Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mary the Proto-Benedictine?

Benedictines like to point out that the first word of the Rule is “listen.” Other people like to point out that Benedictines don’t have a monopoly on listening! OK, maybe that is true, but nonetheless today, on the Feast of the Assumption, I would like to nominate Mary as the first, proto-Benedictine.

In Luke’s marvelous account of the Annunciation it is Mary’s deep listening that allows her to be present to the message of God’s unexpected, impossible action in her life. We tend to forget that Mary didn’t have to listen, didn’t have to respond. Personally I think Mary would have been quite justified in saying: “Gabriel, honey, this Holy Spirit coming upon me is all well and good, but I’ve got a wedding to plan, I have to rent a hall, pick out bridesmaid dresses, figure out what to do with my mother-in-law. Could you come back after the wedding?” Who would have blamed her for not having the time or space in her life to listen to strange messengers who probably interrupted her morning coffee?

But listening means being willing to be interrupted, to give up our agenda, to say “yes” to things that are completely, absolutely impossible. Listening means creating the open, vulnerable place in our lives where God can be born. Listening means responding to the deep hunger, the yearning for God’s presence that compels us to enter monasteries, become sisters or oblates and to live according to a Rule.

Of course when we listen to God we will hear impossible things. We aren’t used to hearing much less believing impossible things. I am always reminded of Alice in Wonderland. Alice tells the White Queen that “one can’t believe impossible things.” The White Queen looks at her pityingly and says: “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age I did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The Queen would appreciate Luke’s account of the Gospel. Virgins will hear that they are to become pregnant. A peasant girl on the margins of the most powerful empire known to history will give birth to a baby who will turn the world upside down. God enters the world not in power and might but in weakness and vulnerability.

As Benedictines we will also hear impossible things when we listen. We will hear that the motley collection of people we live with are the leaven of the Reign of God in our culture. When we believe six impossible things before breakfast we will believe that God can be born in our lives like Mary. We will believe that God still speaks to marginal people in the margins of the greatest empire history has ever known. We will believe that God doesn’t work through our power, our achievement, our ability to work hard, but God comes to dwell in our weakness, our limitations, our littleness.

So today on the Feast of the Annunciation our community celebrates listening, openness and the God of impossible things. Hopefully it will be a day when all of us will take the time to be silent, still and open to the places where Gabriel still whispers. Then together we will know what Benedict said and Mary knew: “What, dear brothers/sisters, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?” RB Prologue 19