Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mary's Grief

As I’ve been reflecting on grief these days, I really appreciate Christine Mallouhi's description of the crucifixion and Mary’s grief in her excellent book, Waging Peace on Islam:

“The victorious and triumphant Christian life does not conjure up pictures of suffering and death and feelings of abandonment. But this was all part of God’s victory in Christ. If this was the path the Master trod why should it be any different for the servants? Jesus cried out ‘why?’ and ’where are you?’ to God when circumstances were crushing him. God is always greater than our understanding of him and there will always be mystery about him that causes us to fall down in awe and worship. This mystery, which we want to tidily categorise, keeps causing struggles in our life. Every time we get God tidied up like a ball of rubber bands, another end bursts out and the struggle begins over again, until we learn to live in faith with untidy ends. If everything is clear then faith is irrelevant. We are not called to solve the mystery, but to enter it.” (p. 52)

“(Mary) left God to work his way and found herself with other Galilean women clinging close to Christ as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem under Roman guard. Mary’s grief was far deeper than any others. This was not only her first-born son, but also an embodiment of all God’s promises. The security of her son was shattered by violence and he was treated unjustly and brutally. She saw him imprisoned and tortured and then done to death as a powerless common criminal. She watched her hopes of his future and the nation’s glory bleed into the dirt of Jerusalem’s garbage dump. Mary entered the dark cave of living in the questions between God’s promises and the current reality. Had she reared Jesus through all the difficulties for this terrible end? Had she failed God? Had God failed her? How could God allow this suffering? Why was he silent? Where was God’s promise now in this God-forsaken end and death?

Mary is strangely absent from events after the crucifixion. She is not mentioned among the women who went to the tomb to complete the burial procedures. As Simeon prophesied, her very soul was pierced with a knife. Her whole understanding of God was buried in the beaten body of her son. She lost her son, her God, her theology, her hope for the future. Her God was buried in darkness and the nation was not liberated. Her ‘magnifcant’ of joy and praise ended in despair and ashes. Was it better to have never hoped? We easily see why she was not able to join the other women at the tomb. She was buried deep in her own tomb, her own dark cave. Mary stayed with her son all through the exhausting hours of his suffering in crucifixion. It was a short time in comparison to other types of long drawn out deaths like terminal illness, but crucifixion is one of the most horrific forms of torture. Mary saw and felt every pain and every labored breath. Unable to help him and not bearing to watch, but experiencing in her own body his every muscle spasm, she was unable to leave him. She had to be there giving him support by her presence whatever it cost her.” (p. 54-55)

We note that there is no comment on why Mary is not present with the women to administer the burial oils. We are not told that she is prostrate with grief, or that she is frozen in shock and emotionally exhausted. I suspect she was all these things. I picture her immobilized staring at the wall with pain that was too great to express and thoughts that were too terrible to think. The writers of Scripture allowed Mary the privacy of her pain. They knew Mary had given all she had and they gave her the respect she deserved. If she was out of action, numb with grief, with no feelings of faith, or if she was furiously angry or disappointed—we are not told. She was allowed to have the time she needed. Mary disappearing from the scene did not traumatise God. There is no hint of condemnation for her silence and lack of excitement for what God was doing at that stage in life. Her silence and absence did not mean that she had lost faith. God did not ask Mary to respond to him with another resounding ‘yes’ for the record in these circumstances. God simply blessed her sleep and waited for the moment when she was able to receive him again to refresh her. God’s loving hands are always in the dark and painful silence. They may not be recognized or felt, but they are ever present and embracing his suffering children.

We hear nothing about Mary until after the resurrection, when her name appears among those believers gathered in the upper room. After passing through desperate dark days, Mary is gain one of the faithful followers of God. We don’t know how God ministered to her. Maybe nothing happened for some days until Jesus met her after being raised. But we do know that just as Mary was raised up, so God will come to us and bring us out of the cave into a new beginning. Once again we see Mary praying and praising and waiting expectantly for God’s next promised act, still saying ‘yes’. For although Mary’s soul was pierced she never withdrew her original ‘yes’ to God. She encourages us to trust through every dark circumstance of death, doubt, and despair. Sometimes circumstances are so overwhelming that we cannot respond in faith to God—we feel lost. However, we are not lost. The Father who helplessly suffered watching his son Jesus Christ die a victim’s death knows what pain can do. He knows how much we can take and he allows the body and mind to withdraw and take the time it needs to heal a wound. Faith takes similar journeys and can sometimes diminish to nothing but a painful question. God waits until we are able to respond again and then we will hear his voice. This is the wonderful message of the resurrection: there is a resurrection of new faith and new strength promised for us in every tomorrow, so hope always comes anew with every sunrise.” (p. 55-56)

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