Art of My Heart: The Annunciation

Perhaps you, like I, have looked upon many artistic depictions of biblical scenes and have been left wanting.  Jesus’s hair is way too long and pretty, everyone’s garments are far too pink and blue, the buildings and courtyards are inordinately clean, etc., etc.  I’ve written on this subject before.  Loving beauty and truth, I want to be both aesthetically pleased and spiritually impacted.  Good religious art should cause me to be powerfully moved by the beauty and meaning of the piece, powerfully taken back to the moment depicted.  In other words, I want to be spiritually transported by the aesthetic image to feel myself present at a moment when Heaven touched Earth.

And so much art just doesn’t get that done for me.

There are exceptions, of course, and I have reflected on them from time to time in this blog.  One exceptional work of art has recently been purchased by me (in the form of a print bought through AllPosters.com) to hang on my bedroom wall.  (My awesome parents are helping me to mount and secure it as I write this.  So many blessings for which to be thankful!)

It’s a depiction of the Annunciation by Henry O. Tanner.

Before I show it to you, if you aren’t familiar with it already, a little on the traditional depictions of the Annunciation.  I do appreciate them, typically with symbolic touches, usually with the winged angel kneeling before the Virgin Mary, who looks humble, pious, and open to what she is hearing.  The work of Fra Angelico comes to mind:

Annunciation, Fra Angelico

(Check out a wonderfully informative video on this work and other frescoes by clicking HERE.)

But, the angel, Gabriel, is as usual, lavishly and heavily garbed and Mary is so very calm and serene.  And, for some reason, this doesn’t strike my heart.  In Fra Angelico’s work, the pair look like they are in some Italian portico, in others,, young Mary has a greatly receding hairline.  I am willing to look beyond the contemporary “fashion” details that an artist will add in keeping with his time – if, and only if, I am taken in by a look in the face, a gesture of a hand, a radiant light….  Too often, however, details not contemporary to Scripture get in the way of the heart of the matter.  And, so, the works don’t find their way to my heart.

The 1898 work by Henry Ossawa Tanner is the exception.  In it, Mary is real, vibrant in her attentiveness, in what seems a lively curiosity, as well as serenely open and willing.  She is on the edge of something, almost vibrating, yet perfectly still.  The Angel Gabriel is, well… alive, aflame, pure light, marvelously and wondrously a powerful messenger from God.  Now, that is an angel!

Without further ado, then, I present to you the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and told her that she was to conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit…

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner

This man-made painting of the moment when the Divine pierced the temporal veil and awaited a young woman’s full acceptance and embrace of faith, embrace of God’s salvation… Well, this work of art does find my heart, deep within, striking the chord of truth and beauty that only a sublime and subtle glimpse of the Divine can.

Yes.

I say with Mary, Yes.

Read my  depiction of the Annunciation in words by reading my posts: A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread  and In the Cloud of Glory a Portal Opens

© 2017 Christina Chase

 

Something about Mary

Mary statue close-up Catholic Suncook

There sure are a lot of titles for Mary, the mother of Jesus – more than I can list, or even know and remember. Virgin Mary. Blessed Mother. Our Lady. Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Queen of Heaven and Earth. And so on, and on, and on… besides the names given to her apparitions throughout the world, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima…. All Mary.

Why?

I think it’s a case of giddiness – the good kind.

We Catholic Christians are Continue reading

The New Eve

Wrong conception…

Last Tuesday, I was struck again by how the Catholic Church can often seem to perpetuate misunderstandings within Catholicism. Like the Immaculate Conception…

How many people think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the way in which Jesus was conceived in the womb of his virgin mother? Quite a few. Even many Catholics. And if you go to Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you receive fuel to add to the fire of your mistake. For, in the Gospel reading for the Feast, we hear of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, telling the young virgin that she will conceive a child in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the big story that the Catholic Church has chosen to emphasize on the day on which we celebrate the Immaculate Conception. So, it would be very natural for one to assume that the “conception” referred to in the Immaculate Conception is this miraculous conception of Jesus, in the womb of a virgin.

But it’s not.

Who Is Immaculate?

Jesus was not immaculately conceived – he was divinely conceived, by the power of God, the Holy Spirit, in the womb of a virgin. (We celebrate this, by the way, on the Feast of the Annunciation, which is on March 25 – nine months before Christmas, hello!) Catholics believe that Mary was immaculately conceived, meaning that she was conceived, she was brought into being from the very beginning, without stain. What stain? The stain of Original Sin.

First Things First…

The key to understanding why the Church has chosen the biblical account of the Annunciation as the Gospel of the day is in the first biblical account read on the Feast.

