In this week's Ignatian Prayer Adventure, we are using imaginative prayer to reflect on the life of Jesus. I thought that I might describe my prayer this morning as a way of explaining what such a process might entail.
My mornings tend to follow four patterns. I used to pop out of bed early, often very early, and go out for my three-mile walk. Even when it's snowing, morning is my favorite time of day -- although I will readily admit to a preference for a sunrise walk on a Florida beach over a snowstorm walk in Ohio -- and walking is my favorite modality for prayer.
These days, I tend to wake up and work in bed for a few hours, and then take my walk. The early morning is also my most mentally productive time, and offers the hours when others are least likely to be around. It's a prime opportunity for lengthy research and writing projects, major requirements of my work.
Of course, some days, I have to be out and about very early, for classes or meetings or worship, which has been the case for the past several days, and thus today became one of those . . .
In which I stay in bed for quite awhile. Not much focus. I am still often worn down by the events of the past few years, and I still need considerable down time. This morning, after I'd been awake for an hour or so, I decided to spend some time in prayer. And not feeling much like getting up or searching online to see what today's focus might be, I decided to give my prayer over to an imaginative look at Mary. So I settled in ~ and the consequences of my medical procedures mean that it is uncomfortable, albeit finally possible, for me to lie down, so "settling in" requires some tossing and turning and re-arranging of pillows and blankets ~ and began to imagine Mary three and one-half years after the death of her son. Mary where I am, and not much younger than I am.
I wondered about her family. Most people believe, if they consider it at all, that Joseph died before Jesus did. I think about my experiences as the daughter of a man who has been widowed three times, as the wife of a man who has recently lost a son and then his father, as the friend of several women recently widowed, as a one-time summer chaplain in a major medical center. Those experiences tell me that, when it comes to the physical realities of death, it is usually women who are present and engaged. Once I sat vigil into the early morning hours with a heavily sedated woman dying in the hospital because her one family member, her mother, had said that she couldn't stand it, and left ~ but that was an extremely unusual turn of events. It is more often than not the woman, alone or sometimes with other women, who attends the dying; who touches and kisses and embraces the dying or dead; who sits in the room with the body, talking with others, long after death has occurred; who scatters ashes . . .
My point? That Joseph's absence from the Biblical scenes at the end of the gospels tells us nothing whatever about whether or not he was alive at the time of the crucifixion.
Did she have other children? Catholics say no; Protestants, yes. If she did, she must have faced the same conundrums that I do. You want to be honest with your children, but you don't want to overwhelm them with your grief. You want to remember the child who has died, but not at the expense of those working so hard to overcome that death and move on with their own lives. You want to encourage their own processes of grief, but you also want them to find health and success in school and work and relationships. I suppose that in Mary's time women had more friends with whom to discuss those dilemmas; today, those of us who have lost children know few others who walk this road and ask these questions. (Thank God, quite literally, for the internet.) But then, did women, or men, for that matter, talk about these matters as freely as we do today?
At any rate, husband or not and other adult children or not, I imagine that Mary, too, spent a considerable number of mornings alone, grieving the loss of her son and unable or unwilling to get started on her day. Now there's another Catholic-Protestant difference. Many of my Catholic friends observe such a veneration for Mary that the possibility of her grieving at length, especially after the resurrection, is unthinkable. It would imply a capacity for human sinfulness, in the form of persistent sorrow even in the face of triumph, that they don't associate with Mary. Protestants ~ I doubt that many of them think much about this sort of thing. And to the extent that they do, well: we don't share in the doctrine of the immaculate conception ~ that Mary was born without the stain of original sin ~ and we tend to think of her as pretty much like one of us. It's not difficult for me to imagine Mary spending some of her mornings as I spend some of mine.
I imagine her missing her son terribly. Resurrection or not, savior of the world or not, he was no longer around to share her days, no longer around to offer the hope of her living out the life of an ordinary woman. It is no inconsiderable challenge for those of us who have lost young adult children to watch our friends hosting weddings and welcoming grandchildren. Much as we rejoice for those we love, we feel considerable sadness for ourselves (and not a small amount of envy). I imagine Mary to have felt much the same. Those mornings at the village well, listening to her friends discuss the latest exploits of their toddler grandchildren ~ some days, too excruciating to bear. Some days, I imagine, she stayed in bed, rolled up in her blankets and pillows, and took her own good time about deciding when to get up.
I imagine her remembering her son: as a little boy, playing in the late afternoon sunlight; as a young man at his studies; as a grown man, stopping in the doorway to say he'd be home for supper that evening. All the pleasures she once savored, now available only in memory.
I laid in bed and pondered these thoughts about Mary for a long time this morning. And then I wondered, What would she say to me?
You know how you wish people would talk more about your son? she would say. Well ~ I wish that they would talk more about mine.