Wednesday, February 21, 2018

healing under a velvet sky

Evan relates the words of Sister Ann Astell, like a prophet carrying golden tablets from the mountain. The mountain is a squat, terribly dated midcentury conference building with few windows and odd chairs. The plain is the dinner table, candlelit.

The word of the blessed sister is such:

Ancient Christian readings depicted Mary as read the word of God, and read it with such faith, she accepted: this story is about me. These words are for me, they are happening in my life. She read the scripture with so pure and strong a faith, such an utter acceptance of the word of God that the Word of God becomes incarnate in the core of her being.

Mary becomes pregnant with the Word, the Word fills her entirely with meaning, as the words of scripture have filled her life with meaning.

This reading offers an invitation to an imitatio Christi through an imitatio Maria. We can let the word take hold in our lives, too. If we listen with pure faith and read with sincere trust, will not God become incarnate in our lives, too? If we read the words of scripture as though they were meant for our lives, will we not also become pregnant with the Word?

"Consider it all joy," writes James, a pastoral epistle to brothers and sisters encountering the trials and mistrials of the day. Global catastrophes. Melting ice caps. Polar bears without a habitat. Syrian refugees living, cramped in their own filth, on Greek islands. Children on reservations hoping to be incarcerated to find their three square meals a day. An unkind word, sent from me to him. A past mistake that haunts us, that trips up our daily lives, as we ungainly catch ourselves on our past sins. The small rats inside our head that whisper you're not good enough. you're not smart enough. and you are certainly not thin enough. The disappointment, the failure, and the pain.

"Consider it all joy."

Only in joy will your perseverance be perfect. Perseverance, like prudence, is a really unmarketable virtue. It has very little glitz.

As I listen to James' letter one particularly attenuated Monday, stretched beyond the limits of the 24-hour day, or my 26-year-old heart, I find it addressed to me, but without much comfort. Instead, as the diffident young woman murmurs the responsorial psalm delicately, biting her lip and lowering her eyes as though apologizing for being so bold to affront us by proclaiming the Word of God in public, I hear the refrain and laugh:

Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.

I laugh because what kind of a low-bar result is that. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall thrive. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall succeed—or at least try. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall be kind to my sister. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall be kind back to you. Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall consider it all joy.

None of the above.

Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.

Shower me with kindness, Lord, and that will allow me the bare minimum required to persist in existence. What utterly, embarrassingly dependent creatures we are, who can't even seem to have the dignity and wherewithal to make it through a single day without begging for gratuity, just to get by.
Psalmists really understand the existential pain of a single day.

Be kind to me, Lord, and I shall live.

How does one read these words with such faith to make them the center of their lives? In all the historically mediated language of scripture, and culturally derived inspired word, the psalms ring out eternal in their temperament and infinite in their valence.

Perhaps if I listen with enough faith, my life will become pregnant with psalm.

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