Editor’s note: with the kind permission of Servant Books, we are thrilled to share this excerpt from CatholicMom.com contributor Colleen C. Mitchell’s book, Who Does He Say You Are? Women Transformed by Christ in the Gospels. On this day when the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this excerpt calls us to reflect on what Mary teaches us about our own spiritual calling. –Barb
When I was younger, it bothered me when Jesus addressed his Mother as “Woman” in the Gospels. This was long before I had grown into my own womanhood, or knew what it meant to be a woman. Now I hear that word in a new light.
“Woman,” he calls her. Archetypal, she is not just one woman among many, but the Woman, just as Eve was “woman” at creation. In her very being, Mary embodies all of womanhood’s beauty, goodness, and grace. She is as woman was created to be. She first embarked on the journey of walking with the Savior so the rest of us might follow. She shows us what it means to live as a woman overshadowed by the Spirit. And the first thing she teaches us about womanhood is the only thing we really need to know: God dwells in us.
God could have chosen to break upon the scene of human history to save us from our very selves in any way he wanted. It could have been in a way that was overtly grand and glorious and terrifying. He could have shaken the foundations of the earth with his coming and darkened the universe only to light it up again. He could have put on a fantastic show.
But he chose instead to create a vessel that could cradle his greatness—he chose to be borne by and born of a woman. The glory that happens in the womb of a woman may just be God’s best show of all. And the idea that our salvation is both borne and born in a world that scarcely knows it has a reason to hope? That God is working out the salvation of the world in secret ways with a woman as his only companion? What deep, rich grace there is in that!
God’s secret workings inside one woman are the beginning of human salvation. I can hardly bear the beauty of that sometimes—especially when I am reminded how often I am inattentive to the ways God is working in me, or even wholly rebellious to them. But in Mary, I am reminded that when the beautiful mystery of womanhood intertwines with the great mystery of God, the miracle of salvation can be born. In Mary, I have a picture of womanhood at its height, an untainted vessel full of grace carrying the light of Christ out into the world. I
want to live pregnant with that hope: that God dwelling in me can unfold into a grace and salvation that pours out to others. I want to be ever attentive to the mystery of God active in me, as Mary was the moment she heard the angel’s greeting sound in her ears.
When we look at Mary here at the moment of the annunciation, when our Creator God tucked himself inside her virgin womb, we learn something about our own womanhood. In what is happening in that one woman’s body and soul to bring about the salvation of the world, we learn a powerful truth about ourselves: God designed us to house his glory.
He meant to dwell in us. The design of our bodies reflects the design of our souls: receptive, nurturing, life-giving. God designed as a first earthly home for himself the perfect vessel, the receptacle of grace without flaw, and it was a woman, Mary. And so Mary shows us what it means to be woman, to have a feminine soul that is meant to receive life-giving love, to gestate that life with expectant hope, and to bear it out into the world through the hard work that it is to labor. This is our spiritual calling as much as it is our physical being. This calling is not dependent on whether or not you ever bear a babe in your womb; it is yours because you bear the babe called King of kings inside you.
He dwells in you—redeeming, loving, saving from right there in the very center of your being. You, sister, can live full of grace too. There may not be angel’s wings and glory rays to announce his presence. But do not doubt that he longs to live in you, to be made incarnate in you. He wants to dwell within you so that your very flesh magnifies him out into the world.
“How can this be?” Mary asks, and we echo the question with her. How does this happen, that the God of the universe comes to dwell inside us? It happens to us, friend, just as the angel told Mary it would. He overshadows us. Sometimes it feels as if we spend our whole lives just trying to step out of the shadows, doesn’t it? To be noticed. To get out of the darkness someone else has cast over us. To find the light. (Who Does He Say You Are, p. 2-4)
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Copyright 2016 Colleen C. Mitchell