Theotokos–Carrying Christ our Light

 “Greetings,  favored one! The Lord is with you. . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” –The angel Gabriel to Mary, in Luke 1:28, 30-31.

If you’ve ever been on crutches, you know that carrying things is a challenge. I broke my leg a few weeks ago, and find myself stuffing cans of pop into my sweater pockets, shuffling dishes along the countertop, and sliding books along the floor using my crutch as a hockey stick (apologies to librarians!). Objects tucked into my waistband tumbled to the floor so many times I wished I was a kangaroo with a built-in giant pocket.

In the midst of this, Advent began and I found myself thinking about the mystery of the Incarnation. It would not have mattered if Mary had used crutches: the baby Jesus was growing deep within her womb and naturally went with her everywhere she went.

Theotokos--detail from the Virgin of the Sign Icon

In the Eastern Christian Church, the mother of Jesus is often called Theotokos, a Greek title that means “God-Bearer.” Mary carried Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, within her being in a literal sense, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Early church fathers observed that while Christ was truly divine, his truly human side grew out of Mary’s flesh and blood.

That a woman of 2,000 years ago carried Christ within her, feeding him from her very body through the umbilical cord, is reason enough to be filled with awe and wonder. However, this amazing spiritual truth does not end there. For Mary, as premiere disciple, is a model or “spiritual type” of what we are also called to do. We are to carry Christ within our hearts and souls, to “give birth” by bringing his words of mercy and his compassionate presence to all those we encounter.

In this manner, the words of the angel Gabriel are also addressed to each one of us: “Greetings, favored one!” (“Hail, Mary, full of grace!”). Each one of us, and all of us together, are “favored” by God, shown by the superabundant love of Christ by his dying for the whole world.  As a result, we, too, are favored, that is, graced by God,  and chosen to bring the Christ our Light into the world.

May God bless you this Advent and Christmas season–and may the Spirit empower you more and more each day to “give birth” to Christ in the world.

Until next time, Amen!

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Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Married Contemplative

Some Christians think of the month of May as a time for honoring the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, known also as “Mother of God” or the “Theotokos” (the God-Bearer). Where I live, May is the month when the earth comes to life again after the long Minnesota winter, and families celebrate Mother’s Day. Below is a spiritual reflection I wrote about Jesus’ mother, a short excerpt from a book I wrote.
 

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. –Luke 2:19.

Was Mary a nun or a wife? Growing up Catholic, I associated Mary more with nuns than with married women. After all, she wore long, voluminous garments and a veil like that of the nuns who taught my religion class. Her statue was displayed clear across the church from that of Joseph; even in the manger scene they kept a respectful distance. Although I hadn’t a clue about the meaning of the phrase “ever virgin,” I clearly understood that Mary and Joseph were a special case.

The above Scripture verse (along with a similar one, Luke 2:51) is often used to represent the prayerful, contemplative side of Mary. She marvels at the surprise visit of the shepherds, who speak of heavenly beings revealing that her baby is the Messiah and Lord. Mary carefully stores the amazing details into the motherly scrapbook of her heart.

In the Bible, the “heart” is the hidden center of the entire person. In the heart one thinks, discerns, feels, hopes, reasons, and intuits. The heart is the inner space within, the place in which one encounters the Living God. When Mary ponders things in her heart, she is prayerfully mediating on the mystery of God acting in her life. Luke paints a picture, not of a stereotypical peasant woman, thought to be of no account, but of a woman who thinks, reasons, remembers, and meditates, trying to put all the pieces of her life together to make sense of God’s plan.

Because of this, Mary is sometimes called the contemplative par excellence. Yet, contrary to what we might subconsciously think, Mary was not a vowed nun. She experiences God’s presence while cooking for her family, nursing her baby, or stroking her husband’s hair as they drift off to sleep. She meditates while walking to the town well to fetch water and prays while baking bread or weaving fabric. Mary’s heart is open and pure, praying and acting in total communion with God at all times. In short, she is the married contemplative.

–Excerpt from The Pearl of Great Price: Gospel Wisdom for Christian Marriage by Julie McCarty (Liturgical Press), pages 28-29.

Spiritual Aerobics

For journaling or small group discussion 

1. How do I think of prayer and the life of married couples, families, or other laypersons? Is deep holiness and prayer only for those viewed as the “professional religious” (priests, ministers, parish staff, nuns, etc.)? Is that what Jesus taught in the gospel?

2. Get creative: How would you portray Jesus’ mother in drawing, collage, paint, clay, or other art form? You don’t have to be an artist. How do you imagine her daily life? How did she pray when the angel Gabriel wasn’t visibly present?

3. Is every Christian or every human called to be contemplative? Just what does that word “contemplative” mean to you, and what might it mean for the future of Christianity?