For the last four years, every time I've gone to visit my daughter in Vermont, I've also visited a remote little antique store in the tiny town of Medburyville. There's been one piece there -- too expensive to purchase -- that kept calling me back, and each time I went I'd find it, wherever it was in the store, and let it speak to me again. In fact, when I heard about the floods, that was one of the concerns that leapt to mind: would the store be okay? Would this piece be okay?
And so, when I went back last month, it was on my agenda to pay another visit. Happily the store was untouched and so was the object of my affections. Even more happily (probably for reasons I only discovered later) the piece had been marked way down. And so, however goofy it may be, I bought it. And here, $45 and a trip in a suitcase later, she is.
I know. It's a little crazy -- and very out of character for someone who was raised Presbyterian. But the sense that she needed to come home with me was just too strong to ignore, so now she hangs on the wall of my office above my computer. Or at least she will for a while. I may need to move her to the wall behind me; we'll see. But for whatever reason, Mary and her son and the candles (ancient) and candleholders (one broken) and the little (empty) bottle of holy water that lives behind the picture of the Last Supper are here with me now. I showed her to a Catholic friend yesterday and I think she was a little appalled; apparently this little icon exists as preparation for Extreme Unction; for the blessing given at the time of death...
So why Mary? And why now? My reading in Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary this morning may have given me a clue. I think it has something to do with a need for balance.
We who sit at the liberal end of the Christian spectrum understand God to be both masculine and feminine, but as Westerners we are easily caught in the more masculine aspects of emotional life, the competition and rivalry, the urge to impress and dominate.
While in the monastery, Nouwen found himself increasingly drawn to Mary, and finally came to realize that Mary "helps me to come in touch again with my receptive, contemplative side and to counterbalance my one-sided aggressive, hostile, domineering competitive side." In fact, his spiritual director said to him, "It is not so surprising that you are easily depressed and tired... Much of your energy is invested in keeping your hostilities and aggressions under control and in working on your appearance of gentleness and kindness."
Having noticed an undercurrent of anger, depression and exhaustion in my own soul of late, I found this made me sit up and take notice.
Nouwen's response is this: "I hope and pray that through a renewed devotion to Our Lady, the Blessed Mother of God, I can allow my other side to grow to maturity and to become less self-conscious, less suspicious, less angry, and more able to receive God's gift, more able to become a contemplative, more able to let the Glory of God dwell in me as it dwelled so intimately in Mary."
And so I look at this curious little icon which has been so determined to enter my life, and I smile and say, "Amen to that."