In my search for the perfect "Feast of the Annunciation of Mary" picture I was amazed at the amount of art produced for this one moment in which an Angel appeared to a young Mary, inviting her to become the mother of God. Many of the works of arts I looked at were formal, some were familiar, while others were almost frightening with their towering angel and cowering Mary. But I was drawn to both of these which are new to me. The art on the left is by He Qi - a fabulous Chinese artist who gives us crisp & vivid views of this intimate encounter.
The next picture is from a Korean artist, Woonbo Kim Ki-chang, (1914-2001). His is a more conservative depiction with Mary weaving and the angel keeping a bit of distance between them.
And the quote I chose for today is part of a larger one by that wild and crazy mystic, Meister Eckhart;
"What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God” -Meister Eckhart
In Orthodox circles Mary is also known as Theokotos, which means God-Bearer. Which brings me to another Mary - Flannery O'Connor, beloved Southern fiction author who could weave comedy and tragedy into unforgettable haunting stories. It happens to be her birthday today. Two strong & determined women. Both God-Bearers. Both giving birth to God as we are also called to do each and every day.
"Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you freedom to go and stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday morning, or as a frame to surround mealtimes. Praying is living."
I'm reading a delightful little book "Music of Silence" by Steindl-Rast & Lebell. In a chapter on the wonders of Gregorian Chant it explains how the use of responsive chant helps monks to find the elusive now dimension of their lives.
"We live in the now by attuning ourselves to the calls of each moment, listening and responding to what each hour, each situation brings." p. 5
May God give each of us an opportunity today to experience the now, instead of mulling over the past or worrying about the future.
I'm at that stage in the season of Lent where I'm thinking - enough already.... so this prayer/poem is a good reminder of who is actually in control of all....
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability - and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually - let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don't try to force them on, as though you could be today what time, (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his[her] hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
This is from the prayer book "Hearts on Fire: Praying with the Jesuits."
While waiting for food at a local diner with a friend last week, I thought I saw our waitress snitching a french fry from an order waiting to be picked up. Friend asked what I was looking at and I told her - this of course brought all of our attention away from our conversation and onto the waitress. And what do you know! She did it again. Friend exclaimed, OMG! After the third fry disappeared into her mouth we were mesmerized....and since Friend had ordered fries i think she was wondering how many had been sampled from her order :) Hmmmm.
And it just so happens that we are halfway through the season of Lent. How's that been going for you? Friend told me her daughter had given up coffee and had experienced a somewhat severe withdrawal.....I bet she did! She asked what I had chosen as my discipline and just at that moment our waitress came by the table to tell us that the cook had mistakenly made a burger & fries instead of the bacon and eggs I'd ordered :) So she had been nibbling away at the "mistake". Oh dear....now Friend and I had to erase all those less than kind thoughts that had been multiplying in our heads....sigh...our minds are so quick to assume that which we do not know to be true!
Which brings me to my reply to Friend about what I'd given up for Lent - it was a judgmental attitude :) And how well is that going for me you ask? Do you know how many judgments I make in one day? one afternooon? one hour? over one breakfast order? So here is a wonderful prayer for my desire to not judge.
A Prayer for Morning I am so weary, Father, of using myself as the measure of everything and everybody. Just for this one day, I beg you, help me to find release from the old pattern of seeing the different-from-me as either less-than or more-than me. Grant instead that, for just this one day at least, I may see everything and everybody I meet in terms of how I want you to see me at this day’s end. —Phyllis Tickle
If you're interested in the where, when, and whys of Lent, then this video is for you! The Archbishop Rowan Williams gives an excellent synopsis of what this season is all about - "new life bursting through death"
"The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. By following a straight line one can walk from Egypt to Israel in a few days.
Why did it take Moses forty years? Because his was not a path from one point to another, but from one way of thinking to another."
I love this quote. Repentance is changing from the old way of thinking to a new way - what an excellent Lenten practice! And yes, i realize the cartoon is somewhat sexist & that it has little to do with this quote, but sometimes i just can't help myself and it is funny.
"Reality is like a face reflected in the blade of a knife; its properties depend on the angle from which we view it."
Master Hsing Yun, Describing the Indescribable
I could not find a face reflected in a knife that was not macabre but i do like this photo of a cathedral reflected in an office building so much better! The photo is from a young couple's South American vacation blog from several years back, which has amazing pics of their fabulous adventure - ah, to be young! And this quote is so true - each of us decides what is real from our own point of view, though we often don't realize it.