The First Reading is from the Book of Genesis, telling the story of the first man and the first woman when they fell from Paradise. The woman, who will come to be known as Eve, has succumbed to the temptations whispered to her by the serpent and has gone against God’s will by eating a forbidden fruit. She has given the fruit to the man with her, who has also eaten it. Through this act of disobedience, they come to experience what evil is and feel their smallness, afraid of their vulnerability. And afraid of God. The consequence of this act is that they can no longer live in Paradise – but what we hear on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the consequence for the disobedient and conniving serpent: there will be enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed. The serpent shall strike at his heal while he strikes at his head.

And, yes, this is a foreshadowing of Christ. As the serpent’s seed represents the devil, Jesus represents the “seed” of the woman. It is good and right to compare the prophecy in the Book of Genesis with the prophecy in the Gospel, by seeing Christ as the promised “seed”. This could, however, lead to confusion again about whose conception we are celebrating on the Feast of December 8 – but only if we forget about The Woman. For, it is also good and right to compare the woman in the Book of Genesis with the woman in the gospel, seeing Mary as the new Eve. This is the main reason why these two readings of the Bible were chosen to be read on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception by the Catholic Church.

Original Sin

Let’s look at that Genesis account…. The first sin of mankind (Original Sin) is what the First Reading of the Feast Day is about – the disobedience of the first man and the first woman.

The first man and the first woman came “fresh and pure from the Creator’s hands”, knowing nothing of disobedience or evil, nothing of sin. Eve was immaculate, stainless, blameless. In this pure state, she was free from the attachments of sin, free from the selfishness and hangups that can weigh a person down and make it difficult to freely and openly choose the generosity of selflessness, of true love. Because she and Adam were in this pure and innocent state, it was even more devastating that they chose self-centeredness and willfulness. Their choice had cosmic consequences. They chose pride and distrust of God. And the world fell.

Now, every human being is “stained” by this Original Sin, darkening the intellect and weakening the will. This is our inheritance from our first parents. In a sense, this is part of our banishment from Paradise, from being able to walk and talk with God as intimately as the first humans did in their pure state.

A lot of people don’t want the woman, Eve, to take so much of the blame. After all, the first man knew all about that tree and was there when she picked its fruit, so he has equal blame. But, it’s important that the Fall of Mankind began with the first woman. In the Bible, it says that she is named Eve because she is the mother of all the living.

The New Eve

God did not want the story of human beings to end with the pain and separation of Original Sin. God chose to free us from evil and restore us to Paradise, through His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. God gave us a second chance. So, He created a New Eve, a human being conceived without the stain of original sin, to try again…

Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, is understood as the New Eve. God created her and kept her, from the very beginning of her being, free from the stain of Original Sin, so that she may be as innocent and pure as the first Eve. For, the first woman’s cataclysmic free decision in the Garden of Eden must start to be undone by another woman’s free choice of universal impact – the second woman is The Woman, the New Eve: Mary.

neweve

Early Christian theologians drew upon the parallel between Eve and Mary[1]. The first Eve said “no” to God by going against God’s will. The New Eve says “yes” to God by accepting God’s will. The old ushered in the Fall of Mankind – but the New opened the way for the Salvation of Mankind, in Jesus Christ. The first Eve gave the tainted and forbidden fruit to the man who was with her. But, the New Eve bore the divine and perfect fruit of her virgin womb to all Mankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the New Eve, is the Mother of All the Living in Christ. Death was born through Eve’s act of disobedience and selfishness – but Life was born through Mary’s act of obedience and love.

Freedom

It is important to remember that God never forces us to do anything. He created us with the gift of freewill so that we may be able to choose love. Love can never be forced. And so Mary had to freely choose. God created her especially for the purpose of being His Son’s mother, fruit bearing the fruit of salvation and eternal life to the world. And never did God see her or treat her as a mere vessel. God wanted her (as He wants every human being) to use her freewill to cooperate with His Plan, which is for our ultimate joy. He sent His messenger, Gabriel, to Mary to announce His Will to her, whom the Angel addressed as “Fall of Grace” – or, in another translation, “Favored One”… and then waits for her response. The whole future of humankind hinged on her response…

© 2015 Christina Chase


photo credit from this website:

[1] http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/neweve.html

 

First Friday and the Incarnate Image

Last year, I was searching for a Madonna and Child print to hang in my bedroom. I had thought that I wanted an icon or medieval painting. After looking at hundreds of depictions, however, I grew weary of so many grave madonnas tolerating so many, adult-like babies. Where was the wonder and joy of the Incarnation? Nothing moved me with the touch of human tenderness, with the divine light of living, breathing love.

And then, I found it. “The Virgin of the Grapes” by Piere Mignard, circa 1640-1650.

