The Zen Koan of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Zen Koan of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary December 18, 2018





As perhaps the majority of my friends know, I’m a big fan of Mary. Actually of several Marys. Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary the friend of Jesus. Sometimes they collapse in my heart together with Quanyin.

Okay, they pretty much always do…

And all of them taken together remind me, always remind me of the koan from the Blue Cliff Record, case 89.

Yunyan asked Daowu, ‘How does the Bodhisattva Guanyin use those many hands and eyes?’ Daowu answered, ‘It is like someone in the middle of the night reaching behind her head for the pillow.’ Yunyan said, ‘I understand.’ Daowu asked, ‘How do you understand it?’ Yunyan said, ‘All over the body are hands and eyes.’ Daowu said, ‘That is very well expressed, but it is only eight-tenths of the answer.’ Yunyan said, ‘How would you say it, Elder Brother?’ Daowu said, ‘Throughout the body are hands and eyes.’

And, well, here we are, as the days of Advent wind down toward the mystery of Christmas. It turns out that in some parts of the Roman church today is marked as the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The festival arose in Spain and while not universal is observed there and Portugal, Italy, and, interestingly Poland. It offers an interesting twist on the Advent season, turning as it does to those dreams of a pregnant mother.

A pause. A turn inward.

Sophia Fahs caught this when she sang to us:

For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come
born of the seed of man and woman.

No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wisemen see a star to show where to find the babe
that will save humankind.

Yet each night a child is born is a holy night,
Fathers and mothers —
sitting beside their children’s cribs
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.

They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”

Each night a child is born is a holy night —
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.

And, of course, this is a little something for all of us, whatever faith we claim or don’t. The great pointer for all of us on the heart’s great way. One more angle. One more version of an eternal story.

As the 17th century Christian mystic Angelus Silesius advised us, “In your heart you make a manger for his birth, then God will once again become a child on earth.” And, of course, as he added “Christ could be born a thousand times in Galilee – but all in vain until he is born in me.”

So, a promise together with a warning.

The promise is that we can be the birthing place, the manger, the womb for the child of hope. Each of us. And each of us, as we are. And, the warning, if we don’t allow it, then it doesn’t happen.

If not here, where? If not now, when?

Like someone in the middle of the night reaching behind her head for the pillow.

Or, like a pregnant woman contemplating the nearing time.

The great koan presented…

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