+Mary, Pondering in her Heart Chapter Talk 11 March 2018
This morning I would like to touch upon one final aspect of Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Sacred Fire. as a way of entering into these final weeks of Lent. We can find in Mary a paradigm of mature discipleship as one who became a true follower of Jesus through her pondering the mystery of the One to whom she gave birth. Fr Elias spoke last Sunday of “reading that touches the heart, [that] brings us into touch with the history of our heart, that is, all the events, moments, and realizations that have shaped who we are.” Mary, pondering the events in her own life, became not only a hearer of the word but one who kept it, lived it with the whole of her being.
We all too easily think of pondering as simply a matter of thinking something through in all its depth and implications which is something we get from a Greek philosophical point of view. In Hebrew thought, as Rolheiser brings out, to ponder means “to hold, carry, and transform tension so as not to give it back in kind, knowing that whatever energies we do not transform we will transmit.” Taken in this sense, Mary’s standing at the foot of the cross where her Son was dying, is the authentic expression of what real pondering brings about. On the surface she seems to be doing nothing. “She does not speak, does not try to stop the crucifixion, and does not even protest its unfairness or plead Jesus’s innocence. She is mute, seemingly passive, overtly not doing anything. But at a deeper level she is doing all that can be done when one is standing under the weight of the cross, she is holding and carrying the tension, standing in strength, refusing to give back in kind, and resisting in a deep way.”
It seems to me that so much of our own way of life like that of Christians giving authentic witness throughout the world, consists in this kind of pondering. By doing so, we transform the tension in our lives and in the world around us so as not to transmit the negative energy of evil we experience. While there are times to protest, to object to injustice and do all we can to stop it, more often than not in our world today, something far more than shouts and protests is needed. This is when we too are asked, to stand at the foot of the cross where we and so many in our world are suffering, so as to absorb its bitterness by refusing to participate in its energy.
As monks, it seems to me, we do this all day long as we stand in choir and allow the full range human feeling expressed in the psalms, to pass through our hearts and from our lips. Our public prayer is that of the whole human family, often giving expression to some of its deepest anguish as well as its joyful praise. A wide variety of human suffering finds expression through these many hours standing in Choir. At times we can begin to think of it as a relentlessly boring ritual but is it not at these very times that we can let ourselves become one with the cry of the rest of humanity. Thus we come to deal with what’s going on within our own hearts in choir, as well as what is being experienced in the wider human family. And isn’t this the wisdom, the beauty of what takes place there that so inspired St. Benedict to remind us that nothing whatsoever should be preferred to it.
This kind of prayerful pondering is the very thing that Jesus allowed to be acted out in his own life. Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world is a metaphor used by the very first Christians for interpreting his death. It is fully consistent with a long history of the Jewish people and their offerings of sacrifice. This is why, as Rolheiser points out, “his followers would, almost spontaneously, ascribe the image of sacrificial lamb to him, and that is the concept of the scapegoat. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is not just any lamb, he is the scapegoat lamb.” It became a symbolic animal, invested with all the tensions and divisions of a community and then was chased off to die in the desert.
Jesus functions like the sacrificial scapegoat, taking away the tensions and sins of the community not by some type of psychological transference or spiritual magic as did the ancient scapegoat. Rather, Rolheiser tells us:
“he takes away the tensions and sins of the community by absorbing them, carrying them, transforming them, and not by giving them back in kind. [For the first Christians] in their understanding, Jesus did this by functioning like a water purifier, a filter of sorts. In looking at his death, they understood this: he took in hatred, held it, transformed it, and gave back love, he took in bitterness, held it, transformed it, and gave back graciousness, he took in curses, held them, transformed them, and gave back blessings, and he took in murder, held it, transformed it, and gave back forgiveness… He took away the sins of the world by absorbing them, at great cost to himself.”
As we enter into these final days of Lent and allow ourselves to reflect on Christ’s suffering and death and on Mary’s pondering, more than admiration is asked of us. It is a call to imitation. What took place in their lives is to continue to unfold in our own. God’s redeeming work continues through each of our lives as we live in community and allow the love that filled their lives, to fill our own. Each of us as St Paul reminds us, is invited to fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ so that the whole human family may be healed, realizing the image and likeness of God in which it was first formed.