Virgin of the Grapes

Although, historcally speaking, the picture is far from accurate, the spirit of the work is exquisite in blessedness. The Christ Child is shown as a real child, with sweet baby flesh and a near mischievous little face. His mother Mary is beautifully peaceful, a joyful serenity on her visage. She delights in her child, but doesn’t smother. Her eyes are shown cast downward so as not to take away from the eager gaze of Jesus. He is seated on her, reminiscent of the ancient style, symbolizing Christ as the King seated on a throne – the throne being the soft, loving folds of Mary’s arms and lap. For Mary makes possible the Incarnation with her selfless submission to the will of God and with the humility of her generous motherhood. And none of this is dour. None of this is somber, burdensome piety. This is the beauty of love, this is the light of divine joy brought to us through human forms.

Even in this happy little scene, there is a touch of the sacrifice that is to come when the infant is grown into manhood. Mary innocently holds out a cluster of grapes that Jesus grasps fully with his baby fingers. The grapes symbolize the blood of the Eucharist – the Blood of Christ, poured out from the Cross, poured out for the multitude so that our sins may be forgiven. I believe a touch of the sacrifice must be shown in any good depiction of Jesus – for a good portrait shows the true identity of a person. Here we have a hint of the suffering amidst the joy of the coming of God among us. Should it not be so? As God is the fullness of reality, let us embrace reality fully – and not be afraid.

For God, in infinite love for us, comes intimately among us to reveal the divine light in the human. In Mignard’s painting, baby Jesus is playing partially beneath the veil that is covering his mother’s hair. In his sweet innocence, Christ is lifting the veil and peeking out to us.

Yes, let the angels sing, for Christ Jesus truly lifts the veil and reveals God to all of humankind. This is the holy Mystery of the Incarnation, inexhaustibly wondrous, profound, unfathomable… and as sweet and real as a little baby at play.

So, I take this image as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday of December.

Prayer

Oh, God, You so love the world

that You humbled Yourself to become one of us,

to live as we live so that we may love as You love –

lift the veil from my eyes,

lift the veil from my heart,

help me to pierce through time to eternity,

through space to infinity,

through my humanity to your divinity,

so that I may be transformed into the truth of your image and likeness

and bear love where there is hate,

bear hope where despair,

pardon where injury,

faith where doubt,

joy where sadness,

and light where darkness.[1]

Amen.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. Read more here.]

 

[1] borrowing from the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

The Assumption and Every Body

Assumption, Virgin Mary, wheelchair

Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery …

2008-07-21_Old_Chapel_Hill_Cemetery_2

I’ve had difficulty with the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – just as I’ve had difficulty with the entire idea of the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. After taking the leap of faith in becoming a Christian, I decided it was best not to tackle every difficult dogma as soon as possible, but to… well, have faith and consider each in good time. One day, as an assignment for an online theology course on Mary, I was asked to imagine teaching the dogma to a class. In doing so, I found myself seriously thinking about the glorified body of Jesus Resurrected and about the eternal destinies of every human person, starting with Mary, our mother in Christ. The vital importance of the Assumption then struck me and I saw it – and myself – in a whole new light. As we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Assumption, allow me take you with me on this journey of discovery…

Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery, on the grass amid the gravestones. Perhaps this is where your grandparents are buried, or your parents, or sibling, a friend, a spouse, or your own child. As in most cemeteries, all of the bodies buried here are facing toward the east, which is the direction of the rising sun and the new day, in anticipation of the General Resurrection at the end of days. Their mortal remains have been buried here by their loved ones, with reverent prayers, in hopes that they will see them again, resurrected, soul and glorified body reunited, in the eternity of Heaven.

Where is Jesus buried?

Of course, the body of Jesus Christ is not buried anywhere, because he rose from the dead, his body glorified, and ascended into Heaven. But, the deceased bodies of holy Christian men and women, the simple and unremembered on earth as well as the great Saints, are buried in tombs and cemeteries all over the world. We can even go visit their graves or revere their relics.

 

Tomb of St. Peter

Tomb of St. Peter

Tomb of St. Paul

Tomb of St. Paul

 

Even the mortal remains of the Saints are lying in wait for the Resurrection, like the remains of the people buried here beneath this green lawn.

But…

Where is the Blessed Virgin Mary buried?

If you can’t think of the answer to that question is because there is no “where”. This is the very definition of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “… the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This belief was held by early Christians, both East and West. In the Eastern traditions of the Catholic Church, the “Dormition” of Mary has been officially celebrated with a Holy Day on August 15 for nearly 1400 years. Because of this deeply rooted tenet of faith, as is written in the document Defining the Dogma of the Assumption, “… the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people…”. There is no grave, known or unknown, no tomb, no reliquary, where the mortal remains of the Blessed Virgin lie because nothing mortal of the Blessed Virgin remains.

What makes Mary so different?

If Jesus Christ is God-made-Man, then it is absolutely appropriate that he rose bodily from the dead, his body glorified, and then ascended into heavenly glory. Christ is fully human, sharing our human nature – but he is also fully divine, beng God Incarnate, after all. But, by believing that Christ’s mother was assumed bodily into Heaven, what are we saying about her? Mary isn’t God. She’s a human person like us, born of both a human mother and a human father, with no divine nature at all. Why aren’t her earthly remains lying somewhere, like those beneath us in the cemetery, like those of the other saints, awaiting the end of days and the General Resurrection?

