Thousands of years ago, in a land far away called Galilee, lived as married Anna, born in Bethlehem, and Joachim from Nazareth. Both of pure and good hearts always deeply longed for a child but years passed and had remained childless in old age. One day Joachim went into the desert and pleaded to God to be blessed with a child; and an angel appeared to assure him that he and Anna would be given their child, whom they were to name Mary and dedicate her to God. In the meantime, Anna too in her despair and sadness, cried out “Why was I born, Lord?” and prayed for a child. And for her too, an angel appeared to tell her she would soon give birth to a daughter she were to name Mary.
And so they conceived; and in love Anna made Mary’s bed-chamber as a sanctuary not allowing anything unclean and impore enter it. From the moment the newborn child lay in the arms of her holy mother Anna, the light of heaven in sight greeted them and filled their hearts with unspeakable joy; they kept the baby safe, protected and adorned with love and full hearted affection. Mary was taught infinite mysteries by her deeply spiritual mother, whispered to her ever since she was a baby, and yet Mary was and remained a child. We may not understand such knowledge, but Mary knew everything in the same way as a child knows its mother’s breast and that it is to drink from it.
What Mary knows is love, the language of angels.
At the age of three, as promised and vowed to God, Anne gave Mary to the Temple to be of service there. It is said that in the Temple Mary was fed by the hand of an angel. And what does it mean to be fed by the hand of an angel? Literalism has no place in esoteric text, as it sinks us in the water like stones. Spirituality is only understood by the awakened eyes of the heart – for such knowledge goes beyond the words.
The language of angels is love – for they cannot understand anything that isn’t pure of heart. If you speak the word apple yet it isn’t of the purity of your heart, it isn’t of love, they will not understand you. And to understand something, perceive something, ingest something, you need to hold this within you already. The spiritually impure cannot perceive the spiritually pure; they think they can but they can’t. So when humans speak of love, with love, through love, they embody angels on earth. For we cannot speak love if we have fear, judgment, greed or darkness in our hearts. Love is a power of trust, purity, truth and surrender. There is openness and humbleness.
The angels fed Mary because she knew love, so they gave her more love; they taught her more love, they filled her being with the sacred food that sustains us and grows us and lightens us. You cannot eat food you can’t absorb – and only when we awaken something within us, we can perceive it and allow it to enter us.
Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, by Murillo, c. 1660
What Mary knows is trust, faith and courage of soul.
How much trust do you think one must have to receive the message of conceiving a child from God, without sex, and surrendering yourself to that mission? How much courage of soul, and faith in the unseen, one needs to have and hold within them to accept this and move forward? How do you accept you’re pregnant without reason? These are human questions, yes, and while Mary was very spiritual and of deep faith and strong spiritual core within, she was still human, of flesh and skin.
Our greatest lessons in this life is to trust. And that’s something we have a really hard time with. All beneath heaven is unstable, perhaps that’s why we have skins to hold us and give us a sense of stability and comfort; and we seek comfort in trying to understand with reason, logic, gaining information, categorizing, tightening our grips. We seek comfort in this unstable thing called life; we seek to know because uncertainty is scary.
But as human beings, with limited understanding and conditioned human minds, we’ll never know it all. No matter how many concrete roads we build, the paths of life are full of mysterious twists and turns, and there are clocks beyond the hands of our clocks, unclockable and unstrikeable by us. We’ll never know it all. The humility of this deserves to be treasured. And we were never meant to know it all anyway. We need to let some pages unwritten for God breathes there, and that’s where miracles can surprise us and enchant us. There is no trust without doubt. The only reason why trust exists is because doubt existed; and the only reason why courage exists is because there was fear.
