Today has been, by all accounts, a lazy Saturday. I won’t say I deserve it, but it has been relaxing and much appreciated. Around 3:00 PM I was watching television, doing various tasks on the computer, and waiting for the rain to let up. I’d already been out twice in the morning, and I wasn’t keen about going back out into the rain. Quite unexpectedly I walked over to my bookcase and picked up my Rosary – my blue set – where it’s been sitting next to the clock for some time now. I’ve walked over to it several times in the last few weeks, anticipating using them, but for whatever reason I have simply walked away from them. Most of my praying tends to be spontaneous these days, anyway; perhaps I didn’t want to think I was forcing myself. But today I very impulsively walked over and picked them up and wandered into my spare room. In the three months since my increasingly inaccurately named Roommate left, it has stood vacant and aside from adding a few small items it is as he has left it. But I do like going in there and standing at the window; it gives me a lovely view of the commercial district at the bottom of my little hill and the tree-lined road leading off towards the southwest.
(No, there is no wardrobe in the spare room, but you get bonus points if you got that reference.)
So there I stood at the window in my spare room, with my eyes closed, praying the Rosary to myself in Latin, chanting the prayers every so often. I enjoy praying the more formal prayers in Latin; I find it a wonderful exercise in the transcendent, speaking words that have been spoken or sung for hundreds of years (and in some cases well over a thousand!). I’m sure most of us are familiar to an extent with the tricks of light that can occur when standing at a window, or any light source, with one’s eyes closed, and today was no exception as odd shapes passed in and out of my darkened field of vision like negatives in a photo reel. At one point an orb of light lingered, appearing to crimp and wave around its edges, and i couldn’t help but think of the sun as I “gazed” upon it.
Maybe it was because I was praying the “Ave Maria” over and over again, but I was reminded of the image from the Book of Revelation of “a woman clothed with the sun,” whose child she was about to deliver before the waiting eyes and mouths of a fierce dragon. Curiously enough, I was also coming up on the third decade of my Rosary, and the Mystery of the Nativity associated with it. I was suddenly overcome with a desire to see the face of the Blessed Mother, to feel her gaze upon me and brighten the darkness of my sight.
As I began the third decade of prayers, reflecting on the Mystery of the Nativity, I could distinctly see, and only for the briefest of moments, the face of a woman. I saw only the face – no neck or hair or anything around – but I could tell that her head was turned to right, and that she was either seated or reclining. Her eyes were shut, and the curling of her upper lip seemed to suggest that she was in some sort of pain or discomfort. I didn’t have much time to analyze the image, really; it was gone in less than a second. But the sight sent a literal shock through me as I stood praying at the window, as if a small spark of electricity went through my eyes, through my brain, and down my spine.
I assumed the woman was in labor, likely because of the previous association of the “woman clothed with the sun” and my contemplation of the Nativity that was ongoing. In fact, it’s possible I completely suggested the entire thing. However, the little episode gave me pause, because as I continued my “Ave”s and reflected on the Nativity, I couldn’t help but remember that the Mother of God is also the Mother of the Church, the mystical Body of Christ Who is its Head. So our Blessed Mother brings into this world not only her Son, but all His brothers and sisters who are one with Him – including me. What a beautiful thought, that the Mother of God could be my Mother not just in an abstract or adoptive manner but in such a real way! How could she not be a real Mother to all those who are in communion with her Son?
But the blissful feeling didn’t last very long. After all, God is perfect, complete within Himself, and I am far from that. I have all sorts of hangups that keep me from being truly one with God, even when I need Him the most. I’ve written before about what a faithless lover I am, how many times I go crawling back to God on my knees or in tears because I’ve failed His love yet again, unable to let go of those hangups – or worse, not wanting to. I don’t want to trust Him to deal with them yet; I want to explore and figure them out for myself, no matter how much they may keep us apart. Put another way, I don’t want to be born yet. A horrible thought occurred to me with that realization that my stubborn refusal to “be born” keeps my Holy Mother’s face frozen in that expression of agony, which will not be lifted until her labor is done. How could I do such a thing to my Mother?
Saint Augustine, one of the great Doctors (Teachers) of the Church, once remarked that in his youth when he prayed to God for chastity and continence, he would add the words “but not yet!” He was afraid that God would answer the prayer, you see, and so put a cap on the desires of his flesh. He wasn’t ready to be born yet either. And I think we all do this to a certain extent. We place conditions on God’s unconditional love, and make unjust demands on God’s mercy. Independence is a good and necessary thing to be sure, and God wants us to be fully ourselves, but we can’t do that apart from Him Who made those selves, and when we distrust God’s providence in favor of our own independence, we separate ourselves from Him. All of our errors and failings, all our sins and sufferings, are joined to Christ on His Cross, where they ultimately die in an unfathomably universal act of salvation. But the lesson I learned today was that all these things also cause pain to our Mother – a pain she endures in love, just as her Son endured His Cross in love. Just as God wanted to bring us to life but could not do that until He Himself died, so the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, our Mother wants to bring us to birth with her Son, but her pain cannot end until her labor is finished.
I didn’t see the woman’s face again, and I was glad of that. I never want to see that contorted expression again, knowing my contribution to that pain. But I pray that in those moments when I feel myself starting to pull away, I will not be able to unsee it.
When I had finished I opened my eyes and looked out window. The rain had stopped, and the road was drying out. I walked out into the living room and stood before my grandmother’s statue of Our Lady of Grace, which stands at the window over looking the street. Suddenly I felt the bottoms of my feet start to tingle, as if they had been asleep.
O God, Whose only-begotten Son by His life, death and resurrection has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life: grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.