elders of his tradition at the Temple in Jerusalem - we read that "Mary pondered all these things in her heart." Three interrelated ideas come to me:

+ First, Mary shows us a way of embracing mystery, questions and even uncertainty. She doesn't obsess nor does she ignore; rather, she holds the darkness tenderly and waits for more light. In this she embodies St. Paul's axiom: Now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face. We cannot grasp the totality of God's grace all at once. We are simply unable to make sense of challenges, blessings and even suffering in the moment. Our quest is to hold all of these things in our heart trusting that in time their meaning will be revealed. Contemplation does not banish doubt nor is it afraid of questions: it is a way of prayerfully embracing reality without arrogance.

+ Second, Mary's form of contemplation is disciplined. Spiritual directors learn that the practice of quiet prayer is to "take a long, loving look at reality." It is not analysis - although that may emerge in time. It is not problem solving either - although that has its place, too. No, contemplation is sitting with what is real with love. It is feeling the anguish of injustice alongside the bounty of love. It is owning the sin of the world while trusting the healing presence of grace. And it learning how to quietly quit any addiction to magical thinking in favor of the Serenity Prayer: 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 

No one is good at this automatically. It takes practice and patience. It takes training and discipline. It takes the heart of Mary to hold all things in our heart and let them speak to us in love.

+ Third, the Scriptures use three words for Marian contemplation that deserve additional commentary:  kept/treasured, ponder, and heart. To keep - or treasure - from the Greek, συνετήρει (synetērei), means to preserve. That is, Mary is seeking to understand God's actions in Jesus first by keeping the memory safe and conscious. Contemplation is active and on-going. Ponder means throwing wisdom and doubt together, συμβάλλουσα (symballousa), to see what new insights might be revealed. It is an act of vigorous inner questioning in search of new meanings. And heart,  καρδίᾳ (kardia), is not only the font of emotions but also the locus of will, character, logic and intention. Marian contemplation, therefore, is never passive navel-gazing. It is neither confined to ideas or feelings but an embodied search to live into the loving tenderness of God. It trusts that God will make known all that is necessary for love in time and is never afraid of ambiguity. Rather, Marian contemplation cherishes the totality of grace and seeks to make it flesh in ordinary life.

In my own journey of faith, these truths are evoked by praying with my eyes: this icon expresses each aspect of Marian contemplation. Henri Nouwen once wrote that this icon captures Mary's grief and trust, her love and devotion to Jesus, as well as her inner and outward beauty for the world. Perhaps it will be of use to you like it has been to me.

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