A sermon preached at Tymawr Convent by their Visitor, Bishop Dominic Walker OGS
I once had a Tory MP in my congregation who complained – with tongue in cheek, I hasten to add – that the Magnificat was pretty left wing, and of course he was right. It speaks of three revolutions – firstly, there is the moral revolution He scatters the proud in the plans of their hearts. Yes, pride, the most deadliest of sins fails to recognise that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God.
Secondly, there is social revolution. He casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble and meek. St Luke’s gospel is at pains to stress God’s love for all regardless of whether they are young or old, male of female, rich or poor. The mighty and powerful and the humble and poor are all in need of God’s saving grace.
Thirdly, there is the economic revolution He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away. Yes, God’s kingdom is about peace that is marked by justice and compassion. The NT has much to say about those who amass wealth whilst others are hungry and poor.
So Mary speaks of three revolutions and we are the revolutionaries! We may not look like it but that is what we are called to be. Each of the Canticles in Luke’s gospel reflect a different Hebrew spirituality of the time. The Magnificat reflects the anawim tradition, which was the spirituality embraced by the Quamran community living in the desert not far from the Dead Sea. It was about subversiveness – questioning leadership and power and fighting for the poor.
So how can a contemplative community living in the Monmouthshire countryside embrace a subversive spirituality? You can hardly go on political protests in Westminster or sing the red Flag instead of the Angelus, but I want to suggest two ways in which you can be appropriately subversive.
Firstly, and most obviously, your prayer life embraces praying for those on the margins – the poor and hungry, the homeless and refugees, the persecuted and those who society despises. You welcome guests without distinction because all are loved by God.
But there is another way which I believe goes to the very heart of the contemplative life. Much of contemplative prayer is about us trying to behold God, but beyond that is allowing God to behold us, so that with Isaiah we are saying, ‘Here I am Lord’ and with Mary we are praying, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’. It is about letting God gaze upon us. So often we pray with our eyes cast down, but we also need to pray with our eyes lifted up so that we look at God in our emptiness that he might fill us with his love. When the celebrant says, ‘Lift up your hearts’ and at the same time raises his or her hands, it is not just liturgical choreography, but to encourage people to look up at God as God comes down on us.
In the Hindu tradition, people visit temples, not to see God, but to let God gaze upon them (darshan) . They allow God to look upon them in their nothingness and emptiness so that he might fill them with his presence. It is a practice that is reflected when Indian Christians exchange the Peace at the Eucharist and bow towards one another and say Namaste which means ‘I bow to the Divine within you’. It is also reflected in some of the paintings and statues of Our Lady that have her looking up to heaven with open arms so that God may gaze upon her.
Thomas Merton wrote, ‘At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God’. If we are silent and simply pray, ‘Here I am Lord’ and allow God to look upon us, in our emptiness and spiritual nakedness, then we allow God’s love into our hearts, and then we shall share that love with others. As Richard Rohr writes, ‘The Christ in me sees the Christ is you’. That is what the revolutions in the Magnificat are all about. It turns the values of the world upside down. That is real subversiveness, and in allowing God to gaze upon us as he gazed upon Mary, we can pray with her, ‘My souls magnifies the Lord and my Spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. Amen.