Shawn is a twice widowed mom of two strange and wonderful daughters: Roise, 16, and Maire, 20. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite with the Austin OCDS Community of St. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, and a proud member of her home Bible study, the Pontifical Biblical Institute of the Holy Hippie Sisterhood. Shawn works as a private care-giver. Her household includes an extra (very wonderful) family of three, and also dogs, cats, and chickens. St. Anne's (the name of the house) is run like a cross between a convent and Pippi Longstockings' house with a little bit of commune mixed in. Shawn promises she does take life seriously from time to time, and is hoping, by God's grace, to ascend Mt. Carmel, scattering many rose petals along the way just for fun. She does not ordinarily wear shoes. Who needs shoes?
I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!
During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.
He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”
This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?
For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.
What I eventually found, as I developed spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.
photo by Shawn Chapman and Roise Manning-Pauc
Mary did not and does not sit out on God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out. With that idea in mind, I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.
With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.
Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.
How is this done?
It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.
Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?
Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?
Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?
Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?
If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.
You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.
Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?
Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.
By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us. In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.
Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.
Jesus lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.
As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.
She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple “Why have you done this to us?” This is often the response of our hearts to the injustices and suffering in the world when we come to God asking “Why?”
She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.
She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.
After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.
She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.
What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ,
and Christ to the world.
detail from a painting by Michelle Condon Pena
This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “
In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore in ours as well, through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.
We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.
We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)
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