The Crying out of Flesh and God

Sometimes the things you done a thousand times can bring new results; the prayers you’ve said a million times bring new insight.

Close up of Oratory as Current

My Oratory has an assortment of Holy Icons and small pewter statues, an old standing crucifix, and a second-class relic of St. Philip Neri, who is my Patron for this year. Generally, as I begin my morning prayer, I ponder what is before me. Currently I have an Icon of the Resurrection up, and before it a small pile of tumbled stones, reminding me of the question, “who will roll away the stone?”

I like the question because it reflects our daily vulnerability and anxiety, our daily quandary: I have these plans; how am I going to accomplish them? What can I do of myself; with what do I need help? Of what or on whom am I wholly dependent in order to do some things? The answers are always the same (I know the plans I have for you . . . ) and yet different, too. What do you choose to surrender (pride, control, feelings, things) what do you choose to hold on to (usually, the same)? What do you really ask?

Beginning prayer at the oratory generally means letting my eye and attention slowly wander over the whole; eventually, as my prayer deepens, either my eyes will close, or they will focus on something which I have “seen” a million times before, but with fresh perspective. This morning I began the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, and a simultaneous study of the Vladimir Theotokos ensued throughout:

Creator and created, sharing the same flesh, the same blood, entwined, together. The whole story, right there in the Joyful Mysteries.

The Annunciation: Since Eden, God’s purpose–slow and baffling, yet inexorable–has been to restore all things in Him. There are so many things we do not know. Mary is hailed as “full of grace,” born without the stain of the “necessary sin of Adam” which has set Gabriel his task: will she consent–she full of grace, yet free–to be the Ark of a New Covenant, the Host for the Lord of Hosts, who needs her flesh and blood before he can shed his own as the spotless Lamb, the acceptable sacrifice?

We always assume that this was the first time this question had been asked, and perhaps it was; perhaps the human campaign needed to be where it was, before the New Ark could be created in grace. But what if other young women had been similarly graced, earlier, yet were unable–in their freedom–to manage the fiat, the complete detachment from the opinions and schemes of the world, which would allow participation in God’s difficult, mysterious scheme? Grace gives us the ability to believe, to trust and go forward, but we shrug off grace all the time in order to go our own way, satisfy our own minds, serve our attachments. It does not matter if other virgins had been privileged with a similar visit by Gabriel; Mary said “yes.” That is what matters. Not knowing the Mind of God, she could not know that her act of surrendering flesh and blood would find its mirror and completion in another such surrender of what is (again) her own flesh.

The Visitation: Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth, who rushes to greet her and cries out with mysterious knowledge: “whence does the mother of my Lord come to me?” Mary blooms into a prayer that echoes Hannah. In Elizabeth’s womb, the forerunner (“Scary John the Baptist”) leaps for joy! Flesh-and-blood recognizing flesh-and-blood but alive with something more, yet undefined. The human family is yet mystical, and God’s own, shouting out in discovery of oneness.

The Nativity of Our Lord: And then there is a crack in history as the God of Israel does something unthinkable; he becomes enfleshed and sets his tent with us. He does not come as an oddity, as a “better,” or as something unrecognizable, demanding the fear and obsequiousness of all in his path. He is born of flesh, born of blood; Mary’s own blood runs in his veins and he is wholly her own, yet wholly the world’s:

He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world…when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt…

God entered in, not with a cacophany of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said…”ssshhhh…it is alright, I’ll keep you company…”

God submits to Creation, in order to save it. No wonder the heavens were rent with a joyful song. No wonder shepherds and kings were amazed.

The Presentation: Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple. Imagine how difficult it was to stay hydrated while traveling even a short distance, especially for a new mother who is nursing her babe. One needed to know where all of the wells were, and to have water nearby. The Creator is dependent upon the very thing upon which his spirit moved in the beginning. God-made-Flesh is brought to the priests; Jesus is circumcised like every Jewish male, his foreskin shed. Even he, Son of Mary, Son of God, must be vulnerable, sensitively exposed to God and the world, in this way. Flesh is cut, blood is stanched, the baby yelps and is quickly embraced and consoled by his mother. The God of All Consolations cries out in pain, completely vulnerable, allowing humanity to succor him. Anna and Simeon have been awaiting his appearance; they recognize the Incarnation, and Simeon speaks words that must simultaneously soothe and grieve Mary’s heart. Her heart, after all, is his heart, too. He is us.

The Finding of Our Lord in the Temple: We jump ahead twelve years; the adolescent Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem. Three days he is there, mirroring the three days in the tomb. I love that Mary and Joseph, who love Jesus and live with him, and who know him well, must still seek him out, like the rest of us. Flesh seeks after flesh and cries out, “where?” and then, “why do you? How could you?” Flesh seeks after God, and God is found, but not fully understood. Not only is God found, but God submits, because this God, over and over again, tries to teach us by his own example. As God yeilded to Israel’s obstinacy and gave them a King, so he yields to Mary and Joseph. Later he will submit, again, flesh and blood surrendered, once for all; heart pierced, for the life of the world.

