Will we ‘back into our future’ or will we walk into our future ‘face forward’, with heart and mind living in the present and leaning into the future, the future where grace is antecedent, already present, ready to bestow on us the Divine help we need as we live into this New Year. The prophet Isaiah tells us you will hear a voice in the background of many words, a silent voice saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’ (Is 30:18). This ‘silent voice’ is the Word, the Word of God that has become flesh in Christ. This quality of listening is our focus, our work in the days ahead so that we hear this silent voice…guiding…leading…opening the heart and mind to new possibilities which are born from this ‘I-Thou’ encounter of listening.
Pope Francis in a homily for January 1st, the solemnity of the Mother of God, reflects on the phrase: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). He says: “Let us learn from the Mother of God how to have (this) same attitude: to keep and to ponder” (January 1, 2022). Would this not help our own deeper listening if we first step back and ‘keep’, hold in the fertile silence, let the matter at hand incubate, give it time to mature, to grow. It is holding gently and then the next movement, to ponder…To ponder means to reflect, quietly and deeply. The felt sense of the word to ponder has the quality of prayer…one is quiet not anxious or fearful, accepting and listening. It is not analyzing or anxiously searching for a solution…That would be all ego activity where the mind will not rest until it resolves something…This is not ‘pondering’ in fact it is its opposite!!!
Pope Francis offers further thought on these two attitudes of Mary. He says: “That is what Mary does. She does not pick and choose; she keeps. She accepts life as it comes, without trying to camouflage or embellish it; she keeps those things in her heart. Then, Mary’s second attitude is about how she keeps: she keeps, and she ponders. The Gospel speaks of Mary ‘bringing together’, comparing, her different experiences and finding the hidden threads that connect them. In her heart, in her prayer, she does exactly that: she binds together the beautiful things and the unpleasant things. She does not keep them apart, but brings them together….she unites, she does not divide. And in this way, she discerns their greater meaning, from God’s perspective.” ‘To keep and to ponder’: these two attitudes are one…they belong together. They are interior as we strive to listen and to follow God’s ways. ‘To keep and to ponder’ are important elements in discernment. And as Pope Francis points out this includes both the difficult and wonderful experiences that life presents to us, individually and as a community. To see from God’s perspective, to see the deeper meaning no matter how difficult or to behold the beauty in something that we could easily miss. This seeing with the Divine heart and mind is what Mary does as she ‘keeps and ponders’.
The ‘keeping and pondering’ of Mary is what Pope Francis calls a “mature faith”. We ‘spill’ things out too quickly, which then diminishes the possibility for this new perspective or new of God to become a full, incarnate reality in our lives. To keep, to let grow, to let an idea gestate or a situation gestate: why is this so difficult and why is it so important? Over the past months I have talked about ‘the art of listening’, an expression used by D. Bernardus. To listen and discern well we need Mary’s attitude of keeping and pondering in our hearts. It asks faith, to give God space and for us to trust that we will be given the light needed at any moment of our lives.
To keep and to ponder are introverted qualities…they contrast with the pushy, reactionary energy that responds without reflection. Did Jesus ‘keep and ponder’? Yes, he did. We hear in the gospels how often he went apart to pray. And then we hear this saying: ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and keep it’ or other translations ‘put it into practice’ (Lk 8:21). Perhaps the most striking example is the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel (Jn 8:1-11) where Jesus, after being confronted with the religious leaders of his faith, bends down, and writes in the dust…he keeps and ponders…and then responds. And his response is full of wisdom and a compassion that breaks apart the hypocrisy of the woman’s accusers.
To keep and to ponder: the fruit of this will not only be a deepening of our faith, but it will also help us to see and integrate whatever experiences we will face in the New Year from the mind and heart of God. Let us keep Mary close…let us call upon her often…‘Hail Mary full of grace’ to remind us of her ‘keeping and pondering’ and to help us in our encounters with life’s events where God will be waiting for us to do our part so that his grace and light of wisdom will be bestowed upon us.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess
(Chapter Talk – New Year’s Eve – Mary Mother of God – December 31, 2023)