By virtue of her being Christ’s own mother – the Mother of God – God gave the Blessed Virgin Mary special graces and privileges from the instant of her creation (Immaculate Conception) through the natural end of her earthly life. She who gave herself completely to divine will, saying to the angel of God, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” conceived, carried, birthed, and nursed the body of Our Lord. From her human flesh, God’s Word was made flesh and, therefore, she was granted the privilege of not suffering any decomposition of the flesh or corruption of the tomb. In other words, she didn’t have to wait until the end of days for “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. This is her unique and holy privilege, by the grace of God.

The Assumption for Us

Imagine what it was like when Mary’s earthly life came to a close, the time of her “Dormition”, as the Eastern Churches call it. When the Assumption actually took place, I imagine that it was a very intimate event, private, loving, between a mother and a son. This aged woman, the beloved mother of our Savior, closed her earthly eyes for the last time and, by the tender grace of God, opened her glorified sight to eternity, her much loved body and soul intact in precious union.

Over the centuries, the reality of the Assumption has become for us, more and more, a tremendous hope and crucial reminder. She who is a human person, now shares bodily in the divine life for all eternity. This is the salvation and glory that is offered to each and every one of us through Christ our Lord. Mary, the Mother of all the living in Christ, went before us – and we hope to follow at the end of time. That is the hope that this cemetery, and every grave, encloses.

trebon-virgin-mary

God Loves What He Has Created

The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, putting an official stamp and explanation on what Christians have believed for centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time. The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.

Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time. Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.

The Power of the Assumption Lived

As we continue our journey, imagine with me that we are now at an adult daycare facility. In such places as these we see, indeed, that human beings come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of physical and mental abilities. Whether impaired in cognition, slowed and drooling, or aged and decrepit, everybody is a human being. And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, Who sees our heavenly glory….

What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled or physically deformed, is exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love. And then maybe, just maybe, we would love one another as God loves us, with respect, forgiveness, affection, and generosity, seeing ourselves and our fellow human beings as God sees us and hopes for us.

© 2014 Christina Chase

May

In the month of May, we honor motherhood – and the dead of war.

All over the earth, mothers watch their sons go off to war every day. The baby she once cradled in her arms, lovingly, tenderly keeping him from all of the world’s harms – a soldier now, battle ready, double-edged sword in hand. Hundreds… Thousands… Millions of boys become men ground up by the machinery of war; the blood of beloved sons spilled out, saturating field and forest or mingling with the salty tears of fathomless seas. What gain can be had by so great a cost? What treasure could entice a woman to offer as potential sacrifice a child whom she has raised and loved?

On battlefields and disputed fronts, in gunfights, bombings, and hand-to-hand combat, the cries and gory wounds of war march on… for country! And more deeply… for faraway home… for brothers in arms beside them… and mourning mothers kneel upon the mossing graves, a clutch of flowers in aging hands pressed against the stones.

This Spring, the Earth unfurls her verdant green banners and swells with the peaceful rush of life. This is the time of bright trumpeting daffodils and of violets… and also of forget-me-nots, and tulips reaching up from the ground like offered prayers. The lilies of the valley, demurely bowing their heads, white veiled, emit their sweet and heavy fragrance from the quiet of their leafy grottoes. And the robins redbreast are warming their nests of promised chicks in appletrees thick with blooms, undeterred by frost or storm… until, one day, in the month of May, the sky cloaked eggs will open and reveal new life being born.

Not so long ago, in pasturelands of deep country, farming families would gather at the crossroads to pray the rosary in the cool, clear of a May evening.

crossroads cross

St-Venant-de-Paquette, QC, Canada

In May, for our ancestors knew that the Queen of Heaven sits upon her mossy throne, bedecked with buttercups and bluets, with wild strawberry blossoms at her feet and purple lilacs at her shoulders. Her head is bowed, white veiled, and her cupped hands, like a chalice of petal flesh, catch the tears that are spilling out from her violet eyes and down her cheeks of new roses.

DSCN6716

La Grotte, East-Hereford, QC, Canada

She, too, has watched her son go off to war, like a lamb sent among wolves.

He laid bare the mighty enemy with the spiritual swiftness of his sword, but his brothers went astray and left him to the cruelty of men, to be tortured and humiliated. She saw her beloved son put to death before her eyes and her tears, her agony, could not end the madness, could not save him from the pain, could not spare him the grave. But… the stone that had marked the place where his lifeless body was laid to rest did not green over with the coming spring. The grave did not keep his mortal remains, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, for the life of her son is purely divine – and he did rise. And in rising to eternal life he raises dead sons and daughters, saving all with souls of faith, who valued others more than self.