I want you to look at the sky and see the celestial wisdom. The constellation of Virgo, often associated with the Virgin Mary, shows what looks like a woman lying on her back travelling through the nightly sky. And as she lays there on her back, travelling along, her arms are slightly raised, and her legs are elevated and spread, as if she is giving birth. This is why people believe that this was one of the constellations the Magi saw and interpreted for the Christ birth. But what does that mean? Laying on her back, in complete surrender, travelling across the dark celestial – she trusts. She surrenders. To relax our bodies in such faith and trust, knowing we’ll be held when we open our arms, open our palms. This kind of trust opens our hearts, and lightens our body, it relaxes our grip – for only when we open our palms we can be held; and we’ll realize we’re not alone after all.
What Mary knows is trust.
What Mary knows is faith.
Yet even on the path of faith there is doubt. I call it the little room for doubt. In this room we enter and cuddle up, we ask questions, we feel sad, we feel lost and we feel frustrated. And that too is part of the experience. This too serves its purpose to deepen us in some way. I’ve talked to monks, to priests, who have spent their entire lives in monasteries and in prayer each day and night, and they too experience these feelings sometimes. They too share in this human experience all the waves, the ebbs and flows of the emotional experience – and this is what makes us human. But isn’t that too part of God, if God is all?
In every breath, in every emotion, God breathes through you and can experience himself in a way he could not have otherwise. There are nuances to our human experience, but each emotion is purposeful to us and allows us an opportunity for a deepening. We seek to know and understand, because essentially we are longing to touch that which is beyond our touch – that which will serve to dissolve some of the pre-conditioning of this world. And sometimes that seeking begins with questions, but then – we need to listen, and be open enough, truly, to receive what we hear.
I recently had a session with a beautiful client of mine, a woman who wanted to conceive another child; and she shared how she was feeling so hard on herself because of fears, stress, frustration, doubts, will it happen, was it meant to happen to me again? But there is nothing to feel badly about – because it is okay to feel sad or doubtful, these too are part of the path, for only for her but for her child’s path as well. Release the self criticisms, and consider that nothing is not as it should.
What Mary knows is the power of prayer.
She knows the burdens you carry. Prayer opens us in trust and in surrender. As women especially we carry so much burdens on our shoulders – responsibility, worries – and sometimes we forget how it feels to just release it all, and be held. Some women spend so many years living in fear that they no longer even know it – they think they don’t feel fear, but it’s actually become a part of their being. There is so much expected of us, and so much we carry – so prayer opens us. It allows us to fall into trust and surrender, and give our worries and tears; to open our palms to be held, and we’ll realize we’re not alone.
Through that very action of prayer, we learn to surrender and trust, and just ask for help. Sometimes we forget how to ask, or we can’t ask, because we live in a greedy and selfish world, and many people just don’t know how to support another. But prayer is there for you, it prays you towards itself – seek it, let it hold you. Let God hold you. Do not worry yourself of all things. You’re not meant to carry it all by yourself.
All these icons that I’m sharing serve the beautiful purpose of placing us in a space of tenderness and love. You see, icons were never made to be worshipped; back in the day they were made for those who couldn’t read yet wanted to learn the stories written in the Bible. So through images, stories were told. Stories not just from books, of love and hope, but stories containing other stories within themselves – of the hands and hearts who made them too, and gave with love to other hands.
But icons are only a window – they are the glass, not the sea itself. Yet they open spaces within us of tenderness and grace. These particular ones that I’m sharing of Mother Mary and the Christ child are classified as Eleusa, which in Greek means “tenderness or showing mercy” – and they are meant to inspire this tenderness within you too. Because sometimes we need to remind ourselves what sacredness looks like, what tenderness looks like, especially in a world of not a lot of beauty to be seen on social media. Settle into the quiet corner of your heart, into this private intimate sensitive cocoon within you, and let tenderness enter you.
Natività di Carlo Maratta del 1650
What Mary knows is the seed of God, she knows love, she knows.
