Thursday, August 21, 2014

There Stands the Woman

O Mother of God, we see the best of speakers become as mute as fish in your regard, for they could not explain how you could give birth while remaining a virgin. As for us, while marveling at the mystery, we cry out to you in faith:

Hail, O Container of God’s wisdom;
Hail, O Treasury of his providence!
Hail, O Reproof of foolish philosophers;
Hail, O Confusion of speechless wise men!

Hail, for you perplexed the inquisitive minds;
Hail, for you dried up the inventors of myths!
Hail, for you ripped the Athenians’ meshes;
Hail, for you filled the Fishermen’s nets!

Hail, O Retriever from the abyss of ignorance;
Hail, O Lamplight of knowledge to many!
Hail, O Ship for those who seek salvation;
Hail, O Harbor for the sailors of light!

Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!
Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God

Reflection – Well, one more day with bits and pieces of the Akathist hymn, in preparation for the feast of the Queenship of Mary tomorrow. I wish I could give some sense of the beauty of the music of this service, but you’ll just have to come to Madonna House some time when we’re doing it.

This chant has always been a favorite of mine. I love the simile ‘as mute as fish’, which is not exactly a common idiom but makes perfect sense once you hear it. I tend to be someone who always has something to say on just about any topic (you may have noticed this about me!), and so I have usually riposted to this part of the hymn with ‘Yes, but I am not the best of speakers’, so I can still blather on.

These verses speak of a very deep reality, though, that human philosophy and human intellectual prowess, as great a thing as it is, runs up against a hard limit in its calculations and syllogistic reasoning. Reason treats of the observable, the repeatable, the testable, that which is within the grasp of the senses and our ability to understand the information they bring us.

But the deepest realities of human life—the origin, the meaning, the end, the depth of being, the mystery of love, the source of goodness—all of these are beyond the strict level of the senses and what they can tell us. We can see something of these things—there is a long and not at all valueless tradition of metaphysical reasoning. But all of them at a certain point elude us—the trail goes cold, the thread escapes our grasp, all of the really important questions of human life have roots that suddenly plunge down into places we cannot touch with our minds alone. Efforts to do so have yielded myths and meshes and folly.

And so reason comes up against a hard stop. The modern path of strict and narrow rationality says, when confronted with the limits of reason, ‘Well, that’s because there’s nothing there beyond them, or whatever’s there cannot be important, or there’s no way of getting there anyhow, so why bother with them.’ The deepest questions of the meaning of life, of the deep import of all the most vital and profound human experiences—love, yearning, transcendence—questions about God and the origin and end of the whole cosmos: all of these are unimportant and irrelevant questions to a modern atheist. Why? Because reason can’t resolve them.

This is deeply irrational, mind you, and rationalism breaks down into profound unreason on precisely this point. Why do things become unimportant that are manifestly vitally important, that have always been understood as the most important human questions, simply because a certain narrow definition of reason excludes them? Talk about foolish philosophers!

Reason does indeed hit a hard stop, though, and where that stoppage is, stands not the grim figure of Hume or Comte saying ‘No access.’ Rather, there stands there the figure of the Woman who carries within herself that which reason cannot attain to. And so exactly where reason takes us to its furthermost limit, faith opens its arms and opens a road for us to tread, not in contradiction to reason but in fulfillment of reason’s own understood limits.

And Mary is the great human figure, the human person herself limited in all the ways human beings are, but who shows us that human limitation is meant to be met, embraced, and filled with divine plenitude and limitlessness. The wisdom of God which takes us to the heart, the depths, the heights of mystery, not in a process of rational discourse, but in a communion of love and intimate mystical union. And the Queenship of Mary bears witness to the fact that God intends to hold nothing back from us, intends to elevate our humanity to the very throne of majesty and glory, to make us sharers in everything He is, not because we are God, but because He is, and it is His nature to communicate His nature to ours.

Hail, O Bride and Maiden, ever-pure.