If you’ve ever wondered what God is waiting for Simone Weil has a suggestion. She writes, “Our existence is made up only of [God’s] waiting for our acceptance not to exist.” Now, “not existing” sounds pretty bad, but I think it’s a big part of our celebration today of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God-Bearer. Mary’s “lowliness” as God’s “servant” suggests kenosis, the Greek term for “emptying out.” She emptied herself of anything standing in the way of completely assenting to God’s will. Mary embraced her powerlessness and recognized in the Holy One the one true source of mercy, strength, and all great things. Mary accepted not existing in the sense that her identity became woven into the fabric of God’s being. She no longer existed as an “I,” but as St. Paul put it an “I in Christ.” The dramatic fruit of Mary’s kenosis, her being filled with God, was the birth of Jesus from her womb. Nicholas Cabasilas, an Orthodox Saint and mystic, once went so far as to say that “God created humanity in order to find a mother,” so in that sense, in Mary, God’s wait was profoundly over.
In addition to seeing Mary as a culmination of God’s wait, it’s also been understood since the early days of the church that Mary serves as a model for us. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, wrote “What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure… [Christ] dwells in us spiritually and… in this way the child Jesus is born in each of us.”
Now, God is infinitely patient, so there’s no rush to kenosis, and anyway, much of this is beyond our control and has more to do with grace generously offered. But, it’s also true that we can meet God halfway, to make some effort to be prepared to receive grace when the gift is given.
It’s like our hearts are cups, cups we find filled with all sorts of things besides the risen Christ. God is eagerly looking for an opportunity to fill us with Christ, and it often helps for us to empty our cups first. Some of the things in our cup might include the pain of past wounds and trauma, or perhaps illusions of being in control of things, or maybe false beliefs about ourselves and others. The variety of things that could be in our cup, getting in the way, are probably as diverse as each one of us. But whatever is there, the first step to emptying it is the same. We need to take a good, long look at what’s inside.
This imperative to look inside is one of the reasons why Christian contemplation or meditation is gaining in popularity these days. Centering prayer is a good example of that sort of practice, the aim being to look inside ourselves by simply being fully present in stillness for a while. Over time, as we’re able to meet with compassion certain parts of ourselves, we can empty our cup of them, and allow room for God’s love to be poured in — destroying our false “I,” creating us anew, and allowing us to exist as an “I in Christ.”
This process of emptying ourselves for God is essential, because as glorious a gift to us as Mary’s surrendering to the role of god-bearer is, it isn’t truly relevant to our own spiritual journeys if it’s just history. As the 17th century priest and monk, Angelus Silesius wrote, “Even if Christ were to be born a thousand times at Bethlehem, if he is not born in you, you are lost for eternity.” So as we begin the season of Advent, tomorrow, we practice transforming our hearts from busy inns where there’s no room, into quiet, welcoming mangers.
So, I know it’s only two days after Thanksgiving, but in the interest of not keeping God waiting, I’d like to end with a few lines from “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
No ear may hear His coming, // But in this world of sin, // Where meek souls will receive Him still, // The dear Christ enters in. // O holy Child of Bethlehem! // Descend to us, we pray; // Cast out our sin, and enter in, // Be born in us to-day.
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