The following is from the Naked Now, by Richard Rohr, A Crossroad Book, 2009,
The Virgin Prayer
“God regarded her in her lowliness.” Luke 1:48
You must seek to be a blank slate.
You must desire to be unwritten on.
Not choosing of this or that.
Not “I am good because.”
Not “I am good because.”
Neither excitement nor boredom.
An unchosen virgin.
And unchoosing too, just empty.
No story line by which to start the day.
No identity enhancers nor losses
To make yourself valuable or not.
Nothing interesting, nothing uninteresting.
Neither against, nor for something.
Nothing to recall from yesterday.
Nothing to look forward to today.
Just me, naked, exposed…,
No self to fix, change or find,
Nothing to judge, right or wrong,
Important or unimportant,
Worthy or unworthy,
I stand and wait,
Neither powerful nor powerless,
For You to name me,
For You to look upon my face,
For you to write my script,
For You to give the kiss,
In your time and in your way.
You always do.
And it is always so much better.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn” (Luke 2:7) who was the Christ.
Control is such a pleasant illusion
(Jeanne Finan’s original quote, I’m not sure of the word pleasant, but is seems to fit.) Mary’s words to Gabriel were, “May it be done to me according to your word.” No control here. The old tales said that at that moment the heavens stopped in their courses to await her “yes”. She gives herself totally to the in- dwelling of God.
And yet the young girl’s “Yes” also invites a lifetime of much sorrow. As much as she would try to turn her son away from his unusual teachings, she couldn’t change him. She would do her best. That’s all we can do as we raise a child or raise ourselves. We can do our best, but we may not be in control. The wisdom of the ages is that our one life is a gift that is to be realized not through our own meager efforts to control its ebbs and flows, successes and failures, it is the re- discovery that it’s all sacred. Control needs to give way eventually to a basic trust that our lives have a meaning beyond our imagining and that we are here for a reason. The reason may be as basic and simple as that of the Buddhist monk when asked what he is doing as he sits by the river: “I sit here by the river and pass out river water to any who pass by.” What we do is offer what is already in great abundance and comes to us from our early efforts and their failures to control the outcome. Mary’s early “Yes” takes new meaning as she watches her beloved child suffer. She becomes the model for much spirituality when we can respond to our angels: “Be it done to me according to your word.” The words of Mary are similar to her son’s: “Not my will, but your will be done.” The task is to make ourselves available to that place of the heart and mind where, “He leads me beside still waters ….my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23)
Mary’s yes to the angel is a model for all those who seek to have communion with the divine. To be in that place where there is no us and them, right or wrong, worth or worthlessness, and to become a pure virginal vessel, yes even in our tattered older years, a virginal vessel so God may be born again and find a home in the universe. And like Mary, our mother, the angel awaits our *Yes” as a part of the heavens wonder at our reply.
“The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” Hosea: 3rd Advent
The first heavy snow of the season continues for the fifth day to lay its carpet on the trees and land here. Life slows as we older ones go toward the wood stove and its hot embers. Parts of the state have lost power and the shovel is under cover as we wait for the storm to pass. “The wilderness” of snow and ice, “will lead you to your heart where I will speak.”
“We are the wilderness generation,” said Herbert O’Driscoll to us thirty years ago. The task of the wilderness generation was to lose their gods and to find their God. The wilderness generation seems to be extended from one generation to the other. The task of the current wilderness generation is to find our way in the confusion of voices as they vie for our attention and trust: to lose their gods and to find their God.
Some of the old voices that are slipping away are those of racism, homophobia, sexism, ethnic hatred, and fundamentalism. The old order is rapidly dying and it has been dying for some time now. And in its death throws it amasses its voices of intolerance and fear. Each new ethnic group that arrived on these shores had to make some scapegoat worse off then they. The police who see some terrible violence done to others and in their ranks sometimes become a tool in this victimization. We have had in place community policing for at least a generation. We know it works. Where it is used, where the police get to know the neighborhood, we see crime decline.
Now the military has sent its excess weaponry to local police districts. Even towns in Vermont have inherited Humvees, night vision goggles and heavy weapons. The old order is arming itself because it can sense it is blowing away as the society begins to understand that the boundaries that falsely seemed to keep us secure are falling away.
White people bridle at the idea that we are privileged. The evidence of how different whites are treated by the police as compared to minorities is conclusive. The numbers of Black men in our prison system in relation to the percentage of their numbers in our society is unquestionably disproportionate. Yet privileged we are.
