Thursday, December 25, 2008


In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. - Luke 1:27-35 (NIV).

Of course, this is the wrong month for chatting up the Annunciation. The church calendar very prosaically places the Feast of the Annunciation on the 25th of March, exactly nine months prior to the Feast of Christmas. Because a pregnancy is nine months long, right? Even a virgin's pregnancy, though one could be excused for expecting other anomalies under the unusual circumstances...

Mary's wasn't the world's first virgin birth. This was a fairly standard device of mythology in describing the origin of heroes, that they should be born miraculously of a virgin. And so they should. The spirit knows that what is miraculous bursts from the unsown field, and that grace is graceful because it leaps uncalled and unearned from the unexpected corner. To build a hero step by step from human clay is to build a plodding golem. We have enough experience of that, good people with feet of clay. We yearn for gods.

And gods are virgin born.

"How shall this be, since I am a virgin?"

Mary doesn't recognize the story yet. She can't believe she's a main character in the incarnation of a myth, even when it's the voice of an angel that pulls her away from her study or weeding or laundry or whatever mundanity she's at in the moment. She doesn't realize that the real question would be "How shall this be, since I am not a virgin?" She is titled the Virgin Mary because it's the untouched aspect of her that is most fertile, as it is in all of us. It's the garden enclosed behind a stone wall with no door that yields the astonishing fruits of the inner country. From behind that wall gods leap into our world and run wild over the earth until they collapse back into the field and are reabsorbed into the virgin heart of all that is.

It makes it so difficult, being compelled to see everything with at least two pairs of eyes. We have to be always at the ready to perceive the supernatural birth incarnating, the gods arising in the humans we walk amongst, the incarnation we take on ourselves when the voice of the angel calls the divine into our human flesh. And we always have to be at the ready to let that go too, and realize that perpetual incarnation of the supernatural would likely send us on in chariots of fire. To forgive the face of God that disappears just when we've recognized it, leaving a broken, yearning human form behind.... to forgive that too, that round about that hidden garden are the untilled fields and brambles of daily life.

The name "Mary" is interesting in the context of the story. It means "rebellion" or "bitterness". So much of the Bible is devoted to hidden meanings, and it would be unlikely that this is just coincidence. In the midst of the bitterness of her humanity, that small untouched corner of her heart generates grace. Generates God.

It's always more than one and also that one. We are perpetual virgins, regardless of everything else. This isn't easy. It always hurts.

The more I turn away, the more the stories become true. A paradox of the broken heart.


Alecto said...

and is there no place of peace then?

Deb said...

Hi Madcap, I admit this is all quite beyond my realm of comprehension, at least tonight, but it is GREAT to hear from you! I have missed you so much!

Madcap said...

Alecto - sometimes. Temporarily. Mostly the swinging pendulum, and trying to identify the centre point as I pass it. Balance, balance, balance... still working on that...

Deb - Thank you so much! I've been terribly delinquent, but life just about knocked me out last year and I didn't have any words for the longest time. I've missed you too. Funny how these online relationships become so real and rooted. I didn't realize what I was getting into when I started blogging. I hope I can be more faithful about it this time around.

I hadn't really intended to "open" this site yet, was mostly getting things set up for visitors, but I guess I'd better send out the "At Home" notices!

arcolaura said...

Oh, thank you, Madcap, thank you for this rich and beautiful post. I feared I had lost you... but I suppose no-one is ever really lost...

CG said...

I find myself finally comfortable again, as an old heathen, with mountain gospel music, always a favorite.

So good to see you!

Jim said...

"It's the garden enclosed behind a stone wall with no door that yields the astonishing fruits of the inner country. From behind that wall gods leap into our world and run wild over the earth until they collapse back into the field and are reabsorbed into the virgin heart of all that is."


Madcap, you're back, and another old heathen warms the pew in anticipation of further sermons of oftentimes irreverently spiritual wit & wisdom.

We've all missed you, and I've sometimes wondered if you were the glue that held this ragtag little band of bloggers together.

Welcome home dear Madcap!

Madcap said...

Thank you all so much for the welcome-back! I've been lonely for this online friendship, and I hope that I've got enough to say to hold up my end of it.

You know, regarding religious tradition... I've got such an ambivalent relationship to it. The core of me really truly believes - in the mystery, and the hugeness and the overcoming beneficence. But all the particulars, they're like dream language, and I see them best out of the corner of my eye, like stars.

Harold AKA Howard said...

I've got you a whole bunch of chocolate-chip cookies saved up for you...well most or at least a few...well maybe one or two that didn't get eaten, but anyway it's good to have you have been missed sweet lady!

Constantine said...

Ahh…“repeat the sounding joy,” if I may say so (no blasphemy meant, of course—grin). I’ve always so enjoyed the cadence and rhythm of your writing. Given this your most recent post, you seem to still be in true form! Welcome back to the strange community of the blogosphere. Some folks, and I’m numbered among them, seem to find comfort among a few cybersphere friends. I see you’ve read Joseph Campbell. I have, too, especially, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Campbell was quite the insightful fellow, and there is so much to respect and learn from his theories. I’ve never swallowed hook, line, and sinker all that he had to say, but nevertheless would recognize his status as a secular prophet. I love your last two sentences.

Madcap said...

Howard, I knew I should have sent you my address so you could mail those cookies to me. Honestly! I hope you enjoyed them enough for both of us. Thanks for missing me... and for the next batch - remember: heavy on the chocolate chips, leave the gluten behind. I should send you the recipe? ;-)

Constant - I've been enjoyed Joseph Campbell this year. Such a lively mind! My brother in law sent us a book of his, and then I found another in a second-hand store, and they've been very stimulating. I suspect he didn't swallow everything he had to say himself, just kept talking it all out. Do you still keep up with Rolheiser?

Constantine said...

I have a book by Rolheiser and put another of his on my "wish list" of books to eventually acquire in the future. He offers keen and penetrating insight not unlike the last couple of sentences of your post.

Progressive Traditionalist said...

Hello, Madcap Mum.

A wonderful, thought-filled post.
I have nothing to add.

Just want to say, Welcome back.