Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Being Comes First

Christ’s insistence on the power of children is very striking. Almost more than anything else in the Gospel it proves that in God’s eyes being something comes before doing something.

He sets a little child among his apostles as an example of what he loves. He says that heaven is full of children. Indeed, the Architect of Love has built the door into heaven so low that no one but a small child can pass through it, unless, to get down to a child’s little height, he goes in on his knees.

How consistent it is with the incredible tenderness of God that His Christ, the Immortal Child, should be conceived by the power of the Spirit in the body of a child. That a child should bear a Child, to redeem the world. Our Lady was at the most fourteen when the angel came to her; perhaps she was younger.

The whole world trembled on the word of a child, on a child’s consent. To what was she asked to consent? First of all, to the descent of the Holy Spirit, to surrender her littleness to the Infinite Love, and as a result to become the Mother of Christ.

It was so tremendous, yet so passive. She was not asked to do anything herself, but to let something be done to her. She was not asked to renounce anything, but to receive an incredible gift. She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges.

She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph, to live the life of an artisan’s wife, just what she had planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her.

It almost seemed as if God’s becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary.

Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God

Reflection – I’m spending a few days on the blog honouring yesterday’s solemnity of the Annunciation with these powerful meditations by Caryll Houselander. I mainly do this because I find I cannot do fitting honor to Our Lady in one blog post on her actual feast day—there’s too much to say about her, really. Also, I want to spotlight this author and this book, written in England in the midst of World War II, which is one of the truly great Marian texts of our day, and which deserves a place on every book shelf.

For those reading this who know Catherine Doherty and Madonna House well, we can see here how influential Houselander was on her. ‘Being is more important than doing,’ for example. Also, ‘the door to heaven is so low you must go down on your knees.’

It is this whole business of Our Lady’s passivity that I would like to highlight, though. Mostly because in North America at least, we really, really hate this. OK, maybe hate is a strong word. But we are culturally ill disposed towards passivity of any kind.

No way! We are activists. Tell us what to do! Give us some practical pointers! Give us a program! We’ve got to get up off our duffs and do something if we are going to heal the culture, restore the world to Christ, rebuild a Christian society, renew the Church, etc., etc.

This is so built into our very cultural and spiritual DNA in North America (the Protestant work ethic!), and there is enough of a grain of truth in it, that it is very hard to show what is off about it all. After all, we do in fact have to do something. Our Lady did, too: she had to do the duty of the moment like everyone else.

But receiving comes first. Listening comes first. Passivity comes first. Being comes first. If it doesn’t, then all our dashing about and doing, doing, doing does nothing of any permanent value. And indeed, our modern world is very busy, very active, very rushing about. We live our lives timed down to the second, on the clock every waking minute, our hours and days packed full of action and stimuli. And what good is any of it?

We are not listening. We are not receiving from God, and so our lives do not bear great fruit. Prayer, silence, daily coming into God’s presence to receive his word and his life—all of this is so deeply neglected in North America, even among good Christian people. And so we get embroiled in the controversy of the day, swept up in the shallow currents of pop culture and political life, frenetic in our ceaseless, and so often pointless, activity. Our Lady stands as the great sign against all this. She is the great contemplative, the great receiver, the great listener, the pray-er, the one whose whole being and hence whose whole activity comes from God and so is directed towards God and his perfect will.

If we fail to emulate her, our lives will be very busy, very stressful, very action-packed, and wholly fruitless. It is God who makes our lives fruitful, not our own action, and that is the great lesson we need to learn in North America in the year 2013.


  1. "it almost seems as if God's becoming a man and being born of a woman were ordinary."

    This virgin...this virginal point, this sacred space...is inside all of us....this place is given to us, despite our sins, our failures, our wounds. This virginal space is deep within all of us.

    "at the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or a spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is his name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our son ship. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely". Thomas Merton (conjectures of a Guilty Bystander).

    Mary. She is offering her virginal point, gives her permission, allows God to touch her, surrendering herself to give life. All the beauty of her nature is restored. Then Jesus is born of her.

    All this, in a very ordinary way. All this hope for the transformation of our selves, and all others.

    1. Amen, amen, amen... see today's post for further thoughts!


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