Waiting was last week’s theme. we explored its varied nature, it surprises, its frustrations, its longeurs and its ephiphanies. There was, as there is always with Thomas, an acknowledgement, too, of its difficulties. As creatures we do not take to waiting easily. But this week’s theme is an even more difficult one – “Acceptance”.
It is difficult because it we are not careful it can become an excuse for injustice:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The Church has form here. Acceptance is not the same as fatalism. Jesus was not a therapist, neither was he a political agitator, he was the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and he came because God does not accept that our sinful nature is incurable. Christians are called to act, but before we get on with the task of changing the world, we might begin with the hugely hard task of changing ourselves. It is immeasurably hard because, put simply, we can’t do it; not by ourselves. He hung and suffered there for us; he accepted death, even death on a Cross, for our sakes. We should accept that love – but also accept what comes with it.
Our Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary, is the model of acceptance. I can imagine how it must feel to be told at a very young age that you are pregnant – there was a girl at my school who had to “withdraw” in the lower-sixth because she had had an “accident.” Early pregnancy was more of a common occurence in the past, and women accepted it. But there was a proviso – you were supposed ot be married. Patriarchal societies have always put a value on female virginity. We are told Joseph was a “righteous man”, and the evidence is that when he discovered his bethrothed was pregnant he did not do what he had the right to do, which was to shame her for her infidelity, but was minded to put her away privately.
We are so familiar with the story it is worth standing back for a moment to see what “acceptance” means here, and why this poem is so appropriate for us at this point in our journey.
Mthr. Carys, in her essay, points out that it is a reflection of
a radical attempt to “domesticate” God … acceptance … is rooted in prayer, observation, questioning, acknowledgement of our own folly and frailtyp. 38
And we see here all of that in the actions of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph.
Imagine, if you will, as a young fiancée trying to explain to your bethrothed that ‘yes’ you are a ‘virgin’ but ‘yes’ you are pregnant. I suspect most men would simply refuse to believe it – how unlikely a tale is that? But let’s go back one step to Mary. You are reading quietly, a figure appears and tells you you are going to be with child and that child will be the Messiah. You ask how it can be, you are a virgin? A choice was offered her. Whatever else she knew, she must have known how people would react. We know from extra-biblical sources that there were rumours about the parentage of Jesus circulated by his enemies. Mary must have known it would be hard, and yet she accepts:
By her acceptance of the word of God the gates of salvation were opened – though her heart would be pierced many times. And let us not forget Joseph. He accepted what the angel told him, he did not question or doubt. He accepted. We cannot know how hard that was, but in doing so, he protected Mary and became the foster-father to her son. He accepted all that in faith.
So too, in the poem, does the hill farmer, amid the strains, stresses and weariness of everyday life, accept God, the God he sees around him in those everyday things. It is no Eden, there is no idyll, and the sceptic might point and say “where is your God?” There is no easy answer. Our farmer’s heart has been broken, life is bleak, but he, like Our Lady and St Joseph, accepts and says “So be it.”
In acceptance lies Grace. If we embrace God’s will then the path will not be smooth, neither will it be strewn with primroses. Acceptance means we align ourselves as best we can with God’s will – and yes, wait, and see him in the moon and the stars even as we meet him this day in the breaking of the bread. Come, Lord Jesus, come!