Sunday, July 26, 2020

Goofing the Angel by Brian Doyle - a funny contemplative meditation

One of the things that most attracted me to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises was a form of prayer called "Contemplative Meditation." It is "praying with the imagination," putting yourself into a story from Scripture, usually a gospel story, imagining what you see, smell, feel, hear, and taste, and participating in the story as if you were inside a movie. Besides living the story, often some kind of deep insight happens, sometimes it even seems as if Jesus is mysteriously with you, even talking to you.

This contemplative, imaginative prayer was amazing to me when I first learned of it. I felt like my heart and head were directly connected. I love the way that people talk about their encounters and experiences. To take the imagination so seriously was, at least for me, something new. This week I read another book by Brian Doyle, whose writing is filling me with joy these days. Below is a "proem" (a word he concocted for his writings that are a combination of prose and poetry) he wrote called "Goofing the Angel." I think it's a delightful and funny contemplative meditation--something I've never heard anyone do before. Usually, it's all pretty serious. Hope you enjoy it!

Goofing the Angel
by Brian Doyle in The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be

The angels bring the news of the impossible yet again,
The same as usual. Just once you  wish they would say
Something quotidian, something commonplace, a joke
About two rabbis, a ridiculous opinion about anything.
Do they never dicker about sports and literature where
They reside? Are they so shy about pride since Lucifer
That no one issues fatuous and gratuitous opinions? But
Such opinions are the engines of our daily bread, right?
We say things that are almost true--or slightly too true.
But the poor angels don't, or can't. I have always liked
Mary for her calm presence of mind when Gabriel shot
Into her afternoon and utterly screwed up the chore list;
And it's not at all irreverent to sometimes wonder, with
A smile, if she pondered goofing the angel for a minute,
Making him wait, asking him questions about wrestling
Or sparrows or pears or mercy as a marker of the divine.
She must have, you know? Remember how graceful she
Was, how accepting of the impossible. Or consider right
Afterward, when the shimmer that was the angel shivers
In the hot air like a song, and she is delighted and rattled
And wondering how exactly to explain this to old Joseph.
Surely she started giggling and could not cease, that such
A thing had happened to her, right here in the kitchen, by
The sink mortifyingly crammed with dishes. Old Gabriel,
She realizes, stood too close to the stove, and unwittingly
Carried some fish sauce back with him wherever he went;
And she starts snickering again, even as she feels the first
Kick of the child like a new idea, a fresh start, a first note.

Don't you love it?! There are so many things I love about it, thoughts and memories it brings up.
  • Quotidian. What a good word.
  • Poor angels. What? Who ever feels sorry for angels?
  • Utterly screwed up the chore list,.. the sink mortifyingly crammed with dishes. In my own contemplations of Mary and Gabriel I have imagined her on a porch with a broom, with her mother in the doorway, watching the angel visit and exchange from there. Similar "quotidian" images
  • ...questions about wrestling | Or sparrows or pears or mercy. OK, I get the reference to sparrows and mercy. But wrestling? Pears? What?
  • ...how graceful she | Was, how accepting of the impossible. Makes me think of "hineni." This is one of many stories where someone says to God, "Here I am," when God gives them a specific mission and they accept it.
  • Old Gabriel,...old Joseph. Ha ha. Good ol' Gabriel.
  • And she starts snickering again. Made me think of a story my grandma told me as we looked at her engagement photo. Back in those days, when you had a photo taken you were supposed to keep a serious face--no smiling and saying "cheese" like we do now. I think it was because you had to stay still a longer time. In the photo, you can see that Grandma is smiling, a kind of grin. She told me that she got a case of the giggles and couldn't stop. Grandpa was annoyed with her. I just love it. It's so my grandma. She was filled with joy. At another time she talked about how she wished ministers would talk more about how happy it makes us to be loved by Jesus instead of such serious sermons. It also reminds me of my dad when he was around little kids. No matter what they did--naughty, nice, funny, whatever--they purely amused him. He was always trying to hold in his laughter. Thinking of Mary "snickering" and knowing she wrote the Magnificat, full of joy and wonder, makes her real to me, as someone else who felt happiness as well as sadness and sorrow.
  • ...she feels the first | Kick of the child like a new idea, a fresh start, a first note. This reminds me of when Mary visits Elizabeth and Elizabeth says her baby leaped for joy in her womb.
What about you? Thoughts?
Grandma trying not to giggle.
Dad laughing.

Dad trying not to laugh.

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