Norris: Advent IV, Responding to the Mystery

Norris: Responding to Mystery Advent IV

“Mary proceeds—as we must do in life—making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. I treasure the story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Do I ask of it what it cannot answer? Shrugging, do I retreat into facile cliches, the popular but false wisdom of what ‘we all know?’ Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a ‘yes’ that will change me forever?” Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace

Fra Angelico. Monastery of  San Marco Florence Annunciation

Fra Angelico. Monastery of San Marco Florence Annunciation

The heart of spiritual direction and the spiritual life indeed is responding to mystery, and certainly Mary is our icon for responding to something that is a mystery to her and all of us to this day. First of all, we must be open to the presence of a call to mystery. I have sometimes imagined other young women that Gabriel visited who responded to the angel by saying, “Let me think about it,” “Come back later,” “This is really not a good time for me to do this,” “No, definitely, not!” “You must be kidding!”( Of course, I always must explain to my dear Catholic friends that this is just a trip, an exercise, in my imagination.)

There is no question that our answers to the mystery will change us and our life forever. My experience is that we can learn to respond to the mystery first in small ways so that when a larger call to the mystery comes, we are ready. This is the practice of awareness and openness. We must also be open to going off or at least temporarily abandoning our agenda and listening to the interruptions in our life. The mystery is all around us, in every wakening moment, in Nature and in young children, in older adults, often in those in need and poverty, and especially in our interruptions.

Taking time to be in silence or with others in need or being outdoors each day can expose us to the mystery of a world greater than ourselves. Spending time with young children can connect us to joy and love without conditions. Some of the most spiritual people I know are older men and women who know better than any of us how little control we have in our lives and have accepted it and made peace with it.

The people I sit with who come to our food pantry often talk about how blessed their lives are. They see blessings in every offering. I learn from them that

“Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) can be one of our best mantras.