A Path To Peace

Christmas Narratives continued…

There’s a belief that the problems we face and encounter in our lives are often of the psychological nature, which tells us there are a great deal of issues that encompass a broken humanity.  At the same time, though, it’s believed that the solutions to the problems are spiritual, a matter of the heart, which explains why problems seem to never end and this pursuit of peace seems rather insurmountable.  We’re not very good at matters of the heart.  It’s a challenge with problems and difficulties we face individually and so as a city, a country, and the world, handling heart and soul begins to make us feel helpless in the face of such suffering.  You may have heard Pope Francis mention yesterday on the eve of the New Year that humanity wasted 2017 on war and lies.  When we avoid the matters of the heart the pursuit of peace never seems possible.  It becomes much easier to inflict our pain and hurt onto others.  It’s easier to stay in war and locked in a violent cycle here in Baltimore than it is to do the difficult work of heart and soul that the gospel demands.  And so as we begin the new year we pray for peace but first in our own hearts and souls.

It is a theme that threads through Luke’s gospel even as we hear in the continuation of the Christmas narrative we hear on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  She reflects and ponders and holds all these things in her heart.  Luke returns to it throughout the gospel but he’s not meaning the beating heart that keeps us physically alive.  He speaking of the oneness and union of mind, soul, and spirit.  He’s talking about how Mary steps back from all that is happening and allows the space of this mystery to unfold.  There’s no need to react or explain.  There’s no reason to attack their enemies.  Mary and Joseph, for that matter, have found that gift of peace and are at peace with the overwhelming gift which will now see them through the darkness of Herod as we hear on Epiphany on Sunday.  The gift that is given to them is then freely given to anyone who dares open themselves to it being offered.  When we find that peace and become that peace within our own hearts, as Luke describes, not even the harshest reality of war will stop us from facing the broken humanity and to truly work towards peace.

When we fail to seek healing and solutions as a heart matter and rather resort to a shallow political system here in the city as well as the country, we’ll continue to get the same results, trying to solve issues from the same level in which they were created.  Both extremes of the political narrative use fear to control and manipulate, just as Herod and Caesar Augustus did, who Matthew and Luke reference.  They try to bring about a peace that is rooted in fear, as we heard on Christmas.  They thrive on keeping people in the dark, separating and dividing.  At some point we have to face the fact that it no longer works for the people, especially the Joseph and Mary’s of the world, the poorest of the poor.  It no longer brings peace nor the pursuit of the common good.  Like Herod and Caesar Augustus it’s about building their own kingdoms and making politics into a god.  It’s how we have the problems that exist and that’s not the way to solve it.  It’s a matter of the heart.  It’s a matter of the soul that is necessary in these days.  We can’t stand for another year as we did in 2017 here in Baltimore.

It’s easy to pray for peace and we’ll continue to pray for peace on this World Day of Prayer for Peace but we also turn to Mary as our model on this feast of the Mother of God.  She is the one that teaches us to ponder, to reflect, to hold all these things in our hearts.  When we lose that space, as we have as a society and culture, we react and react and react to every blessed thing that is thrown our way and we become part of the problem not part of breathing peace and healing into hearts that hurt.  We become what we hate about the other.  Demonize the other.  Cut off the other.  Fearing what we don’t know and clinging to what we think we do.  We no longer have that space in our own hearts, as individuals, community, city, nation, world, for the sense of mystery that Mary ponders.  We hold on, and hold tightly, to what we know, what we see.

Our problems may be psychological but the solutions are a matter of the heart, are spiritual.  The path to peace is a difficult one.  It lies beneath the surface and is often what we can’t see or know.  It’s what we so often fear.  Yet, if we want that peace we have to work at it, not politically but in prayer, in silence, pondering the healing that is needed and take a contemplative stance towards a hurting world.  The Herod’s of our time can just as much be us if we don’t do our own work and on this feast we turn toward the Mother’s guidance in Mary, to ponder, reflect, and hold this mystery close to who we are that we may seek that oneness and union, not only within our own lives, but in the city and nation.  The pain runs deep in this city and nation and if we’re not willing to do it differently we’ll only perpetuate and mirror 2017 by wasting another year and another chance for the breaking in of the Christ which calls us to a new way, to a changed heart, to an opportunity for hope and peace that is rooted in the Christ, looking up and gazing into his mother’s eyes, pondering what sort of greeting this might be.  If we want peace then it must first begin with me.

Reflections of the Heart

Luke 2: 16-21

The chief service to the world of a contemplative is “this silence, this listening, this questioning, this humble and courageous exposure to what the world ignores about itself–both good and evil.”  Thomas Merton

In the movie, Mary of Nazareth, the makers of the movie tried to portray the image of the gospel that we hear on this New Year’s Day.  As the shepherds approach the newborn babe, Mary scurries off with the child, frightened, knowing the circumstances and life of the shepherds out of fear for the child’s life until Joseph can assess the situation.  However, they come with great news as to the identity of this child that Mary hides and as the story unfolds, the child is handed to all the shepherds, each kissing and holding the child, thanking God for the gift that has been revealed in time.  In the messiness of their own lives, God becomes flesh.  Their automatic response is one of gratitude.

As we close out one year and move into 2014, we hear in this gospel how Mary spends much of this experience just “taking it all in”, pondering all that is unfolding in her heart.  What is true for Mary is also true for us on this feast of Mary, Mother of God, that God is also trying to bring to birth something new within our lives, waiting in labor pains so often for newness to unfold.  We’re often not left pondering and reflecting upon the experience, but rather agonizing over change and holding onto the anxiety of the experience, failing to see God pushing us to new life.  This time of year is an opportunity for us to experience the gift of contemplation, pondering the works of God in our own lives and the great themes that have unfolded over the past year….life, death, fear, faith, love.  All too often we’re ready to throw out the previous year, living with some sense that we can simply forget all that has happened, the good and our participation in evil, leaving us to become complacent in our lives, often to run in fear, to hide Christ within us.  

Yet, if like Mary, we spend time contemplating this mystery and reflecting upon the workings of God in our lives this past year, we can begin to recognize and accept these themes that unfold and follow the model placed and the example of Mary and Joseph in choosing life over death, in choosing faith over fear, in choosing love and the life that follows.  Ultimately, it leads us to the shepherds within us, giving thanks to God for the gift of life unfolding and birthing within.  As we draw one year to an end and begin anew, we are called to find that silence within and to reflect and contemplate this mystery that lies within us, the good and the evil, and to discern the call to life that God calls each of us to, giving thanks for the gift given and shared.