But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Luke 1:29)
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51)
Pious tradition tells us that St. Luke sat at Mary’s table and learned the stories represented in these verses directly from her. In what I can only imagine was the heavenly peace of the Blessed Mother’s home, St. Luke heard not only the timeline of the Holy Family’s lives, but the way in which Mary lived it out. Mary pondered. Scripture does not tell us that she fretted or worried, but pondered.
Much has been made of this over the centuries and many have learned to pray from this simple truth. Recently I was praying about a particular persistent sin I commit.
For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. (Romans 7:19)
I was not really praying though, I was fretting and worrying, when I knew I should be pondering. In my pride I was trying to figure out what I could do about this trap I was in, instead of humbly accepting my humanity and crying out to God for help. When I finally somewhat came to my senses, God dropped one little word in my mind: ponder. As I continued to pray, an odd definition emerged:
Ponder – setting aside judgment of an event, person, question or problem to accept what is and allow God to show you the lessons He wants to show you. To allow a sometimes gnarly, old, ugly, obstacle-ridden tree to bear fruit that is medicinal or a beautiful tree to bear ripe fruit.
Time to Accept
The key here is that to ponder allows time to accept. In the case of the sin that I was praying about, I needed to accept the fact that I cannot conquer this sin on my own, try as I might. I needed to (again) accept that I am a sinner and I do the evil I do not want.
Acceptance, in turn, requires the exercise of the virtue of patience, the passage of time, time to ponder. As I accept and ponder, God teaches me, reveals myself to me, helps me, changes me. Often, He changes me by giving me opportunities to practice opposing the sin with acts of virtue. In my experience, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes pretty good. Pretty good is also something I have to accept. Pretty good helps me to battle my pride.
Pondering then, to me, is not only about heavenly things, but is very much prayer with an earthly purpose. Sometimes we have problems. Sometimes we have sins we can’t seem to stop committing. Sometimes we have a theological question we can’t figure out. All of these instances can benefit from the simple act of pondering. Pray. Tell God the truth. Give Him your problem, your sin, your question that you can’t figure out. Then go about your business, your duty of the moment, and be open to the answer He will give you in His perfect timing. Some answers may come very quickly. Some may be revealed in a few days, when you have finally, truly let go of it mentally. Some may take years to be unearthed, as God clears away the rubbish obscuring the root. In all of it, keep pondering. Keep prayerfully taking your problems to God and leaving them with Him to handle while you do your life’s work in the present, enjoying the gift of each moment.
A Difficult Question
A group of praying friends and I keep a running text going of the day’s readings and related meditations. One friend has recently demonstrated the simple beauty of this gift of pondering. After prayer and reading, she related a very difficult theological question to the group. It was a question that verged on “What is the meaning of suffering?” The question was really the fruit of her prayer, and it left her with a sort of fire that she needed to share with us. As God would have it, none of us in the group was given any wisdom to answer the question. But the very next day she received a wise and deep and true answer in her time of prayer through another reading. She shared it with us and we all were blessed.
In the time in between, this friend did not fret, worry or, God forbid, lose faith over this heavy question. She went about her business and trusted God would teach her what He wanted her to learn in the manner He wanted her to learn it. And He did. The end result was that we were all enlightened, not only about the question itself, but perhaps more importantly, about the process of pondering, accepting and trusting. She pondered, accepted that in her faith she won’t always have all of the answers she needs, and trusted God to give her what she did need, when she needed it.
Pondering with Mary
Recently in prayer I took this whole gift of pondering back to Mary, to thank her for it, for her beautiful modeling of something that God knew we would need in our lives. In my heart, she responded:
If you come up hard against an obstacle in your ascent up the mountain of holiness, you needn’t scramble atop and claim victory for our Lord. This is not a race. Bloodied hands and skinned knees won’t prove your love. Stop. Ponder. Allow me to show you the manner in which the Lord would have you overcome. And then, hand in mine, we shall proceed. The obstacle may seem so big, so unruly as to be the entire mountain in itself. But you needn’t ever take more than one step at a time, and that you take with me. One day you will look back and see the view afforded by the struggle with that obstacle. You will feel the strength gained from the struggle. And you will have the courage, and confidence in God, to continue walking hand in hand with me, one step at a time up this mountain.
Jesus, Mary and the Saints are always so much gentler about life than I am. I pray that eventually that gentleness rubs off on me. Hopefully in this too, practice will make pretty good and I will be able to be a little, gentle light for Jesus and Mary.
Lord, help me to ponder like Mary, all that is good, true and beautiful, but also all that is hard, challenging and frustrating. Let me accept the reality of what is now without the answer or solution I believe I need. Help me ponder and release all into your hands, knowing you give all that we need, in the manner we need it, in your perfect timing. May I be a gentle light for you, hand in hand with Mary.