Arms Wide Open

I wrote this some time ago, but God brought it to mind this weekend when I faced a much smaller disappointment. Big or small, the need to look to faith in the future (as Mary guides) still applies. 

Not too long ago, a dream of hope died. A relationship unraveled and I was wrecked. Hope deferred makes the heart sick indeed. My heart was sick and broken. After some time of grieving, I got tired and sick of my sick and tired heart. Grief has contours and a bottom (and for that I am profoundly grateful), but what it doesn’t have is bite. And I was ready for a hard edge.

I wanted a posture that felt commanding, not soft and bowed. I tried crossing my arms. I even tried shifting my weight a bit onto a back leg, head tilted to the side, but looking up, as if to say, “Lord, You’re going to do what You want to anyway, so go right on ahead.”

For whatever reason, that arm-crossed stand seemed to stem my leaky eyes. And it even gave me some boldness: “Yeah, Lord, like I said, have at it. Clearly, my desires are not part of Your equation.” This worked surprisingly well. I liked the bite, the posture. It felt so much better than the soreness. It felt like strength.

Later, a friend asked how my disappointment had affected my view of God. I told her about my recent move from grief to crossing my arms and leaning away.

“It sounds kind of icy to me,” she said.

“Icy? Really? It doesn’t feel cold,” I told her. “It feels good, strong.”

“What do you think it feels like to God?”

“Umm. Oh. Hmm,” I stammered. “I don’t know.” Part of me didn’t care. I didn’t want to feel anymore and I wasn’t particularly concerned how I made someone else feel. Even God.

After more discussion, my friend suggested that should my heart thaw, I might consider praying like Mary. Like when the angel came to her and radically changed what she thought her life might look like: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV).

Soon, at every turn, I heard messages about Mary, stumbled on artwork portraying her, and read tributes to her simple faith. Like when your old boyfriend drives a white truck, all you see are white trucks everywhere. Suddenly, Mary was everywhere.

The image that touched me most was Michelangelo’s Pieta, housed in the entrance to St. Peter’s in the Vatican. I visited there a few years back and was captured by the sculpture of Mary, arms outstretched, with her Son’s crucified and broken body across her lap. The serenity of her expression, in the midst of this moment of unbearable loss, surprised me. Jesus had not yet risen from the dead, and yet she emanated acceptance. Caught between Friday and Sunday, Mary was at rest.

I learned that the Pieta is a “pyramidal” sculpture, topped by Mary’s graceful visage and moving out broadly to the base. Michelangelo used the draping of Mary’s gown to provide the cradle and width necessary for a woman to bear the body of a grown man.

The foundation of the pyramid is noted by art scholars and shook my icy stance. The foundation of the pyramid: the rocks of Golgotha. My heart softened. My arms loosened to my sides.

“Oh, sweet Mary, you’re on a tomb,” I thought. “You rest atop the hill of redemption. You bear the weight of the moment, but your face reflects your faith in the future.”

Mary, your arms, they are stretched out. Stretched out. Wide open.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

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