Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
John 20: 15-16
What is it that we are really looking for? For the Hebrews in today’s reading from Exodus it was the security of their life of slavery in Egypt. Having set out on the way of freedom, they found their trust weakening and their hope fading. Their story is very much ours. Our need for security is so great that its demands seem always to diminish the call of our deeper longings and aspirations. As much as I long to love and serve the world, my inability to weather life’s frustrations and disappointments lead me to distract myself from my deeper aspirations in the dispersion of comfort, entertainment, and busyness or, in the words of Albert Camus, “to seek refuge in love, and work, and communal life.”
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. In our gospels, Mary is the archetype of discipleship and purity of heart. It is she, beyond all others, who suffers her longing and loss at the death of Jesus. She is the first to see the Risen Jesus because she never stops looking for him, even as all seems lost. She models for us the call to keep our hearts open and live in our longing for the one thing necessary for us, despite the pain of the discouragements and disappointments that would drive us back to our need for protection and security.
Mary encounters Jesus while she is weeping and alone. She refuses, despite the darkness and suffering, to abandon her deepest longing and desire because somehow she has faith that even this moment of nothingness will pass. She has experienced the truth of Jesus and no external evidence to the contrary can lead her to abandon her faith, hope, and love in him. She will keep looking until he comes to her.
Beneath all the clamoring for safety and success in us, there is the spiritual potency of our transcendent mind and will. So often we forget and abandon what we are most deeply looking for in favor of the temporary relief of dissipation and distraction. The refrain of a song from the far from classic 1980 film Urban Cowboy entitled “Lookin’ for Love” comes to mind:
I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searchin’ their eyes, lookin’ for traces
Of what I’m dreamin’ of
Hopin’ to find a friend and a lover
I’ll bless the day I discover
Another heart lookin’ for love
The love we truly are looking for is so difficult for us because everything is immersed in it. We can’t see it in our ordinary ways of looking because it is not a phenomenon outside of us. We can only come to know it in the silence and stillness, in the desire and the longing at the core of the present moment. Mary is looking for Jesus by remaining at the empty tomb and weeping, by drinking to the dregs, as it were, her life in the actual moment. She refuses the “consolation” of distraction and dispersion, and, in doing so, discovers that it is Jesus who is looking for her.
Meister Eckhart says, “The noblest attainment in this life is to be silent.” By “silent” does this fourteenth-century Dominican friar simply mean physical silence? He means far more than this and calls it being “in the right state of mind.” Eckhart illustrates this in a provocative way in an address to young people who are training to be fellow members of his Dominican Order. In characteristic fashion, Eckhart shocks his audience a bit. He says, “I was once asked: ‘Some people like to withdraw from company and prefer always to be alone. That is where they find peace…. Is this the best thing?’ My answer was ‘No’!” Why would Eckhart say “No”? He is fully aware that physical silence is the preferred environment for prayer and that it needs to be valued and cultivated. But deep prayer is not about a physically silent environment, but about the Loving Communion that is Silence itself, and Silence itself is deeper than the presence or absence of sound waves. A silent environment is the opposite of a noisy environment, but the Silence Eckhart wants to lead these students to has no opposite. It grounds all that appears and disappears in awareness, all that comes and goes. Eckhart is trying to nudge his audience toward this discovery. The realization of this silence that has no opposite is what he calls being in “the right state of mind.” This “right state of mind” is a silent mind and is always present within us. Therefore, Eckhart says, “if he is in the right state of mind he is so whether he is in church or the market place.”
Martin Laird, OSA, A Sunlit Absence, p. 53