Contemplative Corner – “What Child is This?”

I’m one of those empty nest mothers who still yearns for her son. Since he was an infant my spiritual life has been further transformed. This past year I spent my days recovering from my grief over my mom’s passing and taking a study course on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.  In the Spring, I went on another trip to Palestine where I experienced a melding of all these aspects in an unexpected way. I have often thought about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and over the years marveled at her enduring faith in midst of a mother’s pain. 

The Ignatian study focused on the divinity of Christ with an emphasis on his humanity also. One of the lessons required that while prayerfully reading Luke Chapters 1 & 2, imagine oneself present at the birth of Jesus. Through contemplation I entered into the scene with eyes of faith. Later, while walking through Bethlehem, the towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem, my thoughts were with what Jesus experienced as a human. How he willingly became one of us sharing in our emotions; enduring pain, joy, love, hope, anxiety & suffering… As I looked on Jesus as not only divine, but also truly a humble human being, my thoughts went back to his mother, Mary. 

It occurred to me that I am a Christian because a teenage girl living in 1st century Palestine said yes to God. Mary’s faithful reply, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word” (Lk 1:38). As she pondered the perplexing events in her young heart, how could she have possibly grasped their full meaning? Her trust in God made her vulnerable to societal judgement and to a life for her son that came with no guarantee for their safety. 

For me the incarnation if so compelling because through the Holy Spirit God implanted himself in the soft womb of a woman. There he grew fingers and toes and kicked within; preparing to move through the birth canal of a young woman. God entered crying into the loving embrace of a human mother who held him to her breast. I am overcome with emotion thinking what she would endure as Christ walk the way to the cross.

How blessed we are that God trusted his very self, in bodily form, to the care of a woman. From this point and throughout the gospels we see that God needed women for his survival. Jesus needed to be fed by a woman who offered her body to him before Jesus could offer the bread and wine, his body and blood, for us. 

Understanding the incarnation is only possible through understanding the humanness of Mary and her central role in Jesus’ story. Here is the core Christian conviction that God is with us in our plain ordinary human identity. As God’s children, we too are born from our mother’s womb and there, even before we were born, God knew us, formed us and had a plan for our lives. God was, is and always will be with us.

“This, this is Christ the King…
the King of kings salvation brings…
nails, spear, shall pierce him through;
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,

the babe, the son of Mary.” 
– from the hymn, “What Child Is This”