22 July 2011

Bruised, Stretched, & Picked Clean

Mary Magdalene
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

If I were to ask you to name the opposite of “being anxious,” you might say “being calm.” Given a little more time to think about it, you might add “peaceful,” “relaxed.” Or you could get theological and say “being faithful,” “trusting.” Mary Magdalene gives us another possibility: being obedient, listening to and acting on the Word of the Lord. Our not-yet-ascended Lord tells Mary to go the disciples and announce that he is going to the Father. In her fervor, she first announces, “I have seen the Lord!” Then, John tells us, she “reported what he told her.” Mary's anxiety over the apparent disappearance of Jesus' body from his tomb is transformed into. . .something else. Is it peace? Relaxation? Trust? How about ecstasy? Mary becomes ecstatic when she reports on her encounter with the Risen Lord. Despite popular images of the ecstatic saint, spiritual union with the divine is not always pleasant. The American poet, Charles Wright, captures both the pain and the purification of ecstasy when he writes: “I want to be bruised by God./I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out./I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.” Why does he long for this divine interrogation? He says, “I want to be. . .picked clean.” The disciple and the poet both reveal a difficult truth about following Christ: when we announce that we have seen the Lord, when we report on all that he has told us, we will be bruised, stretched, strung up, singled out, and picked clean. 

After Mary makes her ecstatic announcement to the other disciples and reports on all that Jesus told her, the Lord's former students huddle together in fear behind locked doors. They are blasphemers and traitors wanted by both the temple and the empire. It's not until the Christ has ascended and the Holy Spirit is sent that they are given a voice to preach. And once that voice is given, they break their fear and anxiety and flood into the streets, preaching and teaching, speaking in the tongues of those who will listen. And as they bear witness to the mercy and love of the Father over the years, they are stretched, bruised, singled out, and eventually picked clean. They are stripped to the bare bones of their trust in God, announcing as they die, “I have seen the Lord!” 

How will we be bruised and stretched? Probably not in the same way that the disciples were. The obstacles we face in preaching the gospel are similar in nature but different in technique; that is, we face the same kind of worldly obstinacy as the disciples did but the stubbornness we face has a new language, a new game-plan; we face the same kind of idolatry of power, wealth, prestige but all these have adopted new guises, new rules. What hasn't changed is the saving message of God's mercy and love, the simple, straightforward declaration of God's forgiveness and His eternal welcome into His family. When Mary Magdalene shouts out, “I have seen the Lord!” she announces to the world the Father's will that all His children return to Him through His risen and ascended Son. When we repeat her apostolic message, we risk the bruises that all prophets and preachers risk when they speak the truth. Maybe not the firing squad or a prison term but we risk surrendering control, anxiety, willfulness. We risk everything when we take on the commission of living the gospel and telling others about the wonders of divine mercy. The purification of ecstasy is worth the pain it inflicts if we can say, in the end, “I have seen the Lord!” 

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  1. As a person who has suffered from bouts of anxiety, I can assure you that the anxiety is internalized anger.

    If, as you say she is anxious, it may be because of the anger she feels at not finding the Lord where she expected. She has noone at whom she can rail. It was her intention to finish the burial, and she is prevented because the body is missing. She is angry at being unable to fulfill her duty to complete Christ's burial.

    Her anxiety is alleviated, as her anger dissipates when she is told that he hasn't been stolen but that he is risen. Her duty has been replaced. Rather than completing the burial, she has been given a new duty, tell the apostles.

    Her anger (and anxiety and not being to complete her self appointed duty) and been changed to the joy of accepting the duty granted her by The Lord- witness to the 12)

    No offence intended, just thought you might benefit from the thoughts of one who suffers anxiety.

    feel free to delete my comment

  2. I thought your comment was very nice and helpful.