Mary is the first. She leads the procession of Christian believers who will one day accept Jesus into their heart, as we say it. Mary is first. She accepts Jesus to lay His head upon her heart, literally. What it will all mean is dreadful to even consider. Yet Luke 2 describes a quiet, un-panicked spirit, “Mary pondered all these things in her heart.”
What is Mary’s prayer experience as she sweeps up morning dust-webs, as she ambles to the afternoon market with the Son of the Most High nestled in her belly? Where do Mary’s prayers come from and to where do they go? Surely this literal experience of God within – the only one in history! – foreshadows the Christian experience of having the Spirit abide within one’s very flesh. We too are bearers of God within a temple of flesh.
What then can we learn from this tender picture of a woman’s very physical journey into an intimate and mystifying holy invasion? What can we learn about prayer? What about spirituality?
Mary’s spirituality is displayed in the gospel account in (at least) four ways. The first is her capacity to listen to God and respond with literal, physical openness of her whole being and life. Second is her instinct to seek the companionship of a spiritual friend and mentor, Elizabeth, for consolation and communion. Mary’s song is third, a song ripe with intimate knowledge of scripture and a practiced prophetic gifting. The fourth sign is the cultivated ability to enter deeply into silence in order to make meaning of the events of her life.
Taken together, these four signs are a witness to spiritual maturity. We see here a woman who is immersed in scripture, able to know and sing her own song to God, yet a seeker of community and shared wisdom, and one who has a deep well of silence into which she can descend to gain stability and peace. I would suggest that all of this is prayer. In fact, this depicts for us of a life of prayer.
Prayer is preparation and waiting, for what, we do not yet know. Prayer is contemplating the Word of God as a means of ordering one’s world. Prayer is lived communion between soul friends. Prayer is the echo of song and insight ricocheting across peaks and valleys that make up any particular day. Prayer is also tears and wondering. Prayer is obedience with uncertainty. Prayer is sinking into the deep silence and finding not emptiness, but union.
When prayer is understood primarily as a posture or words – talking to God, having a time of prayer, speaking in a certain language or place, closing our eyes, or even speaking Scripture – it is reduced to something too small. Prayer is God in our hearts while our life goes on. Prayer is a connection of the deepest places of human experience with the unmistakable presence of God. Prayer is waiting and hoping and listening and sighing and making dinner, sometimes with a belly full of baby.
This kind of prayer makes it possible for us to say YES to God. Yes, when what we want to hold onto forever has to be released. Yes, to a confusing pathway that makes no sense. Yes, to choices we cannot easily explain.
Yes, Mary. You have found favor with God. You have found God.