I rarely tackle exegesis in my posts. The reason is simple. I have not poured hours and hours into bible study; thus making the connecting of the dots an easier effort than it would be otherwise. It has not been my concentration as a Christian. I have come to Christianity through a different process and it is one that I will continue going forward with, as it leads me quickly past the sedation of faith and the sediments of religion. And so, here I go with an essay on Mary, mother of Christ.
Now, for those who might prefer a more spiritual post, as the past two have proven, I want to assure you that this post is critical to your understanding of the importance of the dominion of your spirit in your salvation and sanctification (your endeavors for heaven). I would not be going here otherwise, for this is highly unlike me. As a relatively new Catholic I am admittedly not indulgent in Marian adoration. Perhaps I am being intellectually resistant. Perhaps it is some dormant Protestant residue of my cultural environment. Or perhaps it is as I have always done since being born again; to simply not tackle a subject until God shows me both the reason why it is purposeful for me to know it, and the way to that knowledge. In other words, I wait upon Him to show me my path.
I’m doing this essay because Mary represents an important asset to my current discourse on the spirit within each one of us that I have begun to delineate in my last two posts: The Spirit Within and The Spirit Immured. My argument will be a simple one; that Mary was not guided by her free will – that she made no choice – but was rather submissive to her own spirit-within, and thus to God’s will.
And so as I began to write this post it occurs to me that Jesus, as shepherd of mankind, hopes to guide us to a spiritual will – the spiritual condition of a man without sin – and lead us away from our own intellectual will; that will guided by man’s law, or that effort we make to find love despite of and therefore through sin. Think of the young, rich man in the Gospels who believed he had led an exemplary life of virtue, and thus found cause for his eternal life. I’m sure he was much confused as he sadly walked away from Jesus realizing that apparently it is not intellectual and economic wealth, nor even intellectual obedience to God’s laws, that brings eternal life as he had hoped. For all that he had achieved, and so thought that such things are of value in Jesus’ mind, he had in fact missed the point entirely. Jesus remarks afterwards:
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Jesus, I believe, is making the point that no intellectual, physical, economic, political, and whatever human power it might be, can achieve what the spirit can achieve. Jesus speaks not so much of God’s power as to the power of one’s spirit in perfect communion with God, as spirit. As the spirit-within only knows love, Jesus shows us, through His teachings and example, how to love both God and man at the same time. This is an extraordinary and practically impossible call to man’s capacity to put aside his will for the will of his creator. And since few will do such, most lives are a maze, full of the choices and emotions of an existence that lacks the one crucial thing it needs most; God’s hand in ours at all times.
Not wanting a metaphor to confuse; the “hand” I refer to is in fact God’s spirit, and our implied “hand” is our spirit-within. As both are spirit, and our spirit is created by God, so they are linked immutably and eternally; enjoying the perfection that no intellect or body could ever savor. In such a condition, humility is without a beginning or an end. Humility is not a sea to be plied by the gravity of the moon, nor a meadow of flowers to find their birth by the nurture of dirt, water, air, and sun. Humility, when spent through willingness – God’s will – is without tide, and needs not the nurture of creation. Humility, when spent through willingness, is but the confident expectation of nothing other than God’s love. And humility is one of the greatest signs that one’s spirit is in healthy operation and free to commune.
To this point, our most revealing and profound reading on Mary is in Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 through 38, where Mary encounters the angel Gabriel. To be honest, I do not know in its richest sense, all of the traditional reasons for Catholicism’s adoration of Mary, but I do hope it has a lot to do with her response, in verse 38, to the angel Gabriel’s proclamation:
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’”
I hope to encourage those Christians who immediately begin twitching like a pavlovian dog against the irritation of a perceived heretical concept – the hypersensitivity to any perception that Mary is more than just Mary – that you instead keep an open mind as I move forward, and that your focus is on two things:
One, that Mary is the mother of God. If you unhitch from the much discussed “virgin” aspect of Mary’s history for the moment, and hitch yourself to why God favored Mary for such a task, what will proceed might be more illuminating. God assigned Mary for the most important, covenantal step in man’s redemption by one purely man (woman). God’s knock on the door of Mary’s parents had a lot more to do with what it meant to be of David’s lineage than simply blood.
