Don’t blink

There is nothing everyone is so afraid of as of being told how vastly much he is capable of. You are capable of – do you want to know? – you are capable of living in poverty; you are capable of standing almost any kind of maltreatment, abuse, etc. But you do not wish to know about it, isn’t that so? You would be furious with him who told you, and only call that person your friend who bolsters you in saying: “No, this I cannot bear, this is beyond my strength, etc.” – From “The Diary of Soren Kierkegaard”

I turn to Mary when I just can’t take it anymore.

I am a person who can find myself suddenly overwhelmed. Perhaps I am looking out on the sorrow of the world. I read or hear reports of some tragedy – some dreadful violence – and my heart breaks. It’s senseless and staggering, and the grief is as deep as it is sudden. I can’t take it. So I turn away; I think about something else. I turn the page or change the channel. I look away.

Or sometimes I come across a great joy. I watch my daughter do something for the first time; discover something she’s never experienced before. I get a call from a friend finally home from the hospital – the treatment went better than expected. A long-distance friend is stopping by for a visit. I am overjoyed and overcome with gratitude, and get lost in the celebration. My heart is bursting. So I make a joke to break through the sublime, or I trivialize the moment. I look away.

Sometimes I am battered by banality. It’s not the light or the dark that assaults me, but mundane gray. Another hour of chores. Another cold and frustrating traffic-filled commute. Another busy tone while I wait on hold. Another bill, another task. Tedium seeps into my bones and I want to scream. I daydream or imagine I’m elsewhere. I look away.

And in these moments, when I can catch myself, I turn to my mother. Because Mary never looked away. Mary opened her heart to all that God had to give her. One of the most frequently repeated observations about Mary in Scripture is that she watches and listens, then reflects and ponders.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29)

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sisters, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. (John 19:25)

When Mary was confronted with the glad tidings of the angel, she did not look away. She did not diminish or shirk the joy. She did not, in a moment of self-effacing low self-esteem, deny the blessing and demand God find someone worthier. She embraced it, and cried out in joy thanking God for his blessings and his faithfulness.

pregnant-Mary-joy

 

She did not flee from the suffering of her son. She kept in her heart the prophecy foreseeing that same heart pierced, and she stayed at the foot of the cross through the piercing. She bore witness to it until the end.

Mary accompanied her son and his mission in all the moments in between. She watched and observed her young son faithfully, day in and day out, as he advanced in wisdom and age and favor. She stayed with his disciples after the sorrow, in those strange and fearful and breathless days in the upper room while they all waited for what would come next.

Mary rejoiced and mourned fully, tasting the sweet and the bitter and every flavor in between. She gave each part of her life her full attention and countless hours of reflection, so as to fully receive the gift God was giving her in that moment. I have heard it said that Mary, in her perfect faithfulness, can come off as inhuman – a holy statue, too placid, too “good.” This is not the scriptural Mary. Mary felt more than I have – she felt higher highs and lower lows. In this way, she is more human than I might ever be.

In this new year, I ask for Mary’s strength to be fully present. To sit in my sorrow and that of others and not run or hide from it, and to celebrate with people in their joy and not be embarrassed by it. To take even the dull moments and accept them with open hands, as moments to pause and reflect and to stay faithful.

And when everyone else around me says it’s too much, that it’s beyond my strength, that I have to find a way to shake of these unbearable burdens, I hope I will hear my mother’s voice, clearly and brightly cutting through the din: “You can bear it. You can.

“You are stronger than you feel you are now.”

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter and very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

sing, blessed women

I have memories of my grandma embarrassing me in church when I was a little girl.  She would sing really loud and off-key.  I couldn’t hear the choir or the piano; I just heard my grandma blurting out hymns like she didn’t care what others thought.  It didn’t make sense to me.  Being my bold little self, I remember telling her so.  In her smiley, matter-of-fact way she would respond: “The Bible says make a joyful noise unto the Lord, it doesn’t say that it has to sound pretty.

Today, December 8, is the 13th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Today my heart honors and praises God for the power of two women who have taught me how to sing “yes” to God with the joyful song of my life.

I am amazed, today, that the psalm I most associate with my grandma is part of the liturgical readings:

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise. -Psalm 98

My grandmother wasn’t a Catholic; she was a faithful Lutheran woman.  I don’t remember her ever talking about Mary and showing any images of her beyond the ones in Christmas scenes. Still, her faith and “yes” to God, like Mary’s, helped Goodness come into the world.

The matriarch of my big family and my rural neighborhood, my Grandmother, was a woman who had a wide open home and big, hospitable arms.  She raised 10 children on a farm in Northeast Iowa and her maternal nature extended into the next two generations.  In her home, children could play and farmers and neighbors could stop by for lunch and snacks.  Myself, my siblings, my cousins and the other neighbor children were empowered.  We would get help with our homework, collect nickels and pennies in payment for chores and learn how to cook.  The house usually smelled like bread and soup and a quilting frame frequently took the place of the dining room table.  The quilts she sewed were mission quilts and we knew that they were going to keep someone poor warm in a far-away land. Prayer books and Bibles were in every room.  In closets there were boxes of Bibles and other treasures waiting to be given away.  The home was warm and cozy and no stomach could ever feel hungry.

Like St. Paul, Grandma wrote important letters.  She would send cards and notes to everyone she knew for every occasion.  Tucked into every card were Bible verses that she hoped the recipient would later look up and study: Psalm 129, 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Psalm 98.  Her practical, generous loving Gospel witness steered many toward faith and trust in God.

In the mystery of faith the power of another woman’s “yes” to God’s goodness lives on and changes lives.  Our mother Mary was amazingly pure with Love and Light. Poor and young, she bowed to the mystery and allowed God’s might to come into her, be birthed through her and bring the universe to redemption.  What she said “yes” to continues to unfold in women today, who sing “yes” to God and let God’s will be done in them.

Like Mary and my grandma, I seek to be the woman I am called to be. I wonder what particular mission I must do, how I must birth life, how I need to listen, how I need to serve and obey.  I am grateful for the witness of Mary, the mother of God, and my beloved grandmother who remind me that my body is sacred and holds great potential for the spreading of God’s love.  Because they said “yes” I have been formed to share and simply give all I can.

In all of our lives and in every place, women continue to sing joyful praise.  Amazingly, diverse languages, tunes and rhythms somehow unite into harmony that helps free us all.   Thanks be to God for the witness, the power, the love.  May God bless women everywhere who work so hard to be free so they may sing more loudly and joyfully, even if it seems out of tune.  May God help us all, women and men, sing our own joyful song!


This is Mary’s song:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age

to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm,

dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things;

the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant,

remembering his mercy,

according to his promise to our fathers

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  –Luke 1: 46-55