The Mother of God saw her son, meek and humble and strong, go off to war and, though painfully grieved, did not begrudge the sacrifice – for the treasure won by his blood is the kingdom that has no end, not just for herself and him, but for every person of hope. The Kingdom where love is true armor, love the lance, love the way, love the victory without violence, the glory without gore, the eternal summer, the eternal spring. And, now, every day of firefight and weeping, every day of cold, barren darkness, every day of Renewing Life pushing up tender shoots, of flowers yielding to luscious fruits – every day is a memorial.

 © 2014 Christina Chase

with edits © 2016  Christina Chase


Photo credit: © 2014 Dan Chase

Pregnant

Joy is a thing with wings that flies ever to its source;

and if that source is love, how beautiful its course.

 Like a bird cupped gently in the hands, she holds the joy of her good news close to her heart, eager to set free the fluttering wings and let it fly. Such an intimate gift has been given to Mary by the Mighty One – to her, a simple, humble girl, with nothing to give in return. Having opened herself completely to God and surrendering her whole self to His Word, her heart now beats solely for love of Him and the Divine child that she is secretly bearing within her. Mary, enraptured with love, needs to share that love with a kindred soul, as the joy of it fills her near to bursting. So, with alacrity, and with no worry for the distance of the journey, the young woman sets off for the hills of Judah to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth – who, Mary has been told, has also been blessed with a miraculous pregnancy.

Some 90 miles as the dove flies, on rocky paths, over swells and dales, through the gold and green land of Palestine in springtime, Mary travels swiftly and tirelessly, her joy undaunted, her desire undimmed. Along the way, she accepts night’s shelter and a few serendipitous cart rides from the kindness of strangers. The flutterings and singings of the good news that is nestled deeply in Mary’s heart shine forth on her face to the people, the animals, even the trees and the very stones, that she passes by. All is lightness and goodwill with her, wherever she is in her journey. When, finally, after several days sojourning, she comes to the hillside atop which Elizabeth’s home is perched, Mary can contain her excitement no longer and breaks into a run up the long, terraced path. She calls out as she flies, “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” Her exultation expressed in her cries.

Just within the open doorway of the stone house, Elizabeth drops the spinning from her hands. Something has caught her attention. The ball of wool rolls across the floor as she turns her eyes, puzzled, to look outward. She wonders what it was. Something very far off, yet very near, something like the sound of a song or a prayer or a whispered breeze… or like the deepest silence. Elizabeth pushes herself up from her seat and looks out through the door, listening, but hears nothing distinctive. And then, suddenly, she hears, as clear as day, the sounding of her own name. The baby within her womb leaps in response, like a lamb in the sunshine, with joy all through, and Elizabeth is overcome with awe. Young Mary now appears in the courtyard, panting and beaming, trembling with gladness, her ready greeting flowing out from her lips.

The girl is radiant with the morning sun and Elizabeth, shielding her sight from the glow, moves closer. As the older woman looks into Mary’s dark, sparkling eyes, she feels herself gazing into the depths of the starry cosmos, into paradisiacal beauty, a glimpse of pure genesis. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth’s testimony pours out of her soul and the entirety of her being with the rush of Spirit within her. She herself begins to tremble with joyful humility and wonder, saying, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” The aging eyes light up with the brightness of realized faith and hope. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” Elizabeth says, as she looks with true veneration and affection upon the woman before her, and then is silent.

Mary’s deep eyes widen with the wonder of the words that she has been hearing from her kinswoman. She unconsciously presses her small hands upon her own abdomen as she looks upon Elizabeth’s pregnancy and she smiles with deep sympathy. Like Mary, Elizabeth is in humble awe to be blessed by the Lord. Mary knows that it is the presence of the divine child within her that has pulled such praise from Elizabeth’s soul. In a new, deeper fullness of understanding of the gift that she herself has been given, Mary’s heart rises with the glory of the Lord. The joy of the good news, which she has been holding close for so long, Mary now releases in glorious flight as she proclaims,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.   For behold, from now on all generations  will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,  as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

The two women of expectancy join hands. Mary’s song of praise has filled them with delight and deeply satisfying peace – with blessedness. The young woman laughs as she twines her arm through her elder’s.  Together they enter the stone house, trusting in the goodness of God to feed all who hunger for holiness, to lift up all who are poor in spirit, and to keep the divine promise of Salvation and Newness of Life made for all who believe in God’s word.

