Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Throwing Things Together

This Christmas is the quietest I have had in years, thank God. Somehow, I find myself with a few minutes to reflect, even to write here. And yet, I find myself thinking about unease, disorder, and confusion. I find myself thinking about Mary.

Gazing on the creche and on the beautiful images of the Madonna filling my home, it's easy to forget how unnerving the story of Jesus' birthand the experience of the holy familyis. You know the details. This young woman and her new husband must leave their home for difficult and dangerous travel. They are displaced people, homeless at least temporarily, in a situation that would feel to most of us very much like "the edge." Their newborn is laid in a feeding trough, and fearful, wondrous announcements are made.

The angels have only recently gone away and the shepherd have only just departed when we are given that beautiful old description: Mary "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." But what does this mean, exactly? The English word "ponder" offers, at first hearing, a pervading sense of calm. Etymologically, it has to do with feeling the weight of something, and that is something we usually do slowly and carefully. Mary seems, in other words, like an almost unworldly island of calm.

The original Greek has other connotations, though. The word translated as "ponder" is symballo, a word that does not evoke stillness and simplicity, but multiplicity and disarray. Literally, it means "to piece together" or even "to throw together." It occurs only a half dozen times in the New Testament, all in the first chapters of Luke, with their collection of wondrous and unnerving events.

Symballo is, it seems to me, in a certain way, quintessential mother's work. It is gathering up and holding close. It is picking up the pieces, stitching and folding and stirring together. Perhaps it is appropriate that the Mother of God took it up in her very first days as a mother. But mothers know the truth: whenever any of us take up this work of collecting up all that is scattered around us, we are re-collecting ourselves, as well.

This Christmas, so many of us are ill or ill at ease or jumbled. So many feel displaced or broken or  brokenhearted. But if, in seeking the wonder of Christmas, we feel less like an island of calm and more like we are throwing things together in our hearts, at least we are not alone. The real work of pondering is the work of the first Christmas, as well as ours.

1 comment:

  1. Just came across this. It's also a wonderful as Lent and Holy Week approaches. A time when Our Lady once again pondered in her heart a frantic, and this time tragic, scene with the same kind of courage. As she puts the pieces together in her heart, she helps us to work out our salvation as well.

    Thank you, Holly!