Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Genesee Diary: "Mary's return"

I recently posted, referring to the fact that I was reading Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary, and suggested that it might offer some insights into how monastic life can be understood in relation to the life of a lay person.

I think it is fair for me to observe that Fr Nouwen approached his Catholic life from what one might term a more "liberal" perspective rather than from a "conservative" perspective. But that isn't to say that Fr Nouwen isn't open to the working of grace in the monastery. Take, for example, his account of his re-discovery of the part to be played by the Virgin Mary in his prayer life:

When I was a child she played a very important role in my religious development. The May and October devotions in my family are a real part of my childhood memories ... But after my seminary years, a certain antidevotionalism developed in the circles where I lived, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, became less and less important in my religious life.

But this week "she returned". Not by an conscious attempt to restore my devotion to Our Lady .. but without any intrusiveness I found her in the heart of my search for a more contemplative life. If anything helped, it was the Icon of Our Lady of Vladimir in the Abbey chapel. ...

With a somewhat sad, melancholic gaze, Mary looks at you and points with her right hand to the child she holds on her left arm. The child is embracing her in a very affectionate way. The intimacy of the child's embrace is expressed by the little hand that, appearing from under the veil covering Mary's head, gently touches her left cheek. The child looks like a small adult ina  monk's habit.

I keep looking at this intimate scene, and peace invades my soul. Mary speaks to me about Jesus. To him she directs me ... it seems that she invites me to share in the intimacy between her and her child.

This week I often experienced resitance toward private prayer... But when I knelt in front of the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, it was different. In some way my resistance against meditation subsided, and I simply enjoyed being invited to enter into the intimacy between Jesus and Mary.
Fr Nouwen goes on to discuss how the monk acting as his spiritual guide during his stay at Genesee pointed out the psychological implications of this. Fr Nouwen was encouraged to give more space for his receptive, contemplative side - his feminine side.  More fundamentally, they might have reflected on an ecclesial implication - the contemplative nature of the monastic life as sharing in Mary's openess and receptivity to the Holy Spirit and to the coming of the Word made flesh, and the monk as an exemplar of Mary-the Church who still makes Christ present in the world.

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