07 September 2010

Contemplation is a Dangerous Thing

In Chapter 3 of God in the Yard, L.L. Barkat talks about contemplation. And I'm here to tell you today that contemplation is a dangerous thing. 

I don't know what Mary was doing when the angel came, but I like to think that she was taking a quiet moment, maybe somewhere between breakfast and lunch, maybe hanging up clothes to dry and appreciating how the rhythm of the work set her mind free to roam. And then an angel appeared, like that, and changed her life.

I can't help but think that Mary didn't plan to carry the Christ-child. She didn't plan to be pregnant before her marriage, and she didn't plan to always have to live with that. Her dreams were probably modest: maybe she wanted to be married, to have her own home, to have kids running around in a few years. Maybe she wanted to care for her parents into their old age, to learn as much as she could about God, to learn to mix a mean hummus.

I don't know what she wanted to do and who she wanted to be, but I do know that it all got turned on its head when that angel was done making his proclamation. Gone, probably forever, was Mary's good name. For all she knew, Joseph would go, too, and with him her dreams of home and family. And she'd have a baby, but not in the way or the time that she wanted, and he wouldn't be much like the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.

Her future looked pretty dark, too. Without a husband and having gotten pregnant before she was married, she'd be a pariah. She'd probably stay in her father's home, until he died, and then get some grudging care from a brother or a male cousin. She'd be among the least, though, the ones most in need of love and charity (and the ones her son later cared for so tenderly).

In spite of the muffled crashing sounds her dreams made when they hit her dusty floor, she bowed her head and said, "Yes, Lord." Actually, she said, "May it be unto me according to your word."

I don't think Mary was an idiot. Stunned, maybe, and shocked that an angel would come visit her, but not stupid. She knew what her words meant and the cost her submission could exact up on her dreams, her life, and her future, and she said them anyway.

If you know the story of Mary, you know that God put things back together. Joseph didn't abandon her, so she wasn't shamed. Whether you believe she had any more children depends on the particular tradition you follow. Eventually she watched that baby, the one who rocked her world, die humiliated on the cross. And I'm sure she saw him raised again, walking and moving among his people.

But her life changed that day. And it changed not only because God chose her, but because she was willing to release her dreams and grasp on to his. That's not to say that we shouldn't have dreams and we shouldn't do what we can to make them happen. But it is to say that we don't know the whole story, and that the life God calls us to, even if he doesn't do it through the booming voices of angelic messengers, may have gifts that we won't see if we don't submit to him and be present in it.

So contemplation is a dangerous thing, because it opens us to what God is offering right now, in this present moment. And if we talk hold of that, who knows where it will lead and how many dreams we'll have to sacrifice to follow it.

2 comments:

kirsten michelle said...

Wow. Contemplation is a dangerous thing.

Some traditions maintain (I've heard) that Mary may have been drawing water from the public well when the angel appeared to her. You know, doing normal things; going about daily tasks, just as you speculate.

I know I think about Mary a lot. It wasn't until fairly recently (within the last couple of years) that I considered the weight of Mary's yes: I imagine she knew that it would cost her something, and that the cost would be dear. Her reputation (and her family's, and Joseph's) would be called into question. Any ideas she had of what her life would be were rocked off their foundations.

And so I'm glad you bring it up, because it says again and in a new way what I need to hear right now in the thick of what we're in the thick of: that we too should be willing to release [our] dreams and grasp on to his. That's not to say that we shouldn't have dreams and we shouldn't do what we can to make them happen. But it is to say that we don't know the whole story, and that the life God calls us to, even if he doesn't do it through the booming voices of angelic messengers, may have gifts that we won't see if we don't submit to him and be present in it.

Mary's yes helped save the world. I'm not Mary (not even close), but I wonder what mine might do.

Heather said...

I like the balance you have between working toward our dreams and goals but being willing to set them aside for God's plan as he reveals it.

It's funny because Mary went from the ordinary to extraordinary, whereas I've had to focus on going from dreams of extraordinary to ordinary.

Yet in each, God be glorified.