Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent
“A virgin is someone who is free of all false images and is detached toward God’s dearest wish and ready to fulfill it unceasingly, as was Jesus.” Meister Eckhart
Virgin comes from Latin and means, literally, slender branch, twig or shoot. The original sense of the word is a person who is one in him or herself. Such an individual is free from possession and possessiveness and capable of the total giving of self, body, as well as soul. The virgin aspect is that which is unpenetrated and unowned by humanity. It does not need to be validated or approved by anyone to know its own innate worth.
Virgin carries much of the same intent as the word holy, which means set apart, the temple. The Parthenon (literally the virgin’s place) was the temple to Athena on the acropolis in Athens. In the New Testament virgin is used to depict the host of the redeemed in Revelation and to refer to the church as the bride of Christ. But by far the most frequent use of the word virgin is in the Bible’s figurative description of cities, nations, and communities. We often find virgin daughter as an expression for Jerusalem.
The virgin is one who can hear and believe the anguished truth of a violated and profaned creation. The virgin does not indulge in denial or false hope. She has no illusions about the extent of the horror and suffering we inflict on one another and the earth.
For the virgin knows that it is not our empathy that heals, not our outrage that heals, not our grief that heals. It is our faith – our trust in the power of Goodness to prevail over darkness. The virgin does not respond to suffering and sin out of her own anxiety, fear and wounds, but rather out of her repose, her absolute serene trust in the one she carries in her womb and continuously delivers into the world. Such, as she, are the healers among us.
My small daughter, playing with the holy family in the wooden stable sings her lullaby: Round yon urgent mother and child, holy infant so tender and wild.
This mother, more urgent than virgin, smiles: Yes, indeed, Holy Infant tender and wild, you are so wild, so undomesticated, so radically other than anything known and familiar. No matter how hard we coax, you will not eat out of our hands, but remain out in the timber hidden in the brush. We set out bait, offerings on the snow. Cowboy theologians toss ropes into the forest and lasso decoys. And rough-rider ecclesiastics try to corral you in sedate doctrines.
The virgin daughter of Jerusalem sings at the gate. In the dark we lay a trail of bread crumbs to our door. We wait, stilled, hushed. Come, Lord Jesus.
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12
But who can stand when you appear? The earth shudders, mountains topple, creatures shiver with fear. Shots ring out in the forest. Innocence awakens and moves toward us, and the rough hand grasps for its lost treasure.
The virgin daughter of Jerusalem stands on the path and suddenly she is falling, falling into the blue sea and into the wide sky, falling through pain and fear and despair, falling faster and faster, picking up speed, plummeting like a stone, falling through a tunnel formed at the intersection of the cross hairs in the telescopic sight aimed at redemption where opposites meet and all things come together.
She is whizzing down the tunnel like a child’s slide, sleek and silent, silver in the sun, falling free. And the Realm of God does not suffer violence, and she is not taken by force and the two, who have been made for each other, delight to have found ground holy enough to hold each other’s purity, ground strong enough to bear each other’s pain. And in her joy she funnels greatness from the wideness of her hope down the narrow passage of her being into us.
So now I pray for passionate virgins who have died for love and dwell beyond the clutch and fever of desire. I pray for eccentric virgins who live on the outskirts of propriety, raise geese, and talk to trees. I pray for violated virgins and their re-consecration. I pray for virgins who find the courage to reject the lie that eats away their souls and whispers that what happened never happened and leads them down a winding path of mirages and fun house mirrors that mock Truth.
I pray for virgins who know they are only as holy as they are willing to see how horribly they have been profaned, and how horribly they profane. I pray for priestly virgins who preside at their own sacraments, who ordain themselves to Love, who anoint and purify, who refuse to bypass pain, but in their surrender to it and annihilation fall into the center of their humility to sit enthroned in the trust of total repose and divine indifference from which all healing flows.
I pray for virgins, calm and pure, who stable holiness, and for virgins, safe and gentle and true enough to conceive the Immaculate Tenderness without doing it violence. I pray for undomesticated virgins, unpenetrated by conventional values, virgins unconfined by reason and impervious to the demands of privileged authority.
I pray for revolutionary virgins, who despise the shame, and take up the suffering for the joy that awaits. I pray for virgins whose land, enclosed by strength, is untouched and guarded by a flaming sword. I pray for virgins, who with unveiled eyes gaze unflinchingly at evil and at God and live to tell the tale. I pray for virgin martyrs, who are witnesses with the conviction to believe their own eyes. I pray for chaste, intrepid, impeccable virgins, incapable of doubt.
I pray for virgins who apply themselves to prayer until their souls become clear, focused lenses through which we spy, enlarged for us, the intricate dazzling structures of divinity. And God, hidden in the forest, is magnified by them; and glory sprints across the clearing kicking up a cloud of blessing.
I pray for virgins who are not afraid of greatness, neither the greatness of themselves, nor the greatness of God. And I pray for a virgin with a heart which dilates. A bold virgin, who when she has grown as big as she can be, when she has come to the outer reaches of the limits of her being and all that she thinks and knows and hums to herself, will give up encompassing Plentitude. I pray for a virgin who becomes Emptiness, who will let go of her edges, the taut boundaries that separate this from that, and flinging herself like crumbs in a fragrant trail from what was once her heart to the forest will say:
Let it be to me according to your word.
And the shy, tender God takes the bait. And she and holiness are won. And their child tumbles, wet and wild, into the wounded world to heal us with his stripes.
Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This post is an edited excerpt from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. Chapter 10 “Urgent Mother and Child – Holy Indifference and the Repose of the Virgin,” p 39. It may be a challenging piece for some readers. I wrote it over 25 years ago following a workshop I led in New York state. The workshop topic was the spiritual aspects of recovery from sexual abuse and violence. After the presentation I was taken to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and guided to a small chapel. There I knelt before a larger than life bronze statue of the Virgin Mother, which embodied, both all pervading compassion, and perfect repose. Before her I felt all the pain of the women, whose stories I had heard at the workshop, drawn out of me and healed.
By the way, this piece could easily be adapted for several voices and used as a readers’ drama for worship. I can als0 hear music behind it…and slides of various artists’ depiction of the annunciation. Get creative!
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