And two, drink deep of Luke 1:38, and consider its reach past the obvious and temporal, and into the veiled and eternal. A fast read and I certainly cannot condemn any Christian who views Mary as little more than pliant putty under God’s dominion. But to pause and reflect on the conditions that must be present for the exchange to occur, as it did between God, angel, and human, reveals a nature of Mary that is unique in the world. This is why I am talking about Mary. I believe she possessed the one element that can lead one to heaven; a prevailing spirit.
The Annunciation – Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “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, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
First, let’s consider the location: Nazareth. In the days of Mary, Nazareth was a frontier, gentile town, north of Samaria; in Galilee. The tribe of Judah, from whence came David, Mary’s ancestor, was bequeathed the lands south of Jerusalem; from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea. They are far apart from one another, and it is interesting that of all the possible women whose blood flowed with the ancestry of David, that the mother of Jesus, the Christ, was not more properly located as a Jew of Judah living within the boundaries of her tribal ancestors; in what was then Judea. Instead, we find her in lands long since tilled of its strong Jewish dominion, and now ethnically diverse; a sampling of the world you might say.
Yes, I understand that Joseph, through a warning in a dream, thought it best to not settle in Judea, as Herod’s son, Archelaus, had become Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Edom. This could be dangerous coming back to Judea. It is interesting to me that another son of Herod’s, Antipas, was made Tetrarch of Galilee, and so would it not follow that they would be in just as much danger in Nazareth? Archelaus was tossed from power just two years after his father’s death, while Antipas ruled Galilee until after the death of Jesus. In all, Archelaus managed to cause more mayhem with the Pharisees than with Jesus and His family. It was Antipas who is known in the New Testament as the Tetrarch of Galilee that put John the Baptist on the chopping block, and who Pontius Pilate attempted to pawn Jesus off onto; no success there.
Perhaps the prophecy of Jesus being a Nazarene would help this scenario to form according to Matthew, but there appears to be no such Old Testament prophecy as is mentioned in Matthew 2:23. So we are left with but a small, not-worth-anything village that apparently has earned the crude remarks from sources as diverse as anonymous Jews, some Pharisees, and Nathanael.
My point here being that God rarely seeks a socially, centric person through which to work out His redemption with mankind. We see this frequently in the Old Testament, where the oddity of the selection of the younger child over the older one is played out in stories such as Jacob and Esau, or with Joseph or David. It might also be said that Noah and Abraham were insignificant men of their times. In Mary’s case, it’s not so much that she is insignificant (she was) or downtrodden (a cause célèbre), but rather that her spirit is unique in its commission, and remember, it is God who had placed that spirit within her. I sense that all of the protagonists in the Testaments exhibited a strength of spirit, to one degree of another, that was responsible for the events that ensued in their lives. Socially centric people rarely have consequential spirits as they are often too concerned either by their own desire or through the desire of others of more worldly things. Mary was outside of the mainstream, unheralded, and part of the inconsequential world that was soon to find the grace of God; she was God’s people. That is all good and accountable to what took place in Mary’s life. However, it is my belief that it was Mary’s prevailing spirit that God knew was the necessary part in the success of Christ’s mission here on earth. Her spirit was in full and absolute bloom at that moment of Gabriel’s visit, and in truth, timing had nothing to do with it.
What is impossible with intellectual will is possible with spiritual will. Hence Mary.
As we get into this brief scripture, and depending upon the bible version you are reading, Mary is saluted by Gabriel as being highly favored or full of grace. Either way, Gabriel’s comments speak of the privileged condition of Mary that God holds her in. The Lord is with her and she is blessed amongst women. Few individuals in biblical history can credit themselves with God’s grace in such an obvious manner. To be in such an exalted condition would require a spiritual quality that must be in close alignment with God. In fact, I can think of no one other than the Christ who was so clearly and undeniably in God’s ample grace. How so?
As there is no free will in heaven, one might conclude that the closer one is to God and kingdom, the closer they are to the natural practice of God’s will. You might say that God’s will supplants one’s own will, and in Mary’s situation, I would venture to say that she has led a life where her intellectual will routinely submitted to her spiritual will. What the secularist or intellectual or crass might view as a “simple-minded” Mary, she was indeed just that; simple-minded. Blessed be such a person who finds God’s will more attractive than their own; His will can be a lot easier to deal with and the results are guaranteed.
And Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s sudden appearance is naturally in line with God’s order of things. She wants to know of what nature is this visit to be. What one might believe to be a frightened Mary – a troubled Mary – I believe is rather a watchful Mary. Yes, the power of God before her in the physicality of an angel would be a most disturbing moment in one’s sedate existence. It is right that her intellect and body would be quite alert and intimidated before such spiritual power. However, the more dominant side of Mary – her spirit – knows what is coming, and thus we see the inquisitive and the anticipating.
As a side note, Jesus confirms this as of proper order when He counsels His closest disciples in Mark 13:32-36.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Mary’s spirit had been waiting all along, and being in tune with God as spirit, Mary’s spirit leans her into what is coming.
A look at Gabriel’s words reveals that he is not really talking about the coming Christ as the answer to the socio-political ailments of the Jewish people. He is not coming to free the Jews from their bonds through religious zeal, intellectual prowess, or physical force. He is not to lead them into an empire of chariot and gold. Rather, Jesus is to be king of a kingdom without end. As the spirit realm is the only eternal realm, so too is this kingdom. What Gabriel is talking about is a spiritual kingdom, not a physical one. And this is confirmed when she learns that her pregnancy will not be due to a man’s seed, but rather by the presence of the Holy Spirit within her.
Mary’s final words to Gabriel are a demonstration of her spirit and not her free will.
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’”
I have seen commentary on Mary that says she demonstrated a “tremendous feat of faith”, in accepting her fate. I will suggest the commentator has a limited sense of who Mary really was and the quality of her spirit, as well as, short-changed God’s power. We must realize that the human language is both crude and ill-suited to discuss and illuminate the true work of God in His creation. We continually refer to God choosing someone or something through which to perform His work, and in this case, the commentator believes that Mary took the time to decide A or B, and then mustered the strength to proclaim it. I propose that this is erroneous thinking. God makes no propositions, no choices, no selections, no decisions, no market samplings, and no judgments. He comes to no revelations and makes no conclusions. God is God. All that is – regardless of its time stamp by man’s perceptions – is as one by God. Man insists upon viewing God through man’s own limitations and we see it in the formation and use of man’s language. We write as if God is man and confined by time and condition, and yet we must. It is the best we can do when ruled by our intellect and but part way on our journey to God’s kingdom. If one looks not at this event, between Mary and Gabriel, as an occasion of free will, but rather as the simple, automatic, and perfectly natural willingness of Mary to God’s will, then I believe we have a human result that is nothing more than God’s plan. I guarantee you, there was never going to be a plan B.
Now coming around briefly to the virginity of Mary – as it is crucial here – there is more to say about it than simply that Mary needed an untainted womb through which to give birth to a divine human. Too much is given over to the sexual aspects of this condition, when in truth what is most important for us to take away from the word virgin is its receptivity – its space – for the divine to enter through the emptiness of the virginal womb. Here is where I can amply credit, The Reed of God; an insightful and inspiring book on Mary, written by Caryll Houselander.
In the course of one separating oneself from God and seeking their own way in life, there is a natural accumulation of experiences; as with any course of action. The same accumulation would be for one who carefully follows God’s path their entire lives. The difference is that with the latter individual, there is a constant emptying of oneself of those aspects of experience that would turn them from God and His will, while with the former, there is no expunging of the harmful effects of experience. Rather, such things simply lie within the intellect and body as disordered and corrupting refuse; in turn producing denial, guilt, internal shame, and external pride; and of course, continual and generational sin. But to clean it all away is to ensure the health and liberty of the spirit to commune, without burden, with God.
The Catholic Church understands this, and it is through Confession that one has the opportunity to excise those effects of experience that would otherwise cause great harm to one’s spiritual relationship with God. Through Confession one is renewed and prepared to encounter experience as a humble and virtue-seeking being. They are prepared to be a receptive vessel for the Holy Spirit. Experience that would taint the individual is purged of its harm; leaving experience as a path away from fear and towards wisdom. Now, in defense of the many, good reformers of the Ecclesia who see no purpose in confession to a priest, I note that their confessions directly to God through prayer and witnessing has, in my estimation, a result that only God can judge.
