In our mad-dash, workaholic world, any consideration of a word like "ponder" conjures up thoughts of a nonproductive idleness: sitting and meditating while there are jobs urgently waiting to be done. Pondering seems to be as out of place in our modem society as horses and buggies at an airport or log cabins in an urban sprawl.
But it hasn't always been that way. There were times when thoughtful decision making and time taken to ponder were honored values. The dictionary defines ponder as meaning "to weigh in mind; consider carefully" and lists words like deliberate, examine, muse, and reflect as synonyms. There are numerous uses of the word in Scripture, including Proverbs 4:26, in which we are urged to ponder the path of our feet, and the advice of Psalm 107, "Whoever is wise will ponder these things."
We humans are not alone in the activity of pondering. Scripture tells us God also ponders. The writer of Proverbs 21:2 illustrates God's pondering as also being his ability to see through our actions: "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord ponders the heart."
Early in the New Testament record, we discover that the mother of our Lord practiced the art of pondering and, in so doing, provided us with a model for tapping the dynamic potential of such moments. The Evangelist Luke pictures Mary at the Nativity scene, listening to the shepherds tell their story of the angelic messengers. Luke then simply says, "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19).
For the mother of our Lord, developing the power of pondering was neither automatic nor immediate. The Blessed Virgin must have required many ponder breaks to comprehend what it meant to be the mother of the Messiah. What an absolutely dramatic change in her life. In one sense, it was a death as much as it was a beginning. It was the death of her present existence, which, though filled with the humdrum of daily chores, still must have offered her the sense of security we all get from the routine in our own lives. It was those early moments of pondering that gave her the inner spiritual resolve to follow the path of partnership with God, leading to the Incarnation of his Son.In our moments of pondering, we often shape our lives
An old German proverb advises, "First ponder, then dare." One could say this was a precise description of Mary's situation. Taking the moments to ponder, she reached down deep within her soul to discover the kind of faith that was to burst forth in the lines of the Magnificat.
It was in these magnificent soul searching moments of her life that Mary must have weighed in her mind, carefully considered, deliberated, mused, examined, and reflected on the meaning of her life and the absolutely crucial necessity of making the right kinds of decisions. The manner in which she used those precious times will forever be a signal for all of us Christians who crave some sacred moments, which, far from being vacuums of silence, they are actually the great moments of personal decision and growth. In our moments of pondering we often shape our lives.
The practice of pondering is present in some of the world's great literature. In "The Raven," Edgar Allen Poe wrote: "Once upon a midnight dreary / While I pondered weak and weary ..." And in the nineteenth century production of "Sir Galahad," we read:
It is the longest night of all the year
Near on the day when the Lord Christ was born
Six hours ago I came and sat down here
And pondered sadly, wearied and forlorn.
Mary Teaches Us
Mary's moments of pondering do not appear to be filled with weariness and sadness but with contemplation of the unique position she would hold in God's plan for human salvation. Margaret Payne described it in these words:
Mary is the person in the Bible who teaches us how to ponder, and we learn from her that pondering is a good way to unlock the mystery of God's will and puzzle out how to submit to it.From the New Testament records, we are made aware of how Mary's moments of pondering led to submissiveness to God's will. The word "submissive" gives the modern world some problems. It is too often associated with weakness or lack of will, but Mary teaches us that when submission to God is let loose to race with other styles of living, it pulls ahead easily into the victory of joy. It provides a sense of satisfaction with life characterized by contentment and high spirited courage and is an unmistakable sign of great faith.
The Greek word used by St. Luke for ponder is “sumballo”, which means literally "to put together." So Luke's Gospel is telling us that Mary took all of the parts of her life her thoughts, her observations, her visions, and her knowledge of being chosen as the mother of Christ and constantly brought them together in her heart to help her understand what was happening and what it meant.
Our Need To Ponder
In our busy lives we often neglect times for pondering, especially if things are going well. When life appears to be humming along smoothly, it is easy to feel like we don't really need time for pondering. Yet, we soon discover an emptiness coming into our lives that seems as frightening as walking alone in a dark cavern. So being practical minded, we search for the quick fix. We try to recover from our feelings of emptiness by pondering on the run, squeezing those moments into small segments of time while we hurry along, occupied with "important" chores.
Then we discover the quick fix method doesn't work either. Just as sure as human intimacy needs regular cultivation to flourish, we soon discover that intimacy with God also requires carefully planned moments set aside to practice the art of pondering.
In her life Mary teaches us how to ponder how to tap the dynamic spiritual resources available to us. The act of pondering in our lives provides an opening for God to come into our thoughts and lives.
Spiritual Life, winter 2008