The lesson, over and over, is that fulfillment and completion lies in surrender, in the fiat, in the “yes,” in the detachment to all else; the submission of flesh and blood, mind and heart, for the wholeness of the soul. Flesh cries out, “O Love, where, why?” God cries out, “here! O Love, know!”

The lifetime’s work.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dwayne

    Thank you for these beautiful reflections on the joyful mysteries. I am often amazed at how repetition can yield such shockingly “new” realizations.

  • Jennifer

    Why have you not written a book yet, dear Anchoress? You must start putting this stuff into a collection and publish it on paper, so I can hold it in my hand whenever my heart and mind needs to.

  • Alexandrag

    What a lovely and deep, thought-provoking essay, enhanced by the beautiful icons. So true about suddenly hearing something new and different in a prayer one has repeated many times before. So now, “who will roll away the stone” takes on daily significance. Amazing.

    And I have a message for Miriam from retreat day: Hi, Miriam. You are not alone in your journey from the Episcopal Church. Many have traveled this path ahead of you, some to Rome, some to Eastern Orthodoxy, some to other places. Many will follow you. So, you may feel alone because you are the only one making the journey in your community right now, but there are lots and lots of priests and lay people out there who have gone before you, and will understand your grief, and also see down the road to the great joy you will have when you no longer are leaving one thing, but moving forward to something better. You can find their stories on the radio (e.g. EWTN), the internet, in books and religious magazines. As a plug for First Things (I am only a subscriber, and have no other affiliation), Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ essay about starting out as a Lutheran pastor and later becoming a Roman Catholic priest is just one of them. And, of course, you have the oasis of The Anchoress. So, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

  • Fuquay Steve

    More on the oratory, please. What was your inspiration and how did you choose the articles to include on your prayer desk? Thanks for all that you do and all that you share.

    [The desire for an oratory, or prayer space, grew from my obligation to daily prayer which is part of my oblation. Oratory idea started here and then slowly expanded. Eventually, I put a glass-topped credenza against a wall in my office. On it sits that crucifix, Icons of Jesus Pantocrator, the Vladimir Theotokos, and two other Icons that change with the seasons. There are smaller Icons of St. Michael and St. Clare and four 2" little pewter statues: St. Nicholas (for all the kids I pray for) St. Agnes (for women and girls I pray for) St. Pio (for the men and boys) and St. Benedict (for my husband, myself, all the priests and religious I pray for) I also have a relic of St. Philip, that is very small, several candle holders and a rosary, kept in a box made for me by a kind reader. On a shelf beneath are kept my head covering, spare candles, matches, holy water and my breviary/prayerbooks and a pad of paper/pen. I talk about it here, and share a picture, there. -admin]

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  • TeaPot562

    My spouse and I often say a rosary when we travel somewhere by car.
    I wondered why JP II included the Wedding Feast at Cana in the Luminous Mysteries. Two features of that event (From John, Ch.2) that struck me: 1) Jesus is seen to respond to a request from His mother; and, 2) God is NOT all about suffering and penance. Under the right circumstances, He wants us to rejoice.
    We can learn from reflecting on other mysteries as well.

  • james the lessest

    I read that St.Philip Neri was a mystic that had some rather strange consolations like uncontrollable laughter, tears and the like.I feel drawn to him for some odd reason, what would you suggest I read about this great saint,not just for curiosities sake but to know him ?

    [Check out this -admin]

  • Jeanette

    There’s a beautiful hymn which begins with these words: He left the glory of Heaven, knowing His destiny was the lonely hill of Golgatha, there to lay down His life for me. If that isn’t love, there’s no sun in the sky, and the eagle can’t fly…

    I believe Mary was the one God chose to be the vessel to bare His Only Begotten Son and she was the only one He had prepared for this wonderful gift and the joy and grief that followed.

    Thank you for this post.

  • T. Shaw

    My mother (RIP), grandmother (RIP) and all my female relatives were devoted to the daily Rosary.

    I know my Mother was saying the Rosary for me the day I took the college scholarship test that I needed to go to school.

    Now, when I say my Rosary I think of all the Rosaries my mother offered and all the millions of Rosaries prayed around the World each day and throughout all the years.

    Sadly, I only came to this devotion a few years ago. In 2009, it was daily Rosary for my soldier son in Afghanistan. Now, it’s either for one son or another and my father that he be blessed with a miraculous cure (God willing) and with the graces of final perseverence and a holy death.

    Briefly here are my contemplations on the Mysteries (of our Redemption) of the Rosary.

    Annunciation – Humility
    Visitation – Charity to my neighbor
    Nativity – the love of God
    Presentation – the spirit of sacrifice
    the Finding – Zeal for the glory of God.

    The Agony in the Garden – true repentence for my sins
    Scourging at the pilllar – Spirit of mortification
    Crowning with Thorns – Moral courage
    Carrying the Cross – Patience
    The Crucifixion – Final perseverence.

    The Resurrection – a strong faith
    The Ascension – Virtue of Hope
    The Descent of the Holy Spirit – Zeal for the glory of God
    The Assumption – a holy death
    The Coronation of Mary – greater love for the BVM.