Our Station Keeping

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Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister. (John 19:25)

Let’s pause right there—a full stop at the foot of the cross with Mary and her sister. Let’s quietly stand there and take comfort in knowing that in her darkest hour, Our Sorrowful Mother had a sister to support and love her. At the cross their station keeping. It’s achingly beautiful to picture it.

It’s blessedly easy for me to picture it. I have eight sisters. And when it comes to comforting the sorrowful, each in her own way stands at the ready. Several of them will start in the kitchen, cooking and baking as they pray, because the sorrowful must be fed. As one of my nieces said of her mother and aunts, “When there is a crisis in the family, the pots and pans get clanging.”

Let’s pause right there, right with the clanging pots and pans. Because insofar as our—and here I mean each and every one of us—insofar as our standing alongside those who suffer, the “clanging of pots and pans” unfolds in myriad ways: Sometimes suffering demands our activism in the face of social injustices, a vocal presence, standing in solidarity with the vulnerable and speaking truth to power. Other times the best response to suffering is just to be present, to weep, to listen . . . and to pray.

Being quietly present to those who suffer brings me back to Mary’s sister at the foot of the cross. I wonder what prayers she might have said. Probably not: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” That beautiful prayer came later. But Mary’s sister knew other prayers “by heart,” and I’d venture to guess that when Jesus was dying on the cross, she drew from the same prayer book he did: the psalms.

And so for us too. When the sorrow is so great that we have no words to pray, the psalms help us cry out our pain and hold on to hope. I like to think of the lament psalms in particular as a poet’s version of clanging pots and pans, providing spiritual sustenance for the sorrowful—and for those who stand with the sorrowful. Like Mary’s sister.

And like the sisterhood of women who caught my attention this past year: the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others who traveled to Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, to support the mother of Daunte Wright after he was killed in a police shooting. Sorrowful mothers, and sisters all. As the mother of Eric Garner said, “To my sister Katie [Wright], you are not alone. We are here for you.” At the cross, their station keeping.

When all was finished on Calvary, did Mary’s sister take to the streets and cry for justice? Not likely. But surely she was forever changed by the suffering she had witnessed. And what of us, sisters and brothers all? Imagine how big of an “all” we are. Imagine a suffering world on the receiving end of our individual and collective love and support. Because when it comes to comforting the sorrowful, we stand at the ready. We pause . . . pay attention . . . prop up. At times we protest. And always and everywhere, we pray. Can you hear the pots and pans clanging?

And this brings me back to Jesus’ aunt. After Calvary, when the Beloved Disciple took Mary into his home, her Beloved Sister was probably one step ahead—already stationed in the kitchen.

Mary Stommes

Mary Stommes is an oblate of St. Benedict and editor of Give Us This Day.