Archives, Pondering, Songs of Assent, Wheaton

Ponderings and Good Soil

Mary is not only reflective during her 9 months of waiting. She is a ponderer–holding her experience close to her heart and waiting to see what it all might mean. Her reflections burst into joy with Elizabeth, but remain hidden when, later Mary treasures up what theshepherds have said and ponders their meaning in her heart (Lk 2:19).

Perhaps Mary is having a few pre-recording devise moments, pressing the internal pause button and drinking in as much as can be remembered of the wonder of her child in these hours after birth. We do store up memories, we mothers. Digital cameras and smart phones will never substitute for long gazes out the kitchen window or pauses at a sleeping child’s bed–sweet memories to be accessed at odd moments and in great celebrations.

But that is not all Mary is doing here. Pondering, for Mary, is a life-long practice of seeking to make sense of who her son is and what his presence on earth means. A few verses and twelve years later we find the boy Jesus in the temple, very aware of who his Father is (and is not). When an understandably upset Mary and Joseph finally locate him, he returns to Nazareth with them and is submissive to them. Here again, “Mary treasured up all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:51).

The latter incident is no Kodak moment in any era. Imagine misplacing the son of God for three days. There is nothing remotely suggestive of creating or capturing a preciousmemory here. Nevertheless, Luke uses the same phrase to give us a rare glimpse into Mary’s heart. She treasures up this event and its meaning. She ponders. She tries to understand.

We catch glimpses of Mary’s struggle to comprehend her son throughout the gospels, and particularly in Luke. Referring to this incident in the temple, Catholic theologian Romano Guardini writes, “Not understanding, she buries the words like precious seed within her.. The mother’s vision is unequal to that of her son; but her heart, like chosen ground, is deep enough to sustain the highest tree” (The Lord).

Pondering the son of God: who he is, why he came, what his words and actions mean. While this is a particular vocation for Mary, it is not an exclusive one. We, too, are invited to treasure up these same things and ponder them in our hearts.

The gospel of Luke is delightful in offering us clues to the value of pondering Jesus and the kingdom he brings. There is the lovely interchange between our Lord and a woman who praises his mother for bearing him. Jesus’ response? Here’s my loose paraphrase: “You think the most important thing about my mother is her physical nurture of me. No. The most significant quality in my mother is something you can cultivate as well: She heard the word of God and kept it” (Lk. 11:27, 28).

Treasure. Ponder. Keep. This invitation to imitate Mary by a long pondering of our Lord is all woven together in Luke’s version of the parable of the sower and the seed. I spent a fair amount of time in “Receptivity” in Songs of Assent exploring the nuances of this parable. Here I simply note the ending: “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Lk 8:15).

Mary pondered. She treasured, kept, and held her son and the word of God deep in her heart. And it did produce the necessary fruit in its appropriate time. Compassion for the domestic crisis at neighbor’s wedding, faith in the midst of countless unanswered questions, endurance in that most unique of all human suffering, the suffering of a parent for a dying child.

The shepherds come and go. As lovely as Christmas is, the event passes, followed by Epiphany shining through the winter darkness accompanied by some very wise men. In the interval, may we treasure up the moments we receive as this well-loved story is told again. May truths old and new be pondered deeply in our hearts, that we, too, may one day bear the blessing of this season’s seed with patience.

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