We can't spend years in silent contemplation, but God can still find a way to claim our hearts for Himself.
On November 21, the Church celebrates a beautiful moment in the life of the Blessed Mother: her presentation at the Temple. Tradition tells us that Mary’s conception was the answer to a prayer offered by her childless parents; in gratitude, they offered her back to God. As early as the second century, the Protoevangelium of James recounts their journey to Jerusalem to offer their immaculate daughter to the Lord, consecrating her to his service and leaving her to live in the Temple until she turned 12.
There she danced before the Lord, as David danced before the Ark, as John the Baptist would one day leap when she herself brought his Savior into his presence. There, we’re told, she was fed by the hand of an Angel. There, we imagine, she avoided small town gossip and adolescent cliques, remaining untouched by our sinful world.
For many of us, worn down by years of trying to be virtuous in a world that is clearly bent on destroying our purity and patience and gentleness, it seems rather an idyllic childhood. Who might we have been, we wonder, preserved from the wicked influences of the world, protected from those who preyed on and corrupted us?
Or perhaps we emerged from childhood relatively unscathed but labor under the wearying weight of work and bills and family. Perhaps we think longingly of the simpler life we might have had if we had only listened to the still small voice that seemed to beckon from convent or monastery. But we didn’t, so we look at Mary’s life of consecrated purity and see only what might have been. We might have been holy, we think, as we grab our keys and head for commute or carpool line or Costco.
And it’s true that Mary was protected, was given unimaginable grace to preserve her from sin and prepare her for a life of recollection. But Mary’s was not a life of pure contemplation any more than ours is. She had her early years, yes. But then she was asked to go back, to enter into the very same sort of life so many of us live, with family drama and difficult neighbors, with meals to plan and dishes to wash and bills to pay.
Not to mention, of course, the uncertainty and the fear, the wonder and awe, the balance of worshiping God the Son while raising him as your son. And then the empty nest and the sudden need to travel, to be near him though always at a distance. She had to act as buffer between him and his enraged family, to process his refusal to meet with her when the crowds told him she was there. She had to walk the road to Calvary and watch him die and greet him risen and receive the Spirit and mother the early Church.
No, Mary’s was no simple life of rapt contemplation, uncomplicated by the difficulties of ordinary life. She knew days when she couldn’t pore over the Torah, as she likely longed to do. She was the object of rumors. She had to discern how to balance her service to the world and her work for her family, just as we do.
But Mary had been trained to be still before the Lord, to ponder in her heart rather than reacting immediately. Mary had been given nearly a decade to pray in silence; rooted in that experience, she was able to be a woman of constant prayer, however busy her life got.
You and I haven’t had that luxury. And while some of us may yet be called to contemplative life, most of us will remain in the world, trying to balance activity and contemplation. Unlike Mary, we don’t have an entire childhood of contemplative prayer to draw on. But we, too, can present ourselves to the Lord. We can consecrate ourselves to him, through a morning offering each day, through spiritual communion, through an act of inviting the Lord to reign in our hearts.
In dedicating ourselves to the Lord as Mary did, we can commit also to seeking him in silence. We won’t be able to offer him nine straight years, but we can take stock of our lives and make space to be still before the Lord each day. Most of us can at least find 15 minutes to spend in silent prayer each day. We could commit to a weekly holy hour–even a daily holy hour is possible for many, especially those who don’t have small children. In making time to ponder the things of God in our hearts, we open our lives to the Lord and allow him to transform them as he transformed Mary’s.
On the Memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you, too, can consecrate yourself to the Lord, making space for him to speak to you in the silence of your heart.