Last week I wished you a Mary Christmas. But there’s something else about Mary that we, as Christ’s betrothed, would benefit from remembering.
On two occasions Mary is described as pondering. On two other occasions, she’s depicted as pondering, the first coming after Gabriel tells Mary she’ll soon be pregnant. Mary is calm even though she’s unmarried, praying thy will be done (Luke 1:38). That’s perceptive, as Mary’s son Jesus will one day tell his disciples this is how we pray.
Calm begets confession. Confession is agreeing with God. Gabriel calls Mary blessed. Mary agrees after visiting her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Her baby, John the Baptist, leaps in the womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. Miraculous. What follows is Mary’s Magnificat, her joyous confession that she is indeed blessed—even though, in the public eye, she is pregnant out of wedlock.
The first occasion when Mary is depicted as pondering comes after she gives birth to Jesus (Luke 2:8-19). Shepherds arrive at the manger, reporting on the amazing things the angels told them about this baby. Savior. God. Christ the Lord. All who hear the report are amazed. “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
The second occasion when Mary’s depicted as a pondering is when she and Joseph present baby Jesus to Simeon in the temple (Luke 2:25-35). Simeon blessed the child. Joseph and Mary were amazed (like the shepherds and those at the manger). Then Simeon turns to Mary: Behold, this Child will reveal the thoughts of many hearts—and a sword will pierce your soul as well. Mary doesn’t question. She doesn’t cringe. She’s calm.
Here’s why. A perceptive person remembers that “the Word of God is living, active, sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, joint and marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Jesus is the Word of God, Mary’s living son. Mary recognizes he will pierce her heart as well.
The piercing begins twelve years later. Joseph and Mary take their annual trek to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-51). Jesus is twelve years old. Returning home, they discover Jesus is not in the caravan. Joseph and Mary hustle back to Jerusalem. Three days later they find him in the temple courts, listening to the teachers and asking questions. Everyone is amazed (there’s that word again) at Jesus’ wisdom.
Joseph and Mary weren’t. They were annoyed. “Why have you done this to us?” Mary asked, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Why? Jesus replies. “Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” Apparently not. Jesus’ words pierce Mary. She was not very perceptive on this occasion. She would be one day. “His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Mary pondered Jesus’ words.
Pondering is musing, perceiving reality. When we add religion (to rebind), we have religious musing, perceiving how God is rebinding all things to their original design. In ancient traditions, perceiving this required contemplation. Contemplation fosters a capacity to perceive deep reality.
Mary perceived deep reality. She was betrothed to Joseph. We are betrothed to Jesus. But we live in an Enlightenment world. Enlightenment thinking is more about doing… taking action… figuring things out for myself. This marginalizes contemplation, seemingly doing nothing. Our technologies then obliterate margins (smartphones, always online, etc.). The result is we’re not perceptive, especially to the damage the Enlightenment has done to our faith tradition.
Thomas Merton, a contemplative, perceived the depth of this problem. He saw how the Enlightenment was a misguided understanding of human nature. He also saw how almost the entire history of Protestantism emerged during the Enlightenment. That’s why Richard Rohr says “the contemplative mind is an utterly new revelation for [Western Christians].”
It doesn’t have to be. There’s something about Mary. That something is how she was a contemplative person. You can be too. That’s why I wish you a Mary Christmas.