Christina Chase

This has been Part 3 of the Mary Series (continued from In the Cloud of Glory… )

In the Cloud of Glory a Portal Opens

Mary Series: Part 2 (continued from A Stranger Appears… )

        First troubled with wonder and puzzlement, then sincerely trusting and deeply curious, a young woman’s response to a strange visitor is about to change the world. Of all the human beings to be conceived in all of time, she is the single one chosen for the single most earth-shattering – and earth-redeeming – mission to be given to a creature born of woman and man. The divine message has been revealed to Mary, kneeling on the earthen floor of her childhood home, her hands lying still on her lap, bits of bread dough on her fingers, that she will conceive and bear a son whose kingdom will have no end: the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. Mary wants to know how she, as a virgin, will become pregnant – not because she is doubtful, but because she has faith in God’s word. She just wants to know, in simple and beautiful human curiosity, how it is going to happen. Mary’s angelic visitor, Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, does not punish Mary for asking such an honest and faithful question. Her innocence is rewarded with an answer.

        To Mary, the angel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Finished speaking, the angel waits for Mary’s response.

        Thoughts blow through Mary’s practical mind like clouds are borne across the May sky.  So, Joseph will not be the father – but, will he know? Will an angel tell him of the pregnancy so that he will not be alarmed and hurt when her body begins to swell with the child? Or will the origin of the child be kept as secret as it is mysterious and, so, she be accused of the adulterous betrayal of her betrothed, the punishment for which is death by stoning? …Son of God… And hear: Elizabeth’s long prayed for baby is given to her – wondrous news from Almighty God!  The thought vapors of Mary’s mind do not gather and darken in storm but, rather, are dissipated by the constant current of Mary’s will, enabling the light to shine clearly.

        For with God nothing will be impossible.

        Mary, ever faithful to first love purely given to her in the spark of her life, believes. She has been told that it is Divine Will for her to bear the Son of God, who shall be conceived in her womb by the power of God overshadowing her. Whatever human interference may try to thwart the plan of Providence, Mary is willing to place herself in God’s hands. No matter the earthly consequences, the cost or risk to her personal life, Mary wills not to be deceived. For, she knows that life itself is the gratuitous gift of Eternal Being – gift created by, with, and for, love. And she knows who she is – all that she has been and all she ever will be – the eternal servant of love. It is because of her great love that Mary will refuse God nothing. She is entirely willing to give all of herself away… to be the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low, an empty vessel to be filled with God’s incarnate love.
Mary knows exactly who she is and she wills never to forget.

        Never has a human being been more free than Mary is in this moment. Unfettered, unchained, unbound is she by any self-centered concern that is but folly to one who experiences true freedom. Created in the divine image and likeness, Mary most perfectly reflects the divine power of freewill and intellect and imagination in the clarity of her mind, body, heart, and soul, here and now. God wills her total freedom. She must choose. All Creation, the natural and the supernatural, suspends.

        Holding back nothing, with clear eyes, light breath, tender mouth, and her palms upturned, Mary raises her heart to the messenger of Divinity, thus lifted up while still on her knees on the earthen floor. “Behold,” she says simply and wholeheartedly, spreading her arms open wide, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

        Thus, in pure, free abandonment, Mary completely gives over her person and her life to God, so that God may do with her whatsoever He wills. At the sounding of her last syllables, your word, the angel of the Lord bows down low before Mary and then departs from her, as a lamp light departs with the rising of the sun.

        In the sleepy village of Nazareth, a mist is forming, laden with the fragrance of lilies and roses. Some see it merely as steam rising from cooking pots and others as smoke from the trash burning fire. The mist is rolling sweetly and with greater intensity around the home of the virgin named Mary. Within, Mary quietly, with the utmost peace in all her mind, heart, and body, every limb, continues the making of the day’s bread. As the mist enters like a cloud through the open door, the woman presses her small hands deeply into the dough and exhales, hushed, consumed by love.

* * *

        All cruelty cease in this moment, all pride vanish on earth, for what has begun with the free assent of a human being to God – Restoration to Paradise begins its rush into the world! A modest child thinks not of herself, but only of the Holy Other and, purely giving herself away, allows a portal to be opened through which God Godself enters mortality by assuming human nature.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. …the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters “…the Power of the Most High will overshadow you…” “There I will meet with you… I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat” …the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. … And the Word became flesh… in him the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily….

        Glory to God in the Highest! Thy Shekinah glory…

        Yes, let there be, in this fraction of a moment in the Eternal Now, not one act of tyranny nor deception nor apathy among mortals – for Truth Itself, Love Itself, is willingly taking on human flesh in utter humility, and thereby sanctifying us all. Oh, glorious heartbeat across the blue and green earth that, in this moment when time was pierced and space was torn, beat with remembered purity and freedom, when human will was married with the will of the Divine and Divine Incarnate fruit takes form! …Yet… only for that gleam of a moment, only for one quick beat of the heart, and then, humans, unaware of the actual living presence of their Savior in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, unaware of the Kingdom of God quickening, return to their forgetfulness, neglectfulness, resuming their fallen, self-centered ways, all…

        …But for Mary…

   Christina Chase

———————————————————————————————

 Scripture quotes in italics  taken from John 1:1, Genesis 1:2, Luke 1:35, Exodus 25:22, Leviticus 16:2, Exodus 40:34, John 1:14, Philippians 2:7-8

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

Mary Series: Part 1

Picture it. Nazareth. 1 BC (or maybe a few years earlier.) Alone in the simple home where she lives with her parents, a young peasant woman kneels upon the earthen floor making bread dough in a wooden bowl, completely unaware of the extraordinary conversation that she’s about to have.[i] As the ingredients come together and form in her hands, she hums a song of thanksgiving and praise. Briefly, never losing focus on her task, she thinks of the day in the future when she will be making bread in Joseph’s home. For she is betrothed to a kind and hard-working carpenter, a widower with several children of whom the young virgin looks forward to taking care.

