Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let It Be and Magnificat

It did not take long to find songs that would adequately represent my values. While technically my song is two songs, the message is singular. Let It Be by the Beatles is a contemporary version of Mary’s simple response, i.e., fiat. Or, let it be unto me according to your word. Her “let it be” is the historically retold response to the Archangel Gabriel that announced the birth of Jesus and her role in what Christian’s understand as salvation history. Immediately after the annunciation by the angel, Mary sings or prays her Magnificat, the words of which are derived from St. Luke’s gospel.

When I was first drawn to Let It Be, I cannot say with certainty but I was born in 1966 and I’m sure it was in the air (along with other songs of the Beatles) around me at the time. I do recall that my 8th grade graduation class wanted to select Let It Be as our class song, but the authorities at St. Mary’s Immaculate Conception Grade School heard rumors that the Beatles intention behind the song was the legalization of marijuana and some other song was selected. I cannot remember what the class song was. It might have been equally meaningful but as you see, that is lost on me now.

The Magnificat was first impressed upon my heart from the age of ten and later more significantly around age 16 when I entered the monastery in California. Monks have sung Mary’s song or the Magnificat for centuries, every day, at Vespers or evening prayer. I am partial to the time just before sunset when Vespers is usually sung and the chanting of the Magnificat is the high point of the Vesper service sometimes accompanied with incense and processions. Seven cope Vespers were even more ornate and seven priests in the monastic community would where copes (ornately embroidered floor length capes) for the processions and incensing of the altar. A lavish display was given during the Magnificat in memory of a young woman who referred to herself as a “lowly handmaid.”

Both pieces of music echo in their lyrics a theme of humility and surrender in spite of circumstances that surround us. They both speak of hope, comfort and a gentle way of facing life’s greatest transitions. They both speak of a faith that is certain of a positive outcome in the end.

The values in the song that most resonate for me are humility and perseverance. Monastic life is built on the value of humility and the Rule of St. Benedict addresses how once advances in the degrees of humility. My confirmation name/middle name is Bernard, after St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached and wrote extensively on humility for his monks as well. Although, no longer a monk, having lived under monastic profession for 24 years, I don’t believe that genuine humility can be abandoned which perhaps leads to selecting perseverance or fortitude as values. While the Beatles' Mary speaks wisdom and shines light in personal darkness, Luke’s Mary is overwhelmed by the power of God. A power that in some confessions of Christianity made her the Mother of God. There is a profound relationality in both songs. In Let It Be the relationship is between the individual and Mary and in the Magnificat the relationship is between God and the people of Israel expressed in the individual reflection of a young girl.

In Mary’s song, we hear about the emancipatory aspirations of a people. A deep and critical reflection of everything that Mary knows of life and its blessings and sufferings. This is Mary’s deep education, her paidea (education or instruction in her reflection on the message of the angel). “There will be an answer” implies that it is not yet apparent. Along with generations of monks, I am keeping vigil, watching and waiting for our great transformation foreshadowed by Jesus and many great teachers before and after him, including his mother who first uttered his words in the garden during his passion some 33 years earlier: “Thy will be done.”

So much of what I attribute value to in my life is rooted in this deep appreciation of education, there is an internal pull into the mystery of the light and that wisdom that subverts what we otherwise assume is reality. Is it any wonder that liberation theology grew out of the work of an educator the likes of Paulo Freire?
My experience of misalignment and suffering comes from not being skillful enough in my application of these values. I usually compromise for the pragmatic and the expedient and forego for long periods of time the inner reality from which such lyrics spring. I know on an authentic level (knowledge at the cognitive level of evaluation) that the significance of life is within each of us, far below the operation of daily thought and activity.

Better alignment is possible by recalling that the search for knowledge is an interior quest which may or may not be facilitated by the current environment in which I find myself. The words on the way to the oracle come to mind here, “know thyself.” I really believe that learning happens all the time and that sometimes it is transformational. I keep moving towards enlightenment in the ways I know how. Formal education is one way that always leaves me feeling expanded and open to new outcomes. I think that just learning about learning is creating a catalyst for me to move along this journey onward and upward. “There will be an answer. Let it be.”

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