Mary’s, Isaiah’s and John’s cry for justice for the poor and the hungry, the powerless poor as we used to call them, is focused for me by Hosea’s words: “The wilderness will lead you to your heart where I will speak.” Here in our wilderness generation we are becoming aware of the heart where the holy speaks to us. We may not call it that. It may be called intuition, a sixth sense, a lightness of being, enlightenment, or awakening and in that wilderness when the old order of the mind slowly or suddenly flies away, we can see that those who are before us, all beings, are each one a child and creation of the divine. Each one is connected and entitled by their birth and their presence to be among the privileged children of earth, a beloved child of God. And so are we. How we care for and bless the creation by our presence is one of the tasks before us. The time when we can make all false distinctions are past and done. As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying at the beginning of our revolution, “Either we will hang together or certainly we will hang separately.”
We are the white cop and the young Michael Brown. Work your way to the end and you’ll see what I’m trying to get at.
Martin Buber in his short pamphlet, The Way of Man, related the story of the Hasidic Rabbi Zalman who died in 1813. The story resonates with John Baptist’s calls for preparedness and repentance: Repentance described here is to “Turn around” or to “Change your mind”.
Rabbi Shmeur Zalman was the Rav (rabbi) of Northern White Russia. The rabbi was arrested and jailed by his enemies for his Hasidic teachings. He was deep in prayer in his cell, a peaceful countenance radiated from him, when the Chief of police came to his cell door and looked in. The chief was impressed by the Rabbi’s calm and holy demeanor.
The chief asked, whether it was to test him or simply out of curiosity, “How are we to understand the God, the all –knowing, said to Adam, ‘Where art thou?’”
“Do you believe,” answered the Rabbi, “that the scriptures are eternal and that every era, every generation and every (hu)man, is included in them?”
“I believe this” said the other.
“Well then,” said the Zaddik, “in every era, God calls to every man: ‘Where are you in your world?’ So many years allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten in your world? God says something like this: ‘You have lived forty six years, how far along are you?’”
The chief heard his age mentioned, he pulled himself together, laid his hand on the rav’s shoulder and cried, “Bravo!” But his heart trembled.
John rails in the Wilderness of our present lives: Metanoia. Our English translations of the Greek translated Metanoia as Repent. It came to mean to us to feel bad about how bad we are and God’s gonna get us. Metanoia means to turn around and as Richard Rohr defines it: to change your mind.
The old Rabbi and John were on the same track. Adam’s response and often our own to God who asks us where we are is that: “I was hiding”. And what we are hiding from is the realization that as an old saw said, “God loves two things: change and a good joke.” Certainly change. Change from which we hide, especially the change of our mind. As the Rabbi asked the Chief of police, “Where are you in your world?” Somehow our resistance to change leads us nowhere. We get stuck. Our stubborn and unyielding “ego” hates change because it is involved in a protection racket. It is so involved with us versus them, right and wrong, that it resists union with our neighbor, much less tries to understand our enemy. And yet it is only with a fluidity in the midst of change that we can grow into communion, into a heart of love and into God.
There are a thousand Ferguson’s in our minds where we are the white police officer and the chief of police, afraid and with a gun. And yet we are also the parents of the Michael Brown’s and Trayvon Martin’s. These young men are indeed our own sons. If we can’t put down our guns when we are talking to our own beloved children, how are we ever able to move beyond our own security to a love of the other? Certainly the white policeman who takes the life of another is never going to be happy with shooting an unarmed human being whatever the situation. He will agonize over his actions for much of his life or he will shut down into a secure and invulnerable ego.
We understand the white policeman because he is a part of us. And don’t we want to find a way of letting the ones with the guns refuse to use them; to refuse to think of the Black youth as the enemy and to embrace him as our own son, for he is. We have formed him through four hundred years into his anger and his rejection of us. I have seen it in the eyes of black children as they rode the yellow busses into South Boston to the jeers and racial epithets of white mothers, lips pulled back over their teeth. I watched as fear turned from day to day into anger, either that or the destruction to their spirit. Anger was a survival tool.
For all of us we are asked, “Where are you in your life?” And where do you want to go? Are you willing to move toward the kind of heart rending communion that is needed for the health of the mind and body and the spirit, or are you going to close down, harden yourself, and become stuck? Are you willing to embrace change, or will you, Adam, continue to hide from the God who loves you as a parent loves ones own child?
Blessings on all beings:
- I recommend Richard Rohr’s chapter “Change you mind” in the Naked Now as you prepare for Sunday. Hope you can find a copy.