Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Queen of the Impossible

Pregnant with God, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, and her unborn child rejoiced, immediately knowing her embrace. Bouncing and singing, he cried out to the Mother of God:

Hail, O Tendril whose Bud shall not wilt;
Hail, O Soil whose Fruit shall not perish!
Hail, O Tender of mankind’s loving Tender;
Hail, O Gardener of the Gardener of Life!

Hail, O Earth who yielded abundant mercies;
Hail, O Table full laden with appeasement.
Hail, for you have greened anew the pastures of delight;
Hail, for you have prepared a haven for souls.

Hail, acceptable Incense of Prayer;
Hail, Expiation of the whole universe!
Hail, O you Favor of God to mortal men;
Hail, O you Trust of Mortals before God!

Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God

Reflection – I’m continuing to share some of the rich poetry and theology of this Byzantine prayer service, which we prayed here at MH on the eve of the feast of the Assumption. As the Queenship of Mary comes up this Friday, it seems like a good week to spend meditating on the Mother of God and her meaning in our lives.

On Sunday we looked at the mysterious silence surrounding the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, and how this profound silence bears witness to the essentially hidden nature of God’s action in our own souls. Here we see a meditation on the pregnancy of Mary, on her fruitfulness which is of course by its very nature a visible reality. Our language reflects this as we speak of a pregnant woman as ‘showing’.

God’s grace is invisible; the fruit of God’s grace is visible. God’s presence is hidden, mysterious, unknown even to us; the effects of God’s presence are to be manifest in our lives, manifested principally in works of mercy, in our love and generosity and goodness towards others.

This chant of the Akathist speaks of the inexhaustible fruitfulness of Christ borne to us by Mary’s virginal fruitfulness. This is so important for us to get. In this world, fruitfulness is not assured. Early frosts can kill, weeds can choke, blights can wither, animals can plunder and trample (we’ve had major problems with deer in our gardens this year).

Or in the human realm, we all know many couples who struggle to conceive or to bring a baby to term. The heartbreak of a miscarried child is a heavy one, and there are few of us who don’t have some close experience of it.

Fruitfulness is the more broad and somewhat metaphorical sense is also far from assured in this life. We all want our lives to ‘succeed’, to produce something that is worthy of being produced. We all want something to come of our time on this planet… but we cannot be assured of this, humanly. A deep pain that can come to us in our elder years is a sense that all our work and efforts has been for nothing, that our lives have passed with nothing of value to show for them. I have seen this pain come upon people who would seem to have had lives of incredible fruitfulness and rich produce—it’s on some other deep level that this anguish afflicts us.

And so we have Christ. The bud who shall not wilt, the fruit who shall not perish, the abundant mercy, the table full laden. This most beautiful person, this most beautiful reality dwelling in our souls, who makes us sharers in this incense of prayer, this expiation to God.

We really do have to go deep into this, into the fruitfulness of God in human beings, the one utterly assured and ever-lasting fruit of human life taken up into God’s life. Everything else fails, but this cannot fail. Everything else has its season, and even if it naturally bears fruit and flourishes, this fruit too comes to pass away. The fruit of God-in-man, man-in-God lasts to eternity.

And again, it is Mary who bears this fruitfulness in her own glorified flesh, her assumed body and soul, and who bears witness to it, who helps us especially when our own lives seem to be sterile and hopeless. Mary, hope of the hopeless and Queen of the impossible. She continually holds before us the One who is the true harvest of humanity, a harvest in which we are meant to take our share, and rejoice in.

Hail O Bride and Maiden ever-pure.