Gestating God’s dream and vision for our earth

Giving Birth to Christ: A Lifetime Commitment, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Wednesday, December 9, 2020

When people begin to see, love, respect, and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then they will change, and society will change also.

Sister Wendy Beckett meditates on Janet McKenzie's "The Holy Family" |  America Magazine

My dear friend Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I. reminds us that giving birth spiritually is a dynamic and creative process. To bring Christ into the world involves an ongoing commitment to growth, to discomfort, to love, and to surrender. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is God’s invitation to all of us.

Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?

First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.

Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . . .

Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . . .

Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . . .

Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.

All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . . .

Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the (dream, vision, and) word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.

Reference:
Ronald Rolheiser, “Mary as a Model of Faith,” reflection on Luke 11:27–28 (December 7, 2003).

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Spiritual teacher Beverly Lanzetta explores the darkness as a pregnant place from which one “gives birth” to the Divine in the world. She calls it “a theology of gestation.” She writes:

From darkness and uncertainty, it waits for the Divine to be born in its own time. The process doesn’t try to contain new revelation in the dry, crusty soil of old forms, but germinates each seed in the moist openness of heart, fertile and hollow like the womb, receptive and waiting.

It is the qualities of Wisdom, the Mother of all—merciful, gentle, humble, nondual, holistic, benevolent—that we tenderly bear. Verdant, womb-like theology welcomes new seeds to take root. Round and hollow in imitation of divine fecundity, gestation cannot be forced; new life cannot be prescribed. We cannot change the color of the eyes, or the shape of the nose. Similarly, we cannot fashion divine self-disclosure to our own liking. Impregnated with its seed, we simply support it and watch it grow. (Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018), 96.

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Becoming Icons of Christpush beyond conventional boundaries and so delight us, ultimately, with new creative spaces

Friday, December 11, 2020

What is it that grasps and impels these men and women to push beyond conventional boundaries and so delight us, ultimately, with new creative spaces? Wisdom—God’s Playmate, the Feminine Principle of the Godhead—is at work, ever delighting in birthing new possibilities and inviting open hearts to rise up and respond to visions and dreams by enfleshing them. —Edwina Gateley

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896–1985) was a Russian baroness who lived the Gospel “without compromise.” She gave up all she had and began Friendship House in Toronto, “a storefront center for the works of mercy, where the hungry were fed and the homeless were welcomed.” [1] Robert Ellsberg writes that Catherine’s formation of the Friendship House in Harlem, New York in 1937 emerged out of a deep conviction of the sins of racism and segregation. In 1947 she also established Madonna House, “which became a place of prayer and retreat. . . . Through Madonna House and the communities it inspired around the world, Catherine promoted the two principles by which she lived—a commitment to the social apostolate in the world and the need to root such a commitment in a life of prayer and the spirit of Christ [i.e., action and contemplation]. [2]

In her own words, Catherine describes how we give birth to Christ:

Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Ikon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate Christ in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that people can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us. . . . [3]

We have to begin to love one another in the fullest sense of Christ’s teaching. But to do so we must pray. . . . The immense problems of war, of social injustice, of the thousand and one ills that beset our world, these can be solved only if we begin to love one another. When people begin to see, love, respect, and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then they will change, and society will change also. [4]

Richard here: To paraphrase the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (1260–1327), “We are all meant to give birth to God.” [5] As a man who has taken a vow of celibacy, I will never know what it is like to physically give birth, nor have I ever held the hand of a woman I love in labor—neither sister nor friend. However, I have experienced the birth of Christ in the world many times throughout my life—in big ways and small, sometimes through grand gestures, but more often through simple acts of patience, love, and mercy. To incarnate the Christ is to live out the Gospel with our lives, as faithfully and fearlessly as a woman in labor who holds nothing back in order to bring new life into the world.

References:
[1] Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008), 77.

[2] Ibid., 77–78.

[3] Catherine de Hueck Doherty, The Gospel without Compromise (Madonna House Publications: 1989), 71.

[4] Ibid., 75. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

[5] Meister Eckhart, Dum Medium Silentium, Sermon on Wisdom 18:14. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed. Maurice O’C. Walshe (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 29.

Epigraph: Edwina Gateley, “Reflection,” Christ in the Margins, art by Robert Lentz (Orbis Books: 2003), 23.

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