08 Dec Holy Bewilderment
And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But [Mary] was much perplexed by his words…(Luke 1:28-29a)
Mary’s faith is often lauded during Advent, as well it should be. Her response to the angel’s pronouncement that she would bear a son, “Here and I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” is one of trust that we would do well to practice in our own lives.
But as author Debi Thomas says, it is a misnomer that the Annunciation leads Mary out of doubt and into faith; rather, her encounter with the angel leads her out of certainty and into holy bewilderment. Out of familiar spiritual territory and into a lifetime of pondering, wondering, questioning, and wrestling. She was much perplexed. Or, as she puts it to Gabriel: “How can this be?”
Many of us were raised with a fairly precise and comprehensive picture of who God is and how God operates in the world (or so we thought). “God is Creator and Redeemer. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. God is Three and God is One. God is holy, perfect, loving, righteous, merciful, just, and sovereign.”
What an interesting shock reality is. Who knew that life with God would actually be, in Thomas’ words, “one long goodbye? That to know God is to unknow God? To shed neat conceptions of the divine like so many old snakeskins and emerge into the world bare, vulnerable, and new, again and again?”
This, of course, is what Mary had to do in the aftermath of Gabriel’s announcement. She had to consent to evolve. To wonder. To stretch. She had to learn that faith and doubt are not opposites—that beyond all the easy platitudes and pieties of religion, we serve a God who dwells in mystery. If we agree to embark on a journey with this God, we will face periods of bewilderment.
But this frightens us, so we compartmentalize our spiritual lives, trying to hold our relationship with God at a sanitized distance from our actual circumstances. We don’t realize that such efforts leave us with a faith that’s rigid, inflexible, and stale. In his wise and beautiful memoir, My Bright Abyss, poet Christian Wiman writes,
“Life is not an error, even when it is. That is to say, whatever faith you emerge with at the end of your life is going to be not simply affected by that life but intimately dependent upon it, for faith in God is, in the deepest sense, faith in life—which means that even the staunchest life of faith is a life of great change. It follows that if you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived—or have denied the reality of your life.”
In other words, it’s when our inherited beliefs collide with the messy circumstances of our lives that we go from a two-dimensional faith to one that is vibrant and textured.
From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, December 7, 2022.