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Archive for July, 2011

Mary of Magdala

This weekend, Mary Magdalen was on my mind. My Dominican community celebrated her ministry– she is recognized as the first preacher, and apostle to the apostles–with liturgy and written reflections over three days, a triduum.  Here is the reflection I wrote for the community:

They didn’t believe her. She’d run, out of breath and mind spinning. I imagine she flung open the door, grabbed their hands, called for all of them to come. She certainly didn’t rehearse what she was going to say, or plot how best to convince them, or find texts to underscore her point—the message Mary carried was immediate and, to her mind, clear.

When I first considered Mary’s role as preacher, I thought about her message—the news she rushed to share, the intensity with which she must have carried and delivered it.

When I returned to the texts, I was struck by how her words aren’t believed by the other apostles. In Mark, it says, “But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.” In Luke, an apostle says, “We heard from our women friends that he is alive, but that is crazy and we could not believe it.”

It must be a terrible thing to be greeted with disbelief. I can’t imagine what she might have felt, the frustration or confusion—after all they’d been through together, they doubt her word now?

It makes me angry on her behalf. I want to stomp my foot and say to the other disciples, “Listen! How many times are you going to get this wrong?”

And then I hear the question for myself. How many times do I miss God’s word, or doubt God’s message, or forget in my daily life the wild reality of God’s presence?

I don’t like change. I like the routines and known things about my life. Even good news can feel like stress sometimes, especially if it brings change. Am I spinning my chrysalis too small and too tight if I keep my spiritual life closed, relying only on what I’ve experienced and accepted so far?

If I met Mary on the road today, luminous and full of big, big news, would I open my hands and heart to her life-changing message, or would I doubt and turn away from everything she offers?  If I profess to believe in the ongoing life-changing message of Christ in the world, how can I situate my heart to receive, again and again, the Gospel?

On one hand, we are committed to proclaiming the Truth, to sharing and spreading the Gospel. We do not preach in a vacuum, though—we are also all listeners, and receivers of testament and witness that can affirm our lives, give salve to our hearts, and rock our worlds from complacent patterns.

Today, as I work to connect with Mary of Magdala, I pray that God will keep me courageous enough to listen, hopeful enough to receive Truth even if it shatters my expectations and reroutes me spiritually.  I am reminded through Mary’s witness that God so frequently works in ways we did not imagine, and speaks in voices that aren’t always what we expect. I pray that when God gives me strength to preach, God also gives me the willingness to truly hear.

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I found this passage a few months ago, in a wonderfully luminous and arresting short story by my friend Lee.  I haven’t been able to get it out of my head; the images continue to stay with me.

You know how you have a feeling all the time, but don’t know if anyone else ever does– an interior feeling, in your own private landscape? And then you read an articulation of it– so sudden and electrifying, that way fiction can reach out its lightening finger and brush you under your chin. There!  This story, “Tom in Siena,” by Lee Houck, did that for me– in this passage, the strange– what is the opposite of recognition?–opposite of nostalgia and realization that Tom feels… I have this feeling often, sometimes even in places I’ve been all my life. I think maybe we all do?

One beautiful thing about the story is that Houck gives voice to people that can only be real. “Only” because they also have interior landscapes, inside realizations and fears and nostalgia that I recognize. How can a writer do that, create it all wholecloth?  It’s kind of a miracle, when you think about it, to find recognition, memorable and immediate, in fiction.

I keep thinking about this story, including this scene, and Houck’s description of Tom’s out-of-timeness.  You should read the entire story for yourself; that’s how good it is.  Come on, don’t you need some imagery and unexpected recognition you didn’t know you needed today?

“He remembered his first trip to Europe—eleven years old, a school choir trip.

They sang all over Paris in school auditoriums for small audiences made up of students who were happy to be distracted from their lessons, but surely weren’t interested in ‘Sing a Song’ or ‘For the Beauty of the Earth.’  They clapped, nonetheless, and he felt like a good singer.

He remembered the drastic shrinking of scale—in buildings, in cartons of orange juice, in cars.  He remembered the language written on signs and storefronts—handsome words with too many vowels, covered in little chalet hats, and squiggled marks.

Later, when he was in high school, there was another school trip to Paris, and this time he had a few years of French behind him.  He was disappointed to learn that what earlier had seemed so magical was nothing more than the banal advertising of every city on the planet: Magazines, Newspapers, Candy, Cigarettes.

Tom wanted it to say ‘Solutions, Remedies, Incantations, Portals.'”

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