Yes, this woman is Mary, who will be the mother of Jesus – but she isn’t yet. Right now, she is a prayerful and thoughtful girl, a good daughter and neighbor and practitioner of Judaism. She speaks Aramaic and understands Hebrew, has been taught the Sacred Scriptures and the fine skills of nurturing and caring for a family and a community. She is intelligent and considerate, never overthinking with needless worry, nor deeming any detail or any person as insignificant.

Mary begins to knead the dough, firmly but gently, when, suddenly, she is interrupted in the making of bread by the appearance of a strange visitor standing before her. Bearing peculiar salutations of mysterious portent, the stranger is illuminated all through as though by secret sunlight. Mary, bathed in the radiant glow, remains kneeling on the ground, transfixed.

Now, this stranger isn’t entirely strange to Mary. She has an unadulterated communion with the spiritual that was divinely given to her, and safeguarded in her, since her conception. She recognizes this being before her as an angel, a supernatural creature charged with bearing divine message. She knows, then, that the words spoken by this angel express the very mind of God. And this angel is hailing her, telling her that the Lord is with her, and calling her “Most Favored One” or “Full of Grace”.

Imagine being saluted by one of God’s heavenly hosts. Imagine hearing, unmistakably, imagine knowing, that you are specially gifted and favored by God. This is what is happening to Mary, but it doesn’t cause her to be puffed up with pride. Innocent as the day she was conceived, she is trying to figure out what it means and is troubled with the wonder. In full knowledge of her lowliness as a creature before the Uncreated Creator, she is humbled, disturbed in her heart by this greeting of honor.

Human beings are naturally afraid of the unknown – and Mary is human. Although she is divinely blessed by unique, supernatural grace, her intellect, imagination, and will are limited – just as with every human being. Born of working-class parents, she is the least worldly person of whom you can think, but she is rich with inherent wisdom – and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. The human mind cannot comprehend or fathom the Mysteries of God. The visiting angel knows this and sees Mary’s reaction. She is told not to be afraid. Believing that this is God’s message for her, the young woman listens and trusts. And her natural concern is quieted.

Now, the messenger of God says to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary is innocent, but she’s not naïve, and she’s no dummy. She knows how babies get made. And she also knows that, though betrothed, she is, as yet, unmarried, still a virgin, and has absolutely no plans of sexual intercourse anytime soon. So, she naturally wonders how she is going to become pregnant. It isn’t that Mary doubts the angel’s word, nor even the possibility of her becoming pregnant. But, she doesn’t know by what process the pregnancy will occur. Did the angel come suddenly to tell her of something that will happen later, in the future? Will Joseph, then, be the father of the child? Or will her pregnancy occur in a more dramatic, or even mysteriously miraculous, way? The words which with the angel described this child that she is to conceive and bear – “called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end” – sound messianic to the young woman’s ears. Such a child would, it seem, deserve a miraculous beginning. But… How? What will be involved? If Mary was troubled before by the angel’s greeting, she is now sincerely, deeply, very curious. It is because of the young woman’s faith in the Divine Word and Order that she seeks, with the wonderful sparklings of the human mind, to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

And so, at this moment, Mary, her dark, bright eyes looking up to the figure of light, opens her mouth to speak. In speaking, she knows that she will be communicating with God Godself through this divinely appointed messenger. She knows this and doesn’t hesitate to show her humble ignorance in asking her question to the Mighty One. She, like any true scientist that ever lived or ever will live, simply wants to know how something works.

Mary says to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

The angel, who is called Gabriel, has heard this kind of question before, just six months earlier, in fact, in human time. But that question, asked by Zechariah, concerning the angelic announcement of his wife Elizabeth’s forthcoming pregnancy, was not an honest question, was not an innocent desire for an understanding of the truth. And Gabriel had justly punished the man for his sarcastic response to God’s message, for his doubt in the power of God in the face of earthly limitations. Zechariah had been struck mute, unable to speak a further word until the prophecy delivered by Gabriel had been fulfilled. Mary, who is now asking the angel how God’s will for her pregnancy shall be accomplished, is honest and innocent and just in her asking. Her question is real, born from the virtue of her human curiosity, and Gabriel receives the question graciously. The young woman shall not be punished, but, rather, rewarded with an answer from God.