Now in Mary’s time, there was no Catholic Church, nor confession. And so it becomes obvious to me that there was and is another way to such a blessed emptiness, and that is by one’s spirit. There are two types of people who speak of an emptiness in their lives; those who equate solitude, space, silence, and submission as mortal, and thus run from it in the hope that mortality will never catch them. Then, there are those who view such things as immortal, and thus seek them out; knowing that what they bring is the nurturing of God’s will within them. It is by the spirit that such a thing is done. No intellect or mind can perform this work. They were not made to do so, but the spirit was. There is a natural, constant rejuvenation of life when the spirit has dominion over your intellect and body. The spirit has that quality of virginal emptiness – a receptivity and a submission – through which experience is nurtured into virtue, and God’s will is then played out as the natural process and conclusion to all things.
And thus it is with Mary. She is God’s vessel by which He will pour out redemption for mankind through Jesus Christ; the nurtured will of God within that vessel. Mary possessed a spirit-within that was not to be challenged, nor conquered by her intellect and body.
I can offer an example of the presence of Mary’s spirit and its communion with God. It happens just before Jesus is about to begin His ministry. They are both attending a wedding in Cana, and the wine has been consumed while the merriment continues. After telling Jesus of the lack of wine available to the guests, and in light of His returned words that appear as some form of rebuke to her, Mary’s statement to the servant of the house is practically cryptic:
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Much commentary has been written by well-respected men and women that would contend that Jesus did indeed rebuke His mother for overstepping her boundaries. I have seen arguments going in both directions; respect and disrespect. But what is certain is that Jesus clearly states to His mother that His ministry has not begun as of yet. There are to be no miracles; especially one seemingly as trivial as providing wine to the wedding guests. And yet, that is just what Jesus then does. One may write all they want on this short passage, but taken at face value, and why not, it is easy to conclude that Mary and Jesus were actually on the same page. I might assume that there is some form of spiritual link between the two far greater than mother and son, and that link – and its power – is the type Jesus refers to in Luke 17, a passage I employed in my last post:
“He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
What I believe we are viewing between Mary and Jesus is the natural communion of spirits, and as His spirit is the Holy Spirit, I can safely predict that Mary’s spirit is privy and part of what is to take place at this wedding feast in the way of a supernatural act. And while I am here, I wish to point out two, separate passages that I find complementary to my assertion of the spirit-within.
The first is Matthew 12, verse 50:
“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” NIV
In reading this verse in a variety of translations, the verb “does” or “do” appears consistently. The act of “doing” is not bound by choice. It is always somewhere in the stream of action, and does not rely upon its beginning as a justification for its existence of action. This is not how free will works, but it is how the spirit works. Jesus does not say, “Whoever chooses to do….” He assumes the process, He does not hope it to begin.
The second is Luke 11:28:
“But he said: ‘Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.’” DRA
In reviewing many translations, there is a little more swing in the rendering of the primary verb. In the one I selected the verb is “keep”. I came across two other verbs: “observe” and “obey”. Once again, I am going to propose that these verbs are consistent with the verb “do”; they exist somewhere in the stream of action and do not rely upon their beginning as a justification for the existence of their action. Choice is not the instrument of choice for the spirit because the spirit is one with God’s spirit, and God works outside of choice. This is how I see Mary; one outside of choice – happily so – and close to her son, Jesus. The water becomes wine naturally by the supernatural. Mary tells the servants to do what Jesus would have them do because she is simply alerting them to the work that comes. Mary is experiencing the same thing that Jesus is experiencing; the divine communion through their spirits with God. She knows of the Cana miracle just as Jesus knows of the cross. But, none of this is through the intellect. One cannot attempt to view this through the lens of human will and choice.
In conclusion, I recognize that I have most likely trampled in the well-manicured garden of Marian exegesis. Law is a fastidious keeper of traditions. For those I might have assaulted, I can only ask that you give some consideration to my perceptions on the spirit that resides within you, and within Mary. What would that spirit of Mary be like that would bring our Lord to her doorstep? In my mind, it could only be a spirit that God had set from the beginning to be the source of Himself incarnate in man.