An Irishman moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone. An hour later, the man has finished the three beers and orders three more. This happens yet again. The next evening the man again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times. Soon the entire town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers. Finally, a week later, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of the town. 'I don't mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?' 'Tis odd, isn't it?' the man replies. 'You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America , and the other to Australia . We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keeping up the family bond.' The bartender and the whole town were pleased with this answer, and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink. Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening. He orders only two beers. The word flies around town. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the brothers. The next day, the bartender says to the man, 'Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all. The man ponders this for a moment, then replies,' You'll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It's just that I, meself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.
“Once upon a time,” an ancient story tells, “the master had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own concerns and giving his own thoughts. After a while, the master served tea. He poured tea into his visitor’s cup until it was full and then he kept on pouring. Finally the visitor could not bear it any longer. ‘Don’t you see that my cup is full?’ he said. ‘It’s not possible to get anymore in.’ ‘Just so,’ the master said, stopping at last. ‘And like this cup you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’”
A monastic Lent is the process of emptying our cups. Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. Lent is about taking stock of time, even religious time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord we have the spiritual stamina to say yes to its twists and turns with faith and hope. . . . Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be." From The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister (Crossroad, 1996).
As I was emptying the trash basket in the guest bathroom this morning, I noticed the wise men I had placed on the windowsill having some sort of a conversation. I didn't mean to eavesdrop but I just couldn't help myself. It seems that they were concerned as to where they should be. The Creche they had visited on the other end of the windowsill had been removed weeks ago and they had noticed that all signs of the season of Epiphany had also disappeared. "Good grief," I heard one remark, "We must be in the Lenten Season." Another replied, "That will never do! I think it's time we made our way home."
A bit later I peeped in to see what had transpired. Two of them were engaged in a deep conversation while the 3rd was being completely excluded. I thought it best to shut the door quietly and let them work this out - after all, they don't call them the "wise men" for nothing, do they?
After lunch I ventured into the bathroom once again and was shocked to see that they weren't even talking to one another. Oh Dear! It's always difficult to come to some sort of agreement when there are 3 voices to be heard from, don't you think?
But everything seems to happen for a reason and while his back was turned toward his companions wise man #2 noticed the cover of Thomas Merton's "Thoughts in Solitude" that was also sitting on the windowsill. He wondered if it might contain some answers or at least send them in the right direction? So he opened it and soon the other wise men were reading over his shoulder. And here is what they read: "To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly travelling from one geographical location to another." Wow! Perhaps there was no need to travel at all? Perhaps they were meant to just "be" right where God had placed them. After all, it wasn't such a bad place. They had good light from the nearby window, excellent reading material, and a constant flow of "visitors". And it was only their thoughts about having to be somewhere else that were making them anxious.
And as they read on they came across this: "A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live." And that is what the 3 wise men decided to do. They, like us, have no idea what the future holds. I may eventually put them away in their Christmas/Epiphany box, where they will remain until next year, but until then I too will enjoy their company when I enter the guest bathroom, reminding myself that life comes not from what is stored inside my head but from what comes out of my heart. The End
Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord, and hold me in this Lenten season: hold my feet to the fire of your grace and make me attentive to my mortality that I may begin to die now to those things that keep me from living with you and with my neighbors on this earth; to grudges and indifference, to certainties that smother possibilities, to my fascination with false securities, to my addiction to sweatless dreams, to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be; to my corrosive fear of dying someday which eats away the wonder of living this day, and the adventure of losing my life in order to find it in you.
Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord, and hold me in this Lenten season: hold my heart to the beat of your grace and create in me a resting place, a kneeling place, a tip-toe place where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance, that I may become vulnerable enough to dare intimacy with the familiar, to listen cup-eared for your summons, and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger in the crying of a child, in the hunger of the street people, in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people, in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race, in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations, in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people, in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence; and somehow, during this season of sacrifice enable me to sacrifice time and possessions and securities, to do something... something about what I see, something to turn the water of my words into the wine of will and risk, into the bread of blood and blisters into the blessedness of deed, of a cross picked up, a saviour followed.
Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord, and hold me in this Lenten season: hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace and grant me light enough to walk boldy, to live passionately to love aggressively; grant me peace enough to want more, to work for more and to submit to nothing less, and to fear only you... only you! Bequeath me not becalmed seas, slack sails and premature benedictions, but breathe into me a torment, storm enough to make within myself and from myself, something...
something new, something saving, something true,
a gladness of heart, a pitch for a song in the storm, a word of praise lived, a gratitude shared, a cross dared, a joy received.
Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace, Prayers for the Battle, Augsburg Books, Copyright 1981, pp. 123-125
(photo: Selva Morales - St. James CathedraL - Seattle, Washington)