This is God’s chosen way with men,
To take men’s way: and so the streets she walks
And all the roads, the shepherds and the shepherds’
Sheep, the winds, the firelight, Israel’s hills,
Will find just this, no more, a woman plain
Upon the earth, and in her arms, a Child.
I was nursing my daughter the other day, sitting on our bed, absentmindedly staring at the painting opposite me, a detail from Bouguereau’s The Virgin, Jesus and Saint John the Baptist. It struck me that the Blessed Virgin most likely had been in the same situation, tired and lost in her own thoughts while nursing her child, the only difference being that He is the son of God. And I thought of the poem that has been accompanying me through the winter, A Woman Wrapped in Silence by John W. Lynch. This forgotten classic provides us with a reflection on Mary’s vocation as mother and calls us to share with her in that same vocation. God came to dwell with His Mother in order that He might go forth from her to work our salvation. In this narrative poem on the life of the Virgin, we are invited into the heart of Mary, into her silence, and into her life with Our Lord.
Bringing the Other into the World
The Child was hers, and over her
She heard again her own voice that had said
He should be hers, and should be met and held
And guarded in what life was hers to give
Until there was no more in her of life
Or gift He did not have. . . .
“O, be it done to me.”
The Holy Spirit came and dwelt in the depths of her heart, a well of silence that reflects and sings of the glories of the Lord. Through the song of her word, Mary becomes the bearer of the Word; she becomes the Ark of the New Covenant:
This is conclusion, and the fires that scorched
The Prophets’ lips, the old consuming fires
That burned in Israel’s blood might now be cooled
For prophecies are ending, and the dreams
That throbbed above the great unfinished music
Of the psalms are quieted, and psalms
At last resolve, like chords that come to rest. . . .
New testament is made,
New visitation, and a full new world
That holds much more of mystery, and more
Of consequence than that which answered first
All the glories of the Lord are hidden in the silence of the Virgin. The Word is spoken in silence, and is only heard in silence. For our God is a hidden God [Is. 45:15], but He has no longer hidden Himself apart from us. The Voice thundering from the cloud has become the whisper that was borne into the world through the Ave, and continues through our echo. As St. Ambrose reminds us, “Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord. Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith.”
We are called this Lent to share in the Motherhood of the Virgin and bring Christ forth into this new world, a world that hangs upon the saving grace of the Incarnation brought to completion on Calvary. Our every action and word, our every gesture, are charged with significance, for the time has come and the Word dwells among us. We are all in Nazareth, at home with the Holy Family.
Calling Forth Calvary
But the joy of Christ’s presence is not to last, and, remembering Simeon’s words, Mary knows the day will come when He is to leave her side. And the remembrance of that day in the Temple still lingers, when she had cried out:
Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
This is the dark sob uttered in the psalms
That she is speaking out. And He will shake
It from His lips and tear the nailed night jagged
With the same prayer pleading to the pain
Above His cross, and He will speak the same
Abandonment. And none will be to answer
Him save as His heart hears of itself,
And as she, standing near to Him, may know
Who will remember then her broken plea,
And find it echoed in His own.
Then, at her request, He had returned to her. He left the Temple and His Father’s work to stay longer with her. But the day comes, although it is not yet His time, when, moved by kindness, she asks for wine and for Him to go from her and return to His Father’s work.
This is her hour come. . . .
Not lost among the sight of kindness, honor
Set here for eternal diadem.
This instant now of plain divinity
Has moved upon her word, and only comes
In summons to her call. She stands precursor
Here. Her lips have spoken in announcement.
She has pointed Him away to Tabor,
And unwound the roads His feet will take
Until they move from this place to the flags
Of Pilate’s floor. This is the gathering
Of crowds, the pain, the glory, the defeat,
The long inaugural of Calvary,
And she has summoned it. More now than sweet
Persuading innocence that holds a Child
And sings for joy of Him, more now than woman
With a woman’s heart to be a place
For swords. She is the sum of all the advents
Crying in the past for Him to be,
The first among her fathers, and the last
Voice speaking of the hundred prophet tongues
That told of Him. She is the star again!
As this Lent draws to its close, we would do well to remember Our Mother’s example. In her desire that His work may be fulfilled, she calls to Him and urges Him on to His Passion, even though in so doing He must leave her. With her we must also call forth Calvary. Through Calvary the gates of Heaven are opened to us, but we must bear with Christ His cross and from it call out with Him and “speak the same abandonment.” Indeed, let us complete what is lacking [Col. 1:24] and stand with Mary at the foot of the cross. For we remember the consoling words of St. John of the Cross:
[T]hat if all… sensible and spiritual communications are wanting and individuals live in dryness, darkness, and dereliction, they must not thereby think that God is any more absent. . . . The [soul asks not] for sensible devotion, in which there is neither certain nor clear possession of the Bridegroom in this life, but for the manifest presence and vision of His divine essence, in which she desires to be secure and satisfied in the next life.