Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. ~ John 19:25
“Don’t just sit there. Do something.” “Doing something is better than doing nothing.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard these words. Are they sound advice? Is “doing something” rooted in deep wisdom?
At first glance it appears Mother Mary is doing nothing standing under the cross while her son is being crucified. She is standing silently. We might expect her to “take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t” writes Father Richard Rohr.
We also hear that “silence is consent.” This phrase implies that not speaking is the same as giving permission or agreement. In her deep silence, is Mary consenting to her son’s death? Has she resigned to the inevitable?
What is Mary doing? In our own contemplative silence, we must go beneath the words and the images to a deeper understanding.
Father Ron Rolheiser mentions that some artists picture Mary lying prostrate under the cross, “the wounded mother, helplessly distraught, paralyzed in grief, an object for our sympathy.” This narrative is like the portrayal of Rosa Parks, the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, as the tired seamstress who is just too exhausted from a long day of work to get out of her seat and move to the back of the bus. Both storylines undermine the strength and the righteous conviction moving through these women of great faith.
“Prostration, in Mary’s situation, is weakness, collapse, hysteria, resignation. In the Gospels, standing is the very opposite, a position of strength. Mary stood under the cross,” writes Rolheiser. Likewise, the bus driver in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 demanded that Parks move to give her seat to a white person. She said, “No.” The driver replied, “Well, I’m going to have you arrested,” and Parks replied softly, “You do that.”
Later, Rosa Parks, when asked if she was too tired to move said, “The only tired I was was tired of giving in. We must never be fearful about what we are doing when it is right.” Mary and Rosa stood and sat in positions of quiet strength deeply rooted in the love and restorative justice of Grace.
Why was Mary silent? Why did Rosa Parks speak softly?
“Had Mary, in righteousness and outrage, begun to scream hysterically, shout angrily at those crucifying Jesus, or physically tried to attack someone as they were driving the nails into Jesus’ hands, she would have been caught up in the same energy as everyone else, replicating the same anger and bitterness that caused the crucifixion to begin with. What Mary was doing under the cross, her silence and seeming unwillingness to protest notwithstanding, was radiating all that is antithetical to the crucifixion: gentleness, understanding, forgiveness, peace, and light,” writes Rolheiser.
Mary can’t stop the crucifixion, but through her vulnerable, peaceful silence she can change some of the anger, hatred, and senseless violence surrounding Jesus’ death. Rolheiser says she can’t stop the crucifixion, but she will not embrace its hatred and intolerance. In silence, Mary stands in love, compassion, and grace.
If Parks ranted and raved at the bus driver, if she called him a racist pig, if she would have attacked him, I don’t think the modern civil rights movement would have started on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama. Instead, she sat quietly in a position of grace. She sat in gentleness, understanding, forgiveness, peace, and light. She refused to embrace the hatred, anger, violence, and ignorance of systemic racism.
From the cross, Jesus does not attack, condemn, or hate his accusers. He does not replicate their energy. Instead, he says, “Forgive them Father, they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Christ does not eliminate all the anger and violence of the world, but he does start transforming the energy of hate, anger, and violence into love, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus receives hate and returns forgiveness and love. He calls us to do the same.
When things aren’t right, when injustice happens, “we need, at times, to protest, to shout, to literally throw ourselves into the face of injustice and do everything in our power to stop the crucifixion,” writes Rohr. And there are times when “darkness will have its hour and all we can do is to stand under the cross” and not embrace and escalate the energy of hate, intolerance, ignorance, and violence. Like Mary, we have to say, writes Rohr, “I can’t stop this crucifixion, but I can stop some of the hatred, bitterness, jealousy, brute-heartlessness, and darkness that surround it. I can’t stop this, but I will not conduct its hatred.”
With the Spirit of God moving through us, may we transform the energy of hate, bitterness, and ignorance by standing and sitting in the silent energy of grace, love, and peace. Amen.
Blessings and peace,