As we approach Advent, we also approach the sacred maternity of Mary. Is there something in her response to pregnancy that can speak to all women, regardless of the circumstances of their child’s conception?
Editor’s note: The following is the first part of a two-part excerpt from The Gift of Birth: Spiritual Direction for Expecting Mothers, to be published in January 2016.
by Susan Windley-Daoust
How did you receive the news “you’re pregnant?”
Most women take a pregnancy test, and see the “double line” sign pop up in the tiny results window. Some realize they missed a period and after a few days, come to the likely conclusion. Others who are expert at Natural Family Planning realize that their temperature has been slightly elevated for days now and is not dipping down—and that elevation is a sign of pregnancy.
But emotionally: how did you receive that amazing, life-altering news? Did you rejoice, like Hannah and Elizabeth? Were you delighted? Relieved? Grateful? Amazed? Or—honesty is key here—shocked? Upset? Frightened? In denial? Even angry? A combination of many of these reactions?
Note that none of those reactions are casual. This is a big event, and your body and soul know it. You are no longer one, but two. Another person has been created by God to live with Him in his Kingdom. That’s not in the future—that is now, and as close as your own heartbeat. Imagine: God’s love has broken in to the world and is living in the very center of yourself. You’ve only just discovered it, like the hidden treasure in the field.
These emotional reactions, whatever they may be, tell you where you are at. Sometimes emotions are more accurate than the spoken word. Can you imagine saying you are upset about this pregnancy, and yet unable to repress a small spurt of joy at the thought? Or saying you are happy, and your stomach is a twisted knot of worry? There may be valid sources behind every emotional reaction you are experiencing. But let’s look at one emotional reaction to model, to ask God for: how Mary accepted the pregnancy of Jesus.
Fear or wonder: I get to choose?
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Lk 1:26-38)
We do not know much about how Mary gave birth to the infant Son of God, as scripture is silent on any details beyond a birth in Bethlehem, with no room in the inn. But we do know and cherish this passage, Mary’s acceptance of her unexpected charge, her first and only pregnancy. The angel says she will conceive and bear a son, the Son of the Most High: a stunning message. And Mary simply responds with a clarifying question: How can this be, since I am a virgin?
There is legendary material in the early Church that Mary was consecrated to God in the Temple as a child, and that this marriage to (a likely elderly) Joseph was understood from the beginning as a caretaking relationship. Women did not live alone in this culture, and this sort of arrangement was unusual but not unprecedented. The passage supports this sense of a life-long consecration through virginity, because the angel says she will (in the future) bear a son, and she responds by saying she is a virgin—how could this be, even in the future, if she is (and through her consecration, will be in the future) a virgin? This is important, because it underlines this point: Mary saw her life as completely dedicated to God. This pregnancy had to “make sense” in light of her dedication to God.
The other remarkable piece that we get from this scripture is not just that Mary responds, but she responds without fear. There is no fear in this passage: some confusion, some pondering, some clarification. But her response in the end is quick and simple: “Let it be with me according to your word.” Fearlessness is not a word often ascribed to Mary, but it fits. Grown men rich in wisdom have responded with more fear to God’s call in Scripture than did this young woman. Perhaps Mary was able to respond fearlessly and in peace because she was the eminent example of love for God. And as the evangelist John later says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 Jn 4:18)
Emotionally, the beauty of Mary’s response is that her spirit of fearlessness—or better, call it a spirit of trust—opened the door to wonder. And wonder is one of the best and most fruitful dispositions any of us can take to the new life growing within us. Choose wonder. Take some time to ponder prayerfully the reality of this new little person, growing at an astounding speed, moving, wiggling, developing. Wonder at the fact that there is a new soul under your heart. Wonder that you have been called to be a mother, and in fact, you are now a mother. You have received a call. Circumstances may be desired or terribly difficult, but can you say “Let it be…?” Can you trust God to unfold a path for you to walk?
Look for Part 2 of this excerpt next week.
 This is suggested by the extra-canonical Protoevangelium of James, written in the early second century, and the legend is assumed by most of the early Church. There is a very helpful discussion of it in the unusually winsome book Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, in the fourth chapter on the perpetual virginity of Mary. Dwight Longenecker and James Gustafson. Longenecker, Dwight, and David Gustafson. Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 63-78.
Susan Windley-Daoust teaches theology at Saint Mary’s University. She is the author of Theology of the Body, Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment, and Dying (Lectio Publishing), which was awarded first place in the small press category at the 2015 Catholic Press Association awards.
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