Love is the seed of God. We are born through this seed, through this love, through the prayers of your mother, your father, your grandparents and great grandparents, the stars above, and all the cells in your body that said yes to you, yes to life – so that you are born; so that you have hands with which to hold another’s hand, ears to hear the laughter of your family, nose to smell the roses, and lips with speak love.
This life is your blessing, and you are blessings in turn. This seed of love is within you, and you may choose to nurture it and nourish it, to grow it tenderly and lovingly in the church of your skin, in the home of your heart, so that you may then become a warm shelter for all others, and a loving light, a lantern, a sparkle in their ordinary days or paths ahead.
Christmas is about this remembering. It is about family, about love, about what truly matters in this life. Because this is your gift, your blessing – this life, your family, love.
And you too, a blessing, and blessings in turn through your every day gestures and words. Sometimes you might have wondered “Where is the love?” because you feel like you give and give but no one gives back to you. Well, it is you – you are it, you are the love, you are the love others need in these moments – so you can’t see the love, because you are the love in those moments. The sun shines without looking for the sun, because it is the sun.
You are someone’s answered prayer – you are the prayer of your mother, of your father, of your grandparents, of your great grandparents, of your child, your children, of the stranger on the street who needed a smile, of the one who needed a helping hand, of the tiny animal in the park – you are someone’s prayer, and through you love breathes, God breathes, and love shapes into itself into something of meaning, not only as ideas in the skies, but as something to be touched and felt and heard and seen. Love only becomes itself when it is expressed and shaped by your lips, hands and ordinary every day gestures along the circling staircases of life.
Because love is like bread – it needs to be made and remade, each day, made anew.
Jesus Christ as a man, of human flesh and skin, not as God, revolutionized the soul.
He came upon earth in human flesh to remind us, and awaken in our hearts, what love looks like – so that we too are fed by the angels and by God himself. He showed us, through human hands, human feet, human lips, what kindness looks like, what compassion looks like, what humbleness looks like, what forgiveness looks like.
There is a beautiful story written in the Bible in which he sits next to a woman by a river, who is of different faith than him, and yet with tenderness and gentleness he “treated her uncharacteristically for his time and people with kindness, respect and as an equal.”
What does that phrase mean? It means that love is a revolution of spirit. We sometimes have to do the uncharacteristic of our time and people – because in our world, loving is hard. With so much falseness and selfishness, it is hard to love people. It is hard not to harden our hearts. It is hard not to lose ourselves. But we need to remember the path towards our heart, because this is where God is, this is where Christ love is, and love returns us to love – only love returns us to love, melting icebergs and taming storms.
Learning to love is our greatest lesson. Because it’s hard. Because it’s not always pretty. Because we need to reach across the lines that divide us – and then sit, listen and learn. Because we need to accept the changeability of our human nature. Because loving a statue or a temple is easy – it doesn’t move, it doesn’t hurt us, it stays there perfect to be admired. But human beings – we change, we are unpredictable, we make mistakes; we are silly, annoying and often ignorant. We are certainly not perfect, but we weren’t meant to be perfect – all we need to do though is try our best, do our best, learn from our mistakes, and really make the effort to be kinder, more generous and more compassionate as human beings.
There will always be “better or greener grass on the other side” – but consider that that’s because they take care of their grass and this is why it seems greener. And what true love really means is acceptance. Accepting others for who they are, accepting the present moment, and if you love, really love – love not the fantasy, but the person, as they are, as they need be. Love is sometimes hands; sometimes old, like wrinkles of care, of touch is touch years in the making, holding on holding strong. But the most beautiful part of hands is where they touch now.
If you seek God – do not look up. If you seek God, look into the very human eyes of those beside you, your loved ones. This is where God is, this is where you’ll find him.
What Mary knows is …
Come let us adore him.
With love + peace,
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Images in this article include Carlo Maratta’s Natività painting, and Murillo’s Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, via Wikimedia Commons. The rest are from icons and religious cards I’ve seen, photographed or had. All rights reserved by the artists.