Monday, December 21, 2009

George Fox: Ponder in the Heart

But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

"And you may see how Mary wrapped Christ in swaddling clothes, and how tender she was of the heavenly birth, conceived by the Holy Ghost. And must true and tender Christians, that receive Him in the spirit ... she kept all the sayings that were spoken of Christ and pondered them in her heart. And so should every good Christian." From Mind the Heavenly Treasure: Thoughts for each day from the Scriptures and the eight volumes of the writings of George Fox", compiled by Gary Boswell.

Here again, we see the thoughts of early Quaker George Fox expressed through concrete imagery. Here, he draws us to visualize and dwell on Mary's "tender" care and clothing of the infant Jesus, advising us to be as tender in our thoughts as she was in her physical care for a fragile infant. Here, the vulnerability of Jesus is laid bare. Do we tenderly cradle his beliefs--in forgiveness, mercy, love, peace, joy, abundance, compassion--or do we dash his infant's head against a rock?

It also strikes me that Mary ponders things "in her heart," fusing together the intellect and the emotions. In her body, the embodiment implied by her pregnancy and childbirth, she also grounds God in the physical. The infant Jesus stands for ideas that don't make sense--which are dismissed as impossible, as fantasies, as for "some other time," in the cold light of pure rationality, but which did make sense for the here and now to Fox and his followers and which do make sense when we enter the upside-down kingdom today. They speak to the deepest longings of our hearts. They are possible here and now.

I visited a mosque a few years ago. It was a beautiful mosque, unlike the others I had visited, which were basement rooms in office buildings. This mosque was light filled and open and empty, with a deep, thick tawny Oriental rug on the floor. It had a stark, sacred feeling. Afterwards, our guides told us that Jesus was a revered figure in Islam and recounted a story from the Quran of the infant Jesus, under a date tree, speaking, in a miracle, to tell those denigrating Mary as a fallen woman that she was a virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit. From birth, he protected his mother

I thought at the time that in the Christian faith is a birth story lean in miracles--a visit by an angel, a virgin conception and a choir of angels breaking good tidings of great joy to a group of shepherds. But Jesus, the center of the story, is simply a human baby born in very humble circumstances. He is protected by his mother, a model of how we protect our faith with gentleness, mindfulness and nurture, a model of how he needs our care, how he needs us to be his body. Also, an infant can't survive with partial attention--it demands our dedication.

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