I had gall bladder removal surgery yesterday and am slowly getting back to normal (which is no small feat for me because I haven’t been normal for over twenty years). As I grow in awareness that I don’t know the full implications of the questions that I raise in my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), two approaches to my search for the nexus between science, philosophy, psychology, and religion (spirituality as I define it) have emerged in my thoughts. Both approaches are sides of the same coin, so this is not an “either-or” selection. I am resigned to this seeming conundrum.
The Tuesday after Easter Sunday, our community of Good Shepherd, Tallahassee, Florida, will gather together in Eucharistic adoration at the Mass to celebrate the 99th birthday of Mary Stuart Hartmann. Mary Stuart reminds me of Mrs. Murphy, which is quite a compliment. What follows are my thoughts about Mary Stuart that inspire me to think about the silence and quiet truth of just believing in Jesus.
THE SIMPLICITY OF TRUTH: The first is based on looking at the totality of all reality (remember, this is the reality that is the capsule of my life experiences that will be different from those you have lived through). The big picture view of my Lay Cistercian promises to seek God each day as I am. This approach is characterized by being more and more simple, realizing that the complexity of The Christ Principle is a tool, like the Ten Commandments, meant to be lived out so that my heart is prepared to sit on a park bench in the middle of winter and anticipate just being with the Being of Jesus. There are no steps to follow or fancy readings to inspire me to holiness, although these make me a better-informed person when I do them. I ask no questions, seek no answers, bring up no agenda, and do not call upon my background to “know” more. Rather, it is the conscious “kenosis” or emptying of my false self to make room for more love.
THE COMPLEXITY OF TRUTH: We humans only live one moment at a time. A succession of these moments gives continuity to what would otherwise be a fractured experience of holding on to one thought and focusing on it. All thoughts have a direction (there is always a beginning and an ending to everything, including each activity or mental awareness) and depth (or height, if you want). In dealing with The Christ Principle, my Lectio Divina thoughts have a beginning and an ending because I live in a world that continues to deteriorate around me. Still, I am also a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, which is incorruptible and has no limit to its depth.
My new awareness of these two approaches to truth and how they interact with each other has opened a new door to solving one of the most annoying and frustrating concepts about spirituality. This has to do with Mrs. Murphy’s character, originally presented to me in 1963 by the late Aidan Kavanaugh, O.S.B., in a class on sacramental theology. I have attached a blog I wrote about Mrs. Murphy so you can sketch out a backstory if you so desire. https://thecenterforcontemplativepractice.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=5689&action=edit
When Father Aidan told us that this simple person who sits on the backbench in the darkness of the Church, eyes lowered, smiling in the silence and solitude of her heart, knows more than all the great theologians who have ever lived, I was taken aback by it. From 1963 until last year, I struggled with how this could be true, even though I realized this was a fictional character. The distance it took me to continuously ponder this idea was considerable; the depth I had to reach the truth was also formidable and required stick-to-it-ness to realize any kind of assimilation into my thoughts from 1993.
This is what I realized. Mrs. Murphy is you or me as you approach the great, amorphous Mystery of Faith. Learned theologians and clerics devote their whole existence to acquiring more and more knowledge with the assumption that the more you know, the more you can love God. St. Thomas Aquinas told us that. Father Aidan was not the first to portray the simplicity in the complexity of knowing about God.
“Any old woman can love God better than a doctor of theology can.” ~ Bonaventure
“One day when Thomas Aquinas was preaching to the local populace on the love of God, he saw an old woman listening attentively to his every word. And inspired by her eagerness to learn more about her God whom she loved so dearly, he said to the people: It is better to be this unlearned woman, loving God with all her heart, than the most learned theologian lacking love.” ~ Thomas Aquinas
It did not click until this year that all the Scripture we read, the Liturgy of the Hours we pray, the Eucharist we share, and the contemplation where all of this comes together in The Christ Principle is not how much you know, although that is essential. The simplicity of a simple act of sitting on a park bench in the middle of winter in silence and solitude to wait for Christ is the meaning of Mrs. Murphy’s paradox. Seek out the precise reason there is complexity and become one with that goal of all contemplation. Waiting is not a passive activity but rather the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven. Don’t hurry! Don’t be afraid! Simplicity sits on the lap of complexity at its center. Being present to the heart of Christ is the purpose of Scriptures, Eucharist, and Cistercian practices following the Rule of St. Benedict.
These ideas on how to love others as Christ loved us form the basis of moving from my false self to the newness of life, especially at this time of the Resurrection. We celebrate that pure energy became subject to corruptibility because God loved humans, each one, one at a time. Mrs. Murphy is everyman, superman, the Blessed Mother, the Apostles. Each person in the church struggles to love God with all their hearts, minds, and strength and their neighbor as themselves. (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:38).
I experienced the closure of Mrs. Murphy’s seeming conundrum only to realize that it opened up to me an additional height, depth, and width (capacitas dei) I did not realize I had. What joy comes from sitting in that backbench before the Blessed Sacrament, in silence and solitude, in the company of the Church Universal, and feeling the heart of Christ beating, waiting for me to move from this kingdom of heaven to the next, in quiet anticipation of being one with my destiny as evolving to be fully human, to just be. My life is a vast THANKS to God for all His blessings.
Mary Stuart reminds me of Mrs. Murphy, who reflects the complexity of God in the simplicity of her life well-lived. We should all learn from the many Mary Stuarts to inspire us to love with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole self, and our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:38) The complexity of truth is made simple in the heart of each person who just sits in the presence of Christ and waits, smiling at knowing that the love of Christ is everything.
Praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. –Cistercian doxology