The answer that will be given will seem to only raise more questions. However, instead, from her heart, Mary will raise forth the most perfectly human response to God of all time.

*          *          *

            Prayer: Almighty and all powerful God, I am but a lowly creature before Thee. May I trust in Thee and not be afraid. I pray that I, like Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, may be pure and open to Thy Divine Will for me. In my lack of understanding, may I have faith. In my desire for understanding, may I earnestly seek… and find Thee. Amen.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace, pray for all seekers of truth who seek to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

Christina Chase

 

[i] I am no expert on the customs of the area at this time. And my narrative does not aim for historical accuracy as its most important goal – rather, I aim to take the history written in the Bible and use my flawed imagination and intellect to bring it more fully to life in my heart. I am also aware that some of the details I am imagining are less than congruent with an early account of young Mary’s life, The Protoevangelium of James, which I have only read in fractions, but which I believe is a rich and fruitful account. Read it here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

Not Devoted to Mary – but No One Should Ignore Her

Some people accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary. Considering the language that some Catholics use regarding the mother of Jesus, I, as a Roman Catholic myself, can’t blame the accusers for this false notion of Catholicism. To be clear: Mary is never to be worshiped. Any Catholic, or any other Christian, would be committing a terrible blasphemy, sacrilege, and sin if they did so. Only God is to be worshiped – and, for Christians, our understanding of the one true, living God is in Triune Majesty: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mary, whom Catholics and Eastern Orthodox call Mother of God, is NOT God. She is absolutely not divine. Mary is merely human.

And that’s the great thing about her.

On Our Mary Way

Anyone who believes in the Bible as the word of God – and even anyone who regards the Bible as simply an ancient book of spiritual wisdom – should not disregard Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a minor figure. Regarding all human relationships with God, she is a beautiful leader by example. She is open to the ways of the Spirit, humble in her acknowledgment of God’s infinite greatness compared to her lowliness, unafraid to seek honest understanding, and completely willing to serve God as best as she can, marrying her will with Divine Will, no matter what the cost to her personal life. Mary knows exactly why she has life, her reason for being: to know, to love, and to serve God. Mary knows exactly who she is: the servant of the Lord – and she rejoices in this. We should all try to be more like Mary.

In the Bible, Mary is clearly honored by God – in a unique way. Proclaiming God’s gratuitousness, Mary, in humble wonder and awe, says, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49, RSV.) How many Bible believing Christians call Mary blessed? Just moments before, Elizabeth, her kinswoman, had called her “Blessed among women”. More blessed than Eve, who came fresh and pure from the Creator’s hands, is Mary – for Mary chose to believe in God and to keep faith with God’s Will. Thus is she known from the dawn of Christianity as “The New Eve.” “Blessed is she,” Elizabeth says further, “who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Jesus says something similar, later, when someone in the crowd around him declares, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responds, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Mary herself is Blessed – not merely her human body as a vessel through which the Incarnation came about, but she herself, because, through her act of will, she chose to believe in God’s word and to follow through with God’s Will. How grateful all Christians should be to her for saying yes!

Last Words

This is what has been called the most important piece of advice concerning Jesus Christ ever given: “Do whatever he tells you to.” These are Mary’s last words recorded in the Bible. And they prove that we have much to learn from Mary – from her deeds, her words, her ways… from the gifts that God gave her so that God could use her to be the mother, the willing, real, cooperating, fully loving mother, of the one who is both fully human and fully divine. Mary is called the Mother of God, not because of divine preeminence, for she has none, but, rather, because the Word of God, Who is God, became flesh through her, through her mind, body, heart and soul participation in the Divine Mystery. And she is our mother, too. As Eve was mother of all the living, Mary is Mother of All the Living in Christ, for, in Christ, we are a new creation. From the divine throne of the Cross, Jesus, caring for the well-being of Mary and honoring his mother with his last earthly breaths, tells his beloved disciple to take her as his own. How many people who want to be beloved disciples of Christ take his mother as their own?

Mary Scenes

It’s easy to read the Bible as words on a page – which is actually so dry that it makes reading the Bible difficult. I want to bring Mary more fully alive to my understanding. There are several people I know who are Consecrated to Mary and revere her very highly. Very, very highly. I, myself, am not devoted to Mary – but I love her as Jesus’s mother and as his first disciple, and I am learning to embrace her as my mother in Christ. It was through the prayers of the Holy Rosary, contemplating the mystery of Christ’s life through Mary’s eyes, that I learned to be a Christian. So, I will be writing a “Mary Series” through the month of May. Using my flawed intellect and imagination, I hope to weave threads of Sacred Scripture with spiritual and poetic (license) threads to have a real encounter with the Blessed Mother of Jesus, Mother of God. In reflecting upon the word of God, may I think about the wondrous things that God has done and be like Mary – for “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Christina Chase