Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!" This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. -Luke 7:11-17
The Self-guided Retreat
Introduction to the Meditation Prompts
Before Colm Toibin's play The Testament of Mary begins, Mary sits in a glass box, wearing a salmon shift beneath a beautifully draped garment of blue. She poses with downcast eyes and an expression of composed recollection, holding lilies in her arms. After the play begins, Mary strips off the sentimental costume and the frantic observations begin – her own experiences leading up to, during, and after the horror of her son's crucifixion. She drives us relentlessly toward her own embittered conclusion: “It-was-not-worth-it.”
This Mary's human experience seems more genuine than the sentimentalized, stoical Mary of art and legend. In this week's post, I can't let the story of the resurrection of a child go by without acknowledging the death of children (see Suzanne's Meditation) and the challenge that grief brings to the resurrection stories of Jairus' daughter, Lazarus, and the son of the widow of Nain. Meditation One invites you to consider grief first, before skidding too quickly around it into hope.
Bishop Niceta, (Meditation Two) asks you to consider the mystery of Christ as the touchstone of every aspect of life and even death, while Thomas Merton (Meditation Three) describes the feeling of awakening from dreaming into the moment of eternal dawn the resurrection promises.
May you rise in these days by the power of perpetual joy. -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) Your favor is a torment If I was made Mother of God in order to see a God die then Forgive me Eternal Father your favour is a great Torment. Il pianto di Maria I don't know where the text comes from but Giovanni Battista Ferrandini 1710-1791 set it to music and often this piece is attributed to Handel.
Meditation Two (insight) when it is too dark to see If you would be wise, ask him who is wisdom. When it is too dark for you to see, seek Christ, for he is the light. Are you sick? Have recourse to him who is both doctor and health. Have no fear whatever of death, for Christ is the life of those who believe. Would you know by whom the world was made and all things are sustained? Believe in him, for he is the arm and right hand. Are you afraid of this or that? Remember that on all occasions he will stand by your side like an angel. If you are afraid that your body is failing and have a dread of death, remember that he is the resurrection, and can raise up what has fallen. -Niceta de Remesiana c.335-c.414 The Names and Titles of Our Saviour quoted from Gail Ramshaw's Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary
Miscellany My heart, therefore is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. -Psalm 16:9-11
You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave...You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. -Psalm 30:3,11
He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness. -Psalm 103:4
The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”... Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well. For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. -Psalm 116:2-3,6-7
The Widow of Nain, German Miniaturist, Hitda Codex, Ca 1020
Meditation Three (integration) like the first morning of the world At five-thirty in the morning I am dreaming in a very quiet room when a soft voice awakens me from my dream. I am like all mankind awakening from all the dreams that ever were dreamed in all the nights of the world. It is like the One Christ awakening in all the separate selves that ever were separate and isolated and alone in all the lands of the earth. It is like all minds coming back together into awareness from all distractions, cross-purposes and confusions, into unity of love. It is like the first morning of the world (when Adam, at the sweet voice of Wisdom, awoke from nonentity and knew her), and like the Last Morning of the world when all the fragments of Adam will return from death at the voice of Hagia Sophia, and will know where they stand. It is like being awakened by Eve. It is like being awakened by the Blessed Virgin. It is like coming forth from primordial nothingness and standing in clarity, in Paradise. -Thomas Merton 1915-1968 Hagia Sophia
The Last Word Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.
“and the bearers stood still”
When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. -Luke 17:13-15
The story offers scant comfort to the parents of children Jesus doesn't bring back from the dead. I certainly did not call the widow's son to mind when my two little grandchildren died on the day they were born last summer. My son and daughter-in-law cradled their son and daughter, comforting the children and each other during the hours the babies lived. And after they died, I didn't expect Jesus to arrive at the hospital and raise them from the dead. The surprising thing is that Christians take hope in the raising of Jairus's daughter and the widow of Nain's son in spite of the deaths of our own children.
I don't buy the point of view that the story should comfort me because, although they died in this life, now my grandchildren have been raised from the dead into heaven and that they are little angels waiting for us to join them at some kind of big family reunion. I don't necessarily think I'll ever meet them someday in some other plane of consciousness. However, I do believe something...
In the story after this one, John the Baptist sends a message from prison. His friends ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (7:22)
Jesus spoke to John through allusions to texts from the prophet Isaiah. By doing so, he is saying that the kingdom is upon them, that something is happening now: the reign of righteousness, of peace, healing, justice, transcendence – is at hand. Something undermines the hopelessness of the human condition, and here are signs that something new lies just beneath the surface of what appears to be reality. (Can you not perceive it? Is. 43:19) This new thing- whatever it is - will emerge silently - like the resurrection - so deep in the night that Mary arrives on Easter morning – while it was still dark – to find the tomb empty.
Here's my favorite line in the story of the widow of Nain: “And the bearers stood still” (vs.14). My heart stands still. In this great darkness I make room for the Holy to pass through the midst of death like the flaming torch and smoke passing through Abraham's sacrifice. Like Abraham, I drive away the birds of prey while waiting in a darkness deeper than time. This is where I perceive the new thing, here, in this empty space.
And the bearers stood still.
In prayer, I stand still. I give myself to that secret newly emerging from the darkness.