Thursday, January 19, 2012

The True Ark

[Mary is] the true Ark of the Covenant in Israel, so that the symbol of the Ark gathers an incredibly realistic force: God in the flesh of a human being, which flesh now becomes his dwelling place in the midst of creation.
Mary, the Church at the Source, 65
Reflection – We all remember the climatic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark—the one with the melting Nazis and all that. While it made for a stirring action film, we have to be clear that the real ark of the covenant is a much more profound reality, much more beautiful, much more meaningful.
God has made his home among men—this is the point. The historical ark of the covenant, as we read in 1 Samuel 4, truly symbolized the presence of God among his people, but we see there how they used this object as a way of ‘making God’ fight their battles. The ark, the physical object, begins to be used as a magical object, something we can manipulate so as to manipulate God.
This project of ‘manipulating’ God by manipulating the signs and symbols of our religion is not exactly alien to us. We may not be quite as crude about it as the ancient Israelites, but many of us harbor the idea that if we just say certain prayers, if we just carry around certain sacramentals, if we just follow certain rules—well, then, it will all turn out all right. Everything will go according to (our) plan.
And of course, this form of ‘religion’ is doomed to failure. We do not manipulate God. Our life is not about our own plans and ideas. The whole point of all reality is the obedience of faith, the total surrender of the human person to the mystery of God and his love for the world. It was no doubt by the mercy of God that the original Ark was lost forever, as it would have continued to pull Israel into this totemic kind of magical religion, instead of the true dynamic of faith.
So we have Mary emerging from the heart of our Christian faith as the true Ark of the Covenant. The one who makes a home for God in the world precisely through this obedience, this totality of surrender. If we understand this—that the home of God in the world is found only in this obedience, this act of surrender, then all our shabby and rather pathetic ways of trying to make God present fall away.
No longer do we try to ‘please’ God by slavish ritual or fearful rule-keeping; no longer do we try to impress God with a ‘pious’ demeanor or a continually cheerful countenance. The obedience of faith is very different from all of that, even though it encompasses fidelity to ritual, moral life, true devotion to piety, and a radical commitment to joy.
But it’s all about love, not fear. It’s about knowing the One who we follow is awesome, beautiful, glorious, and good beyond measure. It is not about a grubby little effort to make God behave Himself.
Mary stands before us always as the great icon of the obedience of faith, the human creature who was so obedient, so given over, that God could actually physically take flesh in her womb. And that is why we hold Mary in high esteem, keep her statues and pictures in prominent places in our churches and homes, and ask her help and intercession continually. She knows what the presence of God is, and how to place ourselves in that presence, and how to offer ourselves to Him so that we too can become his tabernacles in the world today.

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