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For this Mother’s Day, my family went to the annual Renaissance Festival. Overall, it was quite an enjoyable trip. Part way through, however, God happened for me by curious means.
As we were sitting watching one of the many shows that are offered across the Festival, my mother leaned over to me and said that she was feeling faint. The Boy Scout in my kicked in and I handed her her bottle of water. She took a few sips and went back to watching the show. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw her slowly lean forward towards the bench in front of us. I quickly reached around her and guided her into my lap. There were some very kindpeople sitting behind us that helped lay her out on the bench. She stayed unconscious for several minutes, but I kept her steady in my arms. I kept her neck straight so she could breathe easily and held her close as they applied ice to her forehead and neck. After a time, she came round again, disoriented and queasy, but alright.
The irony of that moment did not escape me as the two of us were cast in this reverse Pieta. Here I was holding my mother, fragile and helpless in my arms on Mother’s Day when we celebrate the day she became a mother and held me more times than I could ever count, fragile and helpless in her arms. In our Order one of our exercises to see God not just as Father but as Mother. To do so we reflect on our own mothers and the images that conjures. It was very distinct in that moment, one of those pervasive moments of insight from Divine- as I held her head in my lap I knew that I was holding God there close to me, just as mom had held me, just as God holds us all.
It wasn’t until later when I replayed the scene in my mind that I was struck with how vulnerable that moment was. My heart aches when I think of her falling forward, unconscious towards that bench. I have but a glimpse now of what she’s felt when I’ve been ill, when I’ve been in such need of her help. That moment reminds me of how precious my mother is to me. And I thank God for Her grace in watching out for us both through all these years.
Student – “Everything is God and yet nothing is God.” I just don’t understand that!
Teacher – You mean you’re mind can’t understand it?
Student – Of course my mind can’t understand it.
Teacher – Then stop trying to get your mind around it and just experience it.
Student – Ah, I understand now.
The mind is an amazing tool. It can help us reason through and see things that at first glance are terribly complex. However, the intellect to the contemplative can be a hinderance. Now, before people start going overboard and saying that you have to turn off your mind to believe in God, let me delve into the shackles of the intellect. Keep in mind, I am not calling for mindless Christians or those consumed with blind faith. God gave us a brain and the ability to reason for a reason. Who are we to look down upon a gift from God? Still, there are dangers to that gift.
For instance, in an abusive relationship, the one being battered often reasons out to a great extent why the relationship is still OK. They reason to themselves to the point that they no longer see any great damage being done. This is a simple defense mechanism. The mind shields the individual from the pain that they are in. The mind can reason away what is really there.
So what does this have to do with contemplative prayer? Everything!
We are so geared to be mind-centered individuals, to hold the intellect above all else that we tend to loose touch with the gift of experience and emotion. We are very mindful people, but not very compassionate people anymore. The intellect tends to rule us and even go to great lengths to shield us from spiritual experience. So at times, in order to experience the Divine within us, we must find a way to short circuit the intellect.
Enter the paradox. The paradox offers a twist that the mind can’t grasp. In the apparently contradictory statement of “Everything is God and yet nothing is God,” the brain siezes up. In that moment we have the chance to understand the paradox through experience. As soon as the brain locks up we have a chance to sit within our hearts. There we grasp the reality of God in everything yet nothing really being God. In our hearts we know what it means. Experience is undeniable no matter how the intellect may twist and contort the words. The intellect can prove anything, regardless of actual truth. Any politician that makes his or her living on weaving words for the intellect to digest is proof enough. But as soon as we allow our hearts to understand through experience, then we have proof that no amount of rhetoric or intellectual dicing can cover up.
So let us revel in the paradoxes that we find and enjoy the brief respites they allow us from our over industrious minds.
So this weekend was wonderful! The Inman Park Fest. was fantastic and the Atlanta Freedom Marching Band sounded top notch in the parade. Directing the band and dancing down the avenue was so much fun! There is such an amazing atmosphere at the Inman Park Fest. There were families, teenagers, college students, gays, straights, hippies and suburbanites. The booths of niknaks and art were beautiful and fun. Oh! And I got a wonderful haning deck chair to go under the porch. I forsee many many evenings spent in this wonderfully comfortable chair reading and enjoying my tea while surrounded by my garden of flowers and vegetables.
In other news, my car was broken into Sunday night. I was parked in midtown which makes this the second time my car has been broken into in that area. Unlike the first time, though, when they just ganked my pool cue and a walking cane, this time they were far more thorough. I lost all my CDs, check book, two credit cards, the owner’s manual to my car(what are they going to do with that?), my insurance info for health and vehicle, cash and change, my new sunglasses (yet again, cheap walmart glasses stay with me for years, but the minute I breakdown and get a nice pair they wonder off), my French language lab of cassettes and text books, my house keys and work keys, and my rosary.
They stole my rosary.
Does this not strike anyone else as terribly out of place? Who stoops to stealing from someone, violating their space and property and then steal the instrument and symbol of prayerful practice? What is most difficult for me to swallow is that it was the rosary given to me by my first spiritual father years ago that had been given to him by his spiritual father. It was the first rosary I ever had and the one that started me on my Christian contemplative exploration. God only knows how many laps I had prayed around those beads. It wasn’t even a nice one. Just a simple rosary of plastic beads and a little pewter cross.
But really, it’s just stuff. The window has been replaced. The checking account has been cancled and the credit cards have been taken care of. The CDs will take forever to replace, especially since some I will never be able to find again, but I’ll always find other CDs. They opened the trunk through the back seat but only found loads of books and left those untouched. They at least left my Rumi Poetry book. I’ll find a new pair of sunglasses (probably from walmart this time). Overall, I’m rather calm about it, as opposed to two and half years ago when it happened the first time.
I was furious then. I kept imagining seeing the person who had stolen my cane and my pool cue walking down the street and then being able to get it back and be sure they paid for it by beating the ever living hell out of them. That was then.
Now, I can only hope and pray that whoever it was that felt the need to rob me they can find stability in their life so that they never have to victimize others or victimize theirself again. I pray that if this person was young, this does not become a habit for their life. If they are older, I pray they find help to escape this cycle. The romanitc optimist in me prays that maybe if their conscious leans in need of hope, perhaps that rosary that did me so much good will be the spark that allows them a new path to discover. Or maybe they’ll just throw it away when they realize it’s worth so little to someone who doens’t know what it means, to someone who thinks they can make their life by taking from someone else’s.
I pray for a day when there’s no need for people to act in such a way. But until then, life goes on and my meditation is filled with the image a criminal learning French and then reciting the rosary while listening to monastic chant CDs. Amen.