Good Zeal

Of maps and mystery on the Feast of the Annunciation

It can be hard to absorb the mystery of God’s call when our inner map of how God works, and how we work, is fixed, allowing no room for the angel of God to surprise us with a message that is unexpected, or even astonishing. But genuine silence creates an open space within which we, like Mary, can step from from the fixed map of “How can this be?” to the receptivity of “Let it be…according to your word.”

To truly listen and truly behold, as Mary did, it is essential to be truly silent. And to be truly silent it is essential to relinquish expectations, to let go of the inner blueprints in our mind, because how can we receive the improbable, the numinous, the luminous message when our imagination and our thoughts run only north and south, east and west, up and down, left and right, like a net designed to trap mystery before it gets too close and scares us?

Our inner maps, or as the poet Rilke calls it, our “interpreted world,” serve us well, and we need our left and right, our up and down. But in order to hear and receive the call of God – a call that may draw us beyond the longitudes and latitudes of our known world – we need to be ready to see beyond these orienting markers.

Our familiar internal landmarks can be likened to an old wineskin which bursts when receiving new wine. Yet in the face of utter mystery, Mary became a new wineskin, receiving into her very being the utterance of the Word, the outpouring of New Wine. She relinquished her expectations, her plans, her interior maps of how God works and how she works. To Gabriel’s “Behold…” she responded, “Behold…” In mutual beholding, the Word was received.

The God who called Mary also calls us, sometimes in surprising ways or to unexpected places. The call may at times pierce our hearts, as it did Mary’s. Yet when we, like Mary, step beyond our interior maps of how God works and how we work, and respond to God in mutual beholding, the call ultimately leads to joy. Like Mary, like the disciples, we are called to leave our nets, our maps, our “interpreted world” on the seashore, and follow Jesus, saying “Let it be…”

Postscript: Thanks to the Geography Department of the University of Alabama for use of maps from their online map collection. If you like maps as much as I do, you’ll enjoy a peruse through their website. And by the way, while I’m willing to follow God anywhere, I sure am glad he called me to the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman, Alabama!

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