Everybody has a bad movie that they like, though sometimes we keep quiet about them. If you ask me to list my favorite films, I will come up with some well-known movies that show a wide variety of good taste, perhaps with too much fondness for low comedy and full-color musicals. But if you ask me for a film that I'm I want to see when I'm recovering from the flu or feeling slightly sad then I might come up with a different list. One on the middle of that list is a film called “Foul Play” starring (are you ready?) Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. She plays a serious but slightly wacky librarian who gets involved in an assassination plot. He plays a creatively crazy policeman trying to win the maiden and solve the case. All this in 1970s San Francisco, a city I knew and loved. It has one of the best car chases you'd ever want to see, though it goes on a bit too long, but in the middle there's a bit of a love scene that is just wonderful.
It happens when Goldie, who has just missed being murdered by an albino with a knife, being luckily saved by Chevy, is now, for security reasons, going to spend the night at his Sausalito houseboat. Nothing's really happened romantically yet, but there seems to be an possibility of something else on the horizon, and they begin talking.
He says, "What if you think of me when you first met me?" She says, "I thought you were a bit of a fool." He says, "But what did you think before that?" She says, "I thought you are arrogant." He says, "And what did you think before that?" She says, "I thought you were cute." and He says, "And what did you think before that?" And all this time they're getting just a little bit closer and they're taking very quick little looks, sort of snapshots, at each other's eyes and each others lips. And he says, "And what did you think before that?" And she says, "I thought you might be nice to kiss." And they do, and the lights fade, and the next thing you know they're having breakfast or something.
And it seems to me in every one of these interchanges, these playful and erotic and building dialogues, that each one of them is getting younger. It starts out with a guarded quality, yet with each response more honest innocence shows forth, they look at each other more openly, more keenly, sharing perhaps both their fear and their desire for completion, for wholeness, for the moment that connects, and they look younger every time.
And I think that happens with Mary and the Angel.
Mary starts out a little guarded, "What can this mean, how can this be, this cannot happen to me" But she keeps coming back to the angel, they keep looking at each other, they keep being surprised by how deep and honest the interchange, the affection, the opportunity for a great joy just might be. What must she have looked like in that final Yes?
It must've been like a little girl, not knowing that anyone was watching, dancing before a lighted Christmas tree. What they call an authentic gesture, not tentative, but opening and articulate, allowing space and making song and sense of the opportunity that has arisen.
And I want to say that that moment, a moment like that, is at the ending, middle and beginning of every encounter in the Gospels. The preliminary question, the more direct response, the eyes searching, the faces facing, two people getting closer when desire and want meet opportunity and love, when healing happens and when new creation comes out of nowhere:
Think of these people in the Scripture who are face-to-face with Jesus: putting their incomplete questions to him in the middle of that unfinished journey; just a bit awkward: because it always happens that way when we risk, when we're unsure, beginning, opening a new, just starting out, but it is still a kind of blessed poverty; think of the Beatitudes in Luke:
"Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are you more hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who we now, for you will laugh, Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man; rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven."
So every dialogue, every dance with the Lord, with God, is an opportunity to grow younger, is a chance to wake up to life, life larger, life containing more contradictions, life pulsing with possibilities, life birthing a new way of being beyond any ending we might've seen before. That opportunity is there every time anyone takes the risk to seek Jesus face to face and ask the crucial question that waits to be asked in the middle of their life. As the philosopher/theologian Suzanne Langer says, "If we would have new knowledge we must get a whole new world of questions."
Still, some get it wrong, can't take the risk, have no room for questions. Instead, they hear a challenge and tried to choke it off, they hear an opening and try to close it out, they see a door opening to a more loving life and they try to nail it down; and they shut themselves off from so much.
Yet others listen, those who want to live larger, those who want to go beyond limitations, those who have to endure great suffering and deep pain but still hear in their hearts that hymn that keeps hope alive. And when they come to Jesus they get younger.
Look at the disciples in the Scripture, they start out as such staid people, such old fools, asking silly superficial questions. They consistently misunderstand Jesus and, when he gives them parables of opportunity and freedom and grace, they ask for security and positions and powers. It has to make you laugh!
Thank God we have models of the faith like that, because they give us room to begin, and then they grow in faith and dedication and discipline and heart and hope through from those shaky beginnings to the ends of their lives.
We talk about people maturing in the faith, getting wise sometimes and in some ways, and maybe we do; but I'll bet we get younger in the bargain. We might not look younger (though that would be nice too) but we're still more likely to take it on living faith, more likely to let hope fly, maybe even foolishly, more likely to dance in front of the Christmas tree, and every other tree, every chance we get, every day of the year.
It isn't always easy, and sometimes it will hurt like hell. Even for Mary. Later in Luke you get, “And a sword will pierce your soul,” and still later Mary will see things that no mother should see: witness that love and life to which she said "Yes" meeting a bloody end, a "No" that seems to have no hope for hope. She must have wished that cup could have passed by her child
But perhaps she realized that she had taught him to walk that way, to dance in that direction. After all, Jesus', "not my will but thine” is not too far from Mary's, “let it be to me according to your word." Her hands lifting in that girl's garden to accept the Angels mission is a kind of overture to this solemn celebration he will enact, arms open wide, on the Mount of Calvary. Perhaps she had helped to teach him to be the Lord of the dance, even with that damnable tree.
Thomas Merton writes this:
"It is she, it is Mary, Sophia, who in sadness and joy, with the full awareness of what she is doing, sets upon the Second Person, the Logos, a crown which is His Human Nature. Thus her consent opens the door of created nature, of time, of history, to the Word of God...
She crowns Him not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty.
She sends the infinitely Rich and Powerful One forth as poor and helpless, in His mission of inexpressible mercy, to die for us on the Cross."
By Our Lady's mindful mercy we see the almighty grace of God take baby steps into the middle of our humanity. With her innocent ascent we see caritas and courage meet on a dead tree and make the whole world bloom anew. In her accepting witness and her walk of faith we join with her to meet the angel proclaiming that, "He is risen from the dead" so that the whole creation may rise and dance in love.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you, Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God: pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.