The world right now, to put it mildly, is in upheaval. And when the earth is shaking around us, our natural instinct is to hold fast to what we know and what we believe, no matter what challenges it. It’s natural because our amygdalas, the emotional centers of our brains, sees a threat to our beliefs just as it sees a threat to our bodies.
Saber-toothed tiger? Run, hide, fight, or die.
Challenge to our notions of ourselves or our communities? Run, hide, fight, or die.
It’s only natural. But there is another way, a way that seems supernaturally difficult when we are in the midst of upheaval. It’s the way demonstrated by the Virgin Mary in the Gospels.
Mary doesn’t say much in the Gospels, but she hears a great deal: the message of an angel, the rejoicing of her once-barren cousin, the words of her Son. She receives these messages with openness, and she doesn’t immediately fire off an answer. Instead, “she ponders all these things in her heart.” She simply listens.
Right now, our shaken world needs this listening. So often, we’re tempted to explain our side of things to people, when what we really need to do is listen with openness to their stories. And just as the Psalms celebrate being listened to by God, our neighbors appreciate being listened to by other people.
Mary takes in what she hears, and she turns it over. She doesn’t reject Simeon’s shocking prophecy of her destiny; she saves it up and returns to it. She doesn’t give Jesus a good talking-to after he asks why she didn’t know he would be in his Father’s house.
This is the task that we all must take up. So often, we refuse to really listen to others because we suspect their facts are incorrect. What we should do is listen openly and then, later, turn the matter over. Maybe someone’s facts were incorrect; maybe their lived experience doesn’t line up with what we believe. But we have to take the time to see where there is truth in someone else’s story. We have to be willing to incorporate that truth with what else we know to be true.
Finally, Do Whatever He Tells You
In the end, Mary always points us to her Son. And he didn’t tell us to argue on the Internet, or to tell people where they went wrong (or where to get off). He tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves. That means we have to be respectful, we have to be open. Just as we want to be heard when we’ve been wronged, we have to love others in that same way. And then we have to demonstrate that love in concrete actions.
“Concrete actions” does not include making suggestions for other people to follow; it means taking steps ourselves, to do what we can. Christ came to a world shaken by political upheaval, in need of action. And he took it upon himself, in love, to save that world. Now, we are not saviors; only Christ has that title. But we must follow him in loving those who are made in his Father’s image, in making sacrifices for them, and in reaching out to them across the lines drawn in our society. We must be Christ-like, and we must begin by making space for him in our lives. We must listen; we must receive what our brothers and sisters are telling us, just as Mary did. And then we must do what Christ commands: Love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves.