The Second Day of Christmas: The Virgin Heart

Fleeting beauty. By A. Furchert, 2017

On the morning of the Second Christmas Day I woke up to the wondrous sight of flowers growing at our window pane reflecting the morning sun. What fleeting beauty, what remarkable harmony created when the depth of winter and human life intermingle.

Yesterday, Chuck led you into a meditation on the song of Mary. Today I would like to ponder with you how to translate Mary's courage into our own hearts. 

For guidance, we will look to some thoughts of Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), the medieval mystic.

In the peak of Fall this year I walked the woods at St John's Abbey in MN, visiting the little chapel with the statue of the pregnant Mary once again. As Chuck has mentioned in his post before we feel a special connection to this statue. Probably because it has made the story of Mary accessible to us, depicting her as a young woman walking pregnant in purity of heart. 

In the monastery store I got into a conversation with the old monk selling me the small reproduction of the life-size statue. Too much focus on her virginity, he says, too little on her motherhood. I agreed wholeheartedly. It is, I say, because we do not understand her virginity in  spiritual terms. He looks at me with puzzlement. And now we are in a beautiful dialogue on the purity of heart. Because this is what, I tell the old monk, I think Mary's virginity points us to.

Here I am, the much younger woman, who does not understand much of Catholic doctrine, talking to a monk about virginity. But he looks at me with open eyes that invite me to talk further.

We cannot conceive Jesus in our bodies, so we must conceive him within our heart, I continue. But how can a heart be virgin like the virgin Mary? It is, as Meister Eckhart once wrote so beautifully: 

The virgin person is a person open to God.
— after Meister Eckhart

And what other than openness to God does the virgin Mary stands for? It is what gave me, the Lutheran pastor's daughter, a chance to grasp Mary, in fact to fall in love with her sacred courage. Her pregnancy is the everlasting call to each of us, to not be ashamed to go pregnant with the Divine. But such a metaphorical reading only makes sense if we translate Mary's virginity into the spiritual world, where each one, woman and man, can become virgin again. Open to receive God. Every time anew, again.

Here is how Meister Eckhart preached about it some eight hundred years ago (I translate and illustrate here freely from his German sermons, published in Vom Atmen der Seele, by Reclam 2014):

First of all, Meister Eckhart refreshingly and surprisingly leads our view away from the concentration (and often obsession) with female virginity towards the virgin person, a person both free and willing to receive the Divine. God asks to be born in our inner being, asks for a heart which empties itself from all the images one has collected over the life time, from all the stuff and ideas, crammed into corners, even the religious ones, until God God's self can fill our hearts again. 

Meister Eckhart refers here to the other Christmas text in John 1, about the word in the beginning which becomes flesh. But how did it become flesh? By falling into a person's heart open to receive it. As far as a person is able to receive God this way, "he or she is a virgin", he says.

But we cannot stay with the virgin Mary as we cannot stop with the virgin person who has received the seed of God.

Now we must become mothers to what the Divine has laid into us. We must walk pregnant with it and birth it in its time. Only then can the virgin person bear fruit. Our souls must mother the Divine, says Meister Eckhart.

Anima, my soul, cannot stay virgin if she wants to birth the holy into life. 

This thought brings us back to Mary's motherhood, the motherhood the monk in the store was missing in the preaching of the church. Mothering, bearing fruit, needs the virgin heart and at the same time leaps beyond it.

And isn’t this good news in these times of hardened hearts, to remind us of virginity as a virtue of the heart? A virginity we are not born with but must grow into, a virginity we must approach, even achieve? This is the virginity toward which Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic, points. Virginity as a virtue, into which we are not born, but a thing for which we must strive during life repeatedly. A virginity which opens us to the Divine call, that the young and old, men and women, may all hear, if we listen.

Here are some questions for you to ponder today:

  • Am I willing to receive the Divine call for my life and carry it to term?
  • What waits to be born in me?  With what am I walking pregnant right now?
  • Who can help me find courage for this journey?
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