Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Real Question for Christians: WWMD (What Would Mary Do?)

I am not a huge fan of theology that reduces the Christian Faith to an acronym (unless you are talking about teaching children that are very young). Now compound that with a bracelet that attempts to propagate this handy dandy formula and turn it into a kind of approach for life, and what you get is a whole industry for it. The push back is not unlike that annoying "Got Milk?" ad campaign, where everybody under the sun has their own take on it. Other examples of this include anything from "What Would Darwin Do" to "What Would Buddha Do" to my personal favorite, "What Would Scooby Do". Ironically, these somewhat mocking substitutes actually make more sense than the former.

If you are a Christian, you might be shocked at this suggestion because, while you do not think a bracelet or a catch phrase is the be all end all, it is certainly far from being a bad thing. Here's why I think the idea is misguided, and here's the type of bracelet I would wear if did seek to propound a formula of this sort.

The truth is I do not have a sweet clue what Jesus/God would do in any given situation ("'Your ways are not my ways', says the Lord"). As a human being, it is far easier to discern what a Buddha or a Darwin might do (especially if I read about their life and philosophy). On the other hand, while I do know, to some extent, what Jesus did (as perplexing as that might be), I am at a loss for just what he "would do" in any given situation.

WWBD? Chances are… this. 

I do not deny that we should meditate on the life of Jesus- however, I am a little reticent when it comes to drawing any hard and fast conclusions about his present/future plans. The apostles couldn't figure out what Jesus was doing, those closest to him didn't know what he was going to do, and even when he told them, they nevertheless seemed utterly unequipped for that reality. Why else would their responses have followed this subsequent pattern: try to talk him out of it, rebuke him for it, or abandon him entirely when he carried out what he said he was going to do? What would Jesus do? Are you kidding me? God is buck wild and if you think I can even begin to have the courage or imagination to "do", much less figure out, what he has in store for us- then you are either arrogant, naive, or haven't considered the matter sufficiently.

I know I am being a bit harsh here, but my point is that it is a bit shallow and superficial (like Christmas in the mall) to present such a daunting task in such a simplistic manner. Or as Jesus once said when James and John demanded to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in the kingdom; "Do you know what you are asking me to do?" The Bible is filled with people (like me) pretending to be up to the task of WWJD, and those who, more often than not, wind up falling embarrassingly "short of the glory of God"; whether through confusion, cowardice, or simply as a consequence of a limited imagination (see below). Thankfully, I have yet to see any "Yahweh or Bust" t-shirts out there, but I suspect it will not be long before there is serious demand.

It is true that after Pentecost the followers of Jesus were endowed with far greater knowledge and understanding. However, we should remember that in spite of our increased awareness, we are still talking about the same God who shocked the entire world (and every other imaginable religious sensibility) by coming into the world as a homeless man- and thus it is reasonable to presume that he is not done surprising us on this front.

Therefore, instead of the usual WWJD bracelet, I highly recommend one that is more Marian in nature, one that is sky blue and reads (or at least signifies) WWMD. I can almost envision it being worn in a maternity ward, as a new mother awaits with excitement and trepidation the moment when her child is placed in her arms for the first time. This is Advent, after all, so rather than thinking metaphysically, perhaps it is best to think biologically. In other words, imagine with what fear and trepidation an expectant mother (and father) experience as they anticipate the birth of a new child; a child that promises to change everything under the sun for them, not to mention over it as well.

This is why Catholics devote so much attention to Mary- not because we love her more than Jesus, but because- at least in the life- we are so much more like her than He. When Mary first heard the angel's greeting; "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with You", who could have known, including herself, "what this greeting could mean"? So what did it mean in essence? "Hold on tight, because you are in for the ride of your life!"

We cannot save the world as Jesus did, but we can learn from Mary just how to remain faithful and constant even when it seems most challenging to do so.

"What would Mary do?" Shall I run down the list of human emotions that capture the nature of a mother's love for her child? So many ups and downs, ins and outs, highs and lows, from that sacred stall in Bethlehem, to the abyss on mount Calvary; from his ministry of miracles, to that unimaginable triumph over death, when, against all odds, her God and baby boy came back from the grave!

I cannot say what this God of surprises might require in any given situation. And I can barely imagine how I might carry out the daunting commands that he imposes on us in Scripture. What I can imagine, however, and attempt to imitate, is what a pious loving mother might do when confronted with life's challenges. I can imagine what a woman who loves her Son with every fiber of her being (actually her fibers are really part of His being) might do in order to comfort and console him in his darkest hour; a woman who's very vocation it was to magnify Him with her entire soul.

There is something tremendously comforting about a mother's predictability, especially as it concerns the genuine unpredictability of this life. Perhaps this is why our Lord gave her to us at the cross; "Women, behold your son!" I cannot save the world as Jesus did, nor can I begin to imagine where his divine "wild goose chase" will take me next, but what I can do is "stand" with that magnificently predictable Woman, that fiercely faithful Lady who stood with Him throughout His life. Indeed, I can, as she did, allow myself to be yanked around all of God's creation, by that umbilical cord of love that binds every heart in the grace of Baptism; "Here I am, Lord!" This is not a passive love, in fact it requires tremendous spiritual dexterity, a generous heart ready to give of itself at a moments notice. I recognize that this is not an easy assignment, but on the bright side, at least when we subscribe to this Marian disposition, it doesn't require us to be diviners of the Mind of God.

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