Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More Mary . . . A Model and a Prayer for the Contemplative Life

Two days ago I posted a blog here that I had written for my meditation at A Daily Advent ( The reflection was based on Luke 1:26 - 38, the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. That meditation briefly explored grace and "favor," trying to locate grace as the character of God that is not based on the worthiness of the recipient.

That same text is repeated today, so at A Daily Advent I took a different look at Mary, this time focusing on Luke 1:38 and writing about Mary as a model for the contemplative life. I also suggest Luke 1:38 as a kind of breath prayer to carry through the next few days.

I've included the gist of the post from A Daily Advent below.

Luke 1:38

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.

I wrote two days ago about Mary and the elaborate back-story the Church constructed centuries ago about her life, as if to justify her "favor" with God on the basis of her merits. In short, the Church formulated a "history" for Mary that was pristine enough that she stood out as the one who deserved to be the Holy Mother of God. As I said then, that historical reconfiguring of her life doesn't witness to God's grace, but rather to her goodness. I don't think that's how God works in human life. Grace and favor are always about God's choosing, not Mary's deserving or our deserving.

Further, I don't need that back-story to know that Mary is perhaps the best New Testament model for the contemplative life available to us. She modeled a life of radical trust and union with God. Let me explain.

She was simple. She realized she had not earned this "favor." She took things that happened to her and around her, and she "pondered them in her heart." She "treasured them in her heart." That is, she didn't make a huge, public show of her connection to God. She didn't parade her interior life in the public eye. She didn't make a fuss about what she notices of God's work in the world. She didn't flaunt her holiness. She didn't showcase her experience of the Divine in front of others. Rather, she drew her God-experience into her heart and let it incubate there.

Mary did what her Son would later suggest we all do when we go to prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount he taught us not to pray in a way that draws attention to ourselves (on the street corners and busy intersections of life), but to withdraw to our secret room, that is, to our inner room where we meet the Father in private.

Mary got it.

She is a esteemed as the Mother of God not because of the intricate story the Church imaginatively told about her, but because of what we know from the report of Scripture.

In fact, her words at the conclusion of this text are probably the best mantra for the contemplative life I know. They state simply and succinctly the essence of life with God, the very fundamentals of union with God.

"Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word." Or, "Let it be to me as you have said."

Here I am. I am where I am. My soul is not in the past, locked into old narratives. Neither am I living in the future. I am not in some other geographical location. I am where I am, physically and spiritually. I am who I am.

It is a real gift for any of us to say, "Here I am," to be present without distractions, to allow all the aspects of our personhood (body, mind, soul and spirit) to show up in the same place at the same time.

This is so hard for me to do, but Mary not only said it. She did it.

Let it be with me according to your word. A surrender. But more, an openness to the design of God in her life, to the action of God which was mysterious and beyond her comprehension. Yet, she did not shut out God's hand. She did not close the door to God's invitation.

This is the stance of the contemplative, who steps into the cloud or walks into the darkness not knowing what is ahead, not knowing what she will find, but trusting the One who calls and invites, believing that even if the Divine work is not fully understood, it is still good and life-giving. Even when the God-path is unrecognizable, it is still a path that leads to life, wholeness, and the essence of what it means to be fully human.

You might want to make these two simple sentences your prayer for the next week. Carry the prayer on your heart. Whisper it with your lips. Let the depth of the prayer anchor you for the week.

"Here I am. Let it be to me as you have said."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

...and so it truly is that "God comes to you disguised as your life"