For a long time I have wondered about her: Mary of Nazareth, Mary the Mother of God.
We were in Nazareth a couple of years ago and I saw the church built over the stream from which she drew water when a young girl, and probably helped her mother with the washing. That stream running briskly through the church is still a healthy , and clear and clean, and happy swift flowing thing. It sings, one might say.
Within two hundred yards down the hillside, on a plaza near a few restaurants, next to an open square near a busy road is a square concrete building; a lumpy thing. It’s a public building, gated and fenced. Closed. Inside the gate, inside the fences, there is a hollow space a few feet below the level of the ground outside. There’s a sign outside which identifies the gated, closed, barren space as part of the City of Nazareth’s water supply.
Some water supply, filled as it was when we were there with cigarette butts, empty plastic drink cups, bottles and wrappers and the odd pigeon scraping the dust.
I payed no attention to that place when I walked up the hill to the old church to see the well where Mary, the Mother of God and my mother, too, drew water when she was a young girl. But, I certainly gave it a long look on the way back down the slope; and since. The day I remember vividly, and I could walk to the place with no difficulty I am sure, since scarcely a day goes by that that whole trip to The Holy Land doesn’t repeat itself in my mind.
And, I wonder.
Once a week for most of the year Mariellen, my young wife, and I gather here with a few friends to pray, read and speak about matters spiritual, and how they affect our lives. We read the “lessons” from the previous Sunday’s liturgy, read some paragraphs from a spiritual book written by a good person and reflect on where the two things meet in our minds and hearts, and souls. We gather under the aegis of a group we all belong to called The Families of Nazareth. (Ask me sometime!)
Anyway, part of the time spent during this meeting is used to reflect on what we have read, and share our reaction to it; sometime in the form of answers to questions we all get, questions which are really meant as hints or props to help us think; or simply what we have, in fact, had occur to us as we went along. It’s always interesting, and often very enlightening. We love the folks who join us.
One thing, though; there is always a question, a prompt if you will, to think about Mary, the Mother of God, as we Catholics and other “un-reformed” Christians refer to her, and how she “fits” into the scheme, the subject, the matter we happen to be considering each week. How does Mary matter, more or less in this instance or situation? How may her life, her character, her role in salvation history (or just plain history) make a difference for each one of us, or everyone for that matter?
Tough questions, right? You bet. Because almost every week, almost everyone there mumbles their way through something remembered from Mother Mary Holy Picture’s disquisitions about Mary while in the sixth grade, or simply glides over the thing with a whisper and a cough.
Until this morning.
My lovely wife and I were saying our prayers, early. Well, actually we were together “doing” the Office of Readings, the first of the prayers each day in that thing called the Divine Office.
And today, the light went on. I read this:
O Lord, my heart is not proud *
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great *
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul *
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms, *
even so my soul.
It’s from Psalm 131. I’ve read the thing a hundred times, if not more; and mostly had a “Yadda, yadda, yadda” reaction to it. Not today, though.
I had two reactions….
The first was this. I watched the young girl in Nazareth long ago walking up the hill to the stream and it’s cool silver waters. As she walked she was having that conversation with God, her Father. Sometimes, I can remember having such conversations the better part of a century ago when I was a simple kid. But, you know, I outgrew them. It’s only Kid stuff that grownups never need to continue. That’s what they are: toys for the mind, that should be put away.
But, as I completed those eight lines something changed inside. I was listening to my “Mother” speaking to me, telling em to repeat the lines…not as a prayer, but simply as a statement of fact. And I understood, at last, who she was/is, and what she wants of me.
The second strophe spelled it out clearly for me:
I will not enter the house where I live *
nor go to the bed where I rest.
I will give no sleep to my eyes, *
to my eyelids I will give no slumber
till I find a place for the Lord, *
a dwelling for the Strong One of Jacob.
After all, isn’t it only what she did?
And, look what that led to?
Do yourself a favor and go and find the Office of Readings for today, the feast day of Mary, The Mother of God.
That’s one of the places where you can find it. But, there’s others. You can even find it in Latin, and about every other language there is, maybe even Eskimo.
Anyway, when you get there, pay special attention to the reading, the excerpt from The Book of Job. It practically brought a tear to my eye. Job’s ending is a bit like Scrooge’s ending I sometimes think.
And don’t forget the Second of the two readings, an excerpt from a sermon by a bishop named St. Laurence Justinian. It’s all good, as they like to say these days, but the last sentence is especially good.