April 6, 2010

Noli Me Tangere

She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 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. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and then reported what he had told her. (John 20:14-18)

More than any other dominical word, Jesus' "stop holding on to me" in today's gospel speaks to my own experience of prayer.

When I first began to reflect on the idea of God, the idea drew me into a kind of prayer.

But then it happens, somehow, very obscurely, the Lord becomes recognizable when he calls the pray-er by name. "Rabbouni!" This call, this experience of God in his Person drives you deeper into prayer; you want to know Who this Presence Is. Whatever this is, it is somehow at once terrifying and delightful, joyful and serious. It makes you feel giddy and grave at the same time. But as soon as you feel like you can touch the Mystery, this same God Who invited you into prayer seems to retreat from the embrace and the understanding. At first you feel put off and reejcted, but after a while you learn to trust this, and see the retreat as an invitiation, as if this Beloved refuses to be touched in order to make you chase Him deeper into the mysteries of your own being and that of the creation.

This goes on a for a few years, and you find that you desire more and understand less. Somehow you know God both more and more intimately and less and less certainly. You desire in a way that can never be satisfied, and experience a satisfaction that never becomes satiety. Eventually you hardly know what is meant by the utterance "God." Yes, you believe that He is a Trinity because he has revealed Himself to be so, and because the life of the sacraments has convinced you of His Presence in them on the experimental level, but in the experience of prayer all of this language seems to become too coarse. The conversation or the love making of prayer seems to be below or above or around it. Pick you metaphor; in the end they don't matter either.

Noli me tangere. Amen.

1 comment:

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles - this is one of the most impactful moments of the gospel (and there are MANY). The phrase "noli me tangere" has resonated for millenia, and is of course a common subject for artists (I have an online collection of such paintings, because the subject really touches home for me).

I think it is such a strong moment, because it speaks to the core of our human existence; when we experience joy, we all want to hold on to the moment, and make it last forever, In some cases our subliminal fear that it WON'T last forever (and of course it won't) even clouds our ability to enjoy and experience fully when good happens. St Mary Magdalen epitomises the human desire and instinct to hold onto, to possess that which cannot be possessed. We can only be a part of it, actively or passively.

Incidently, if you haven't, go to google images and type in "Noli me Tangere" for some good stuff.