I was pondering yesterday on how Mary used the words “let what you have said be done unto me…” rather than saying “I’ll do it.” Allowing something to be ‘done to you’ is very different to ‘doing’ something. It is submissive, receptive, permissive. When we ‘do’ stuff, we are in charge. When we allow stuff to be done to us, we are not.
I’ve never realised how significant Mary’s choice of words are in terms of the interior life. In prayer we often make the mistake of trying to do too much. St Teresa of Avila teaches us that prayer is simply a conversation between us and God. But so often we try to hog that conversation, not allowing God to get a word in edgeways! (Most people do want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity! 😀 ) At other times we may feel we have prayed ‘correctly’ if we have assumed the position, said all the words and fulfilled our duty. But both these ways of praying focus of what we are ‘doing’.
Recently I have become resentful of praying my daily office, or liturgy of the hours. It has felt empty, like I am just going through the motions. I began to see little point in it. But I see now where I was going wrong. I was approaching it from the perspective of it being something that I ‘did’. And whilst this is true in the physical sense of the word, spiritually it is the opposite of what actually happens during real prayer.
“What renders the Office fruitful is not what you do during it, and is, rather, what God does in you during it. We call it the Opus Dei because in it God works in us. The operations of God in us are not contingent upon our processing intellectually every word of every verse of every psalm. A monk’s physical presence in choir, on good days and bad, in light and in darkness, says to God, “be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). For this to happen, it is not necessary to understand everything, nor to feel anything, nor to succeed at anything. It is enough to to go to choir, to carry out the Divine Office as best as one can, to present one’s heart to God as a field to be plowed, and seeded, and tended, and to trust in the secret operations of His grace.” – St Benedict
My error was to think that prayer is something that I should ‘do’. But actually a much better adjective would be ‘receive’. There are a million different ways to pray, all of them good, but the most important part is our desire to pray, and our disposition. Do we turn up to pray saying to God ‘I’ll do it’ or do we say ‘let it be done unto me’? It is a subtle difference, but one of fundamental importance. It sets the tone for our entire spiritual life.
Ponder this, it’s important.
When I was baptised, I didn’t do it, it was something that was done to me. When I am absolved in Confession it is something that is done to me. When I receive the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, when I receive the Last Rites or Holy Orders it is something that is done to me. I received the sacrament of Matrimony from my husband and he received it from me.
When I approach Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, is it something I do, or something I let be done unto me? Do I allow Jesus to be placed within me, as Mary did? Or do I put Jesus in my own mouth how I prefer to ‘do’ it? Either way we still receive Jesus, but the approach is very different, and really does set the tone for our entire relationship with Jesus.
Mary teaches us how to receive Jesus perfectly. She allows Him to grow in her – not how she might have planned it, but how God planned it. She didn’t ‘do’ God’s will as such, she allowed it to be done to her. Let us ponder more deeply the words “Let it be done unto me…” this Advent, and observe our own prayer lives. Can we move from a position of ‘doing it’, to a position of letting it be done unto us?