The Fertile Virgin   6 comments

“Only what is virgin can be fertile.”  OK, Gods, now that you’ve dropped this lovely little impossibility in my lap this morning, what am I supposed to do with it?  Yeah, I get that I write about these things, but where do I begin? “Each time coming to the screen, the keyboard, can be an opportunity” — I know that, too.  But it doesn’t make it easier.   Why don’t you try it for a change?  Stop being all god-dy and stuff and try it from down here.  Then you’ll see what it’s like.

OK, done?  Fit of pique over now?

I never had much use for prayer.  Too often it seems to consist either of telling God or the Gods what to do and how to do it (if you’re arrogant) or begging them for scraps (if they’ve got you afraid of them, on your knees for the worst reasons).  But prayer as struggle, as communication, as connecting any way you can with what matters most — that I comprehend.  Make of this desire to link an intention.  A daily one, then hourly.  Let if fill, if if needs to, with everything in the way of desire, and hand that back to the universe.  Don’t worry about Who is listening.  Your job is to tune in to the conversation each time, to pick it up again.  And the funny thing is that once you stop worrying about who is listening, everything seems to be listening (and talking).  Then the listening rubs off on you as well.  And you finally shut up.

That’s the second half, often, of the prayer.  To listen.  Once the cycle starts, once the pump gets primed, it’s easier.  You just have to invite and welcome who you want to talk with.  Forget that little detail, and there can be lots of other conversations on the line.  The fears and dreams of the whole culture.  Advertisers get in your head, through repetition.  (That’s why it’s best to limit TV viewing, or dispense with it altogether, if you can.  Talk about prayer out of control.  They start praying you.)  They’ve got their product jingle and it’s not going away.  Sometimes all you’ve got in turn is a divine product jingle.  It may be a song, a poem, a cry of the heart.  The three Orthodox Christian hermits of the great Russian novelist Tolstoy have their simple prayer to God:  “We are three.  You are three.  Have mercy on us!”  Over time, it fills them, empowers them.  They become nothing other than the prayer.  They’ve arrived at communion.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Equi-nox.  Equal night and day.  The year hanging, if only briefly, in the balance of energies.  Spring, a coil of energy, poised.  The earth dark and heavy, waiting, listening.  The change in everything, the swell of the heart, the light growing.  Thaw.  The last of the ice on our pond finally yields to the steady warmth of the past weeks, to the 70-degree heat of Tuesday.  The next day, Wednesday, my wife sees  salamanders bobbing at the surface.  Walk closer, and they scatter and dive, rippling the water.

/|\ /|\ /|\

I once heard a Protestant clergywoman say to an ecumenical assembly, “We all know there was no Virgin Birth.  Mary was just an unwed, pregnant teenager, and God told her it was okay.  That’ s the message we need to give girls today, that God loves them, and forget all this nonsense about a Virgin birth.”  …  I sat in a room full of Christians and thought, My God, they’re still at it, still trying to leach every bit of mystery out of this religion, still substituting the most trite language imaginable …

The job of any preacher, it seems to me, is not to dismiss the Annunciation because it doesn’t appeal to modern prejudices, but to remind congregations of why it might still be an important story (72-73).

So Kathleen Norris writes in her book Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  She goes on to quote the Trappist monk, poet and writer Thomas Merton, who

describes the identity he seeks in contemplative prayer as a  point vierge [a virgin point] at the center of his being, “a point untouched by illusion, a point of pure truth … which belongs entirely to God, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point … of absolute poverty,” he wrote, “is the pure glory of God in us” (74-5).

So if I need to, I pull away the God-language of another tradition and listen carefully “why it might still be an important story.”  Not “Is it true or not?” or “How can anybody believe that?”  But instead, why or how it still has something to tell me.  Another kind of listening, this time to stories, to myths, our greatest stories, for what they still hold for us.

One of the purest pieces of wisdom I’ve heard concerns truth and lies.  There are no lies, in one sense, because we all are telling the truth of our lives every minute.  It may be a different truth than we asked for, or than others are expecting, but it’s pouring out of us nonetheless.  Ask someone for the truth, and if they “lie,” their truth is that they’re afraid.  That knowledge, that insight, may well be more important than the “truth” you thought you were looking for.  “Perfect love casteth out fear,” says the Galilean.  So it’s an opportunity for me to practice love, and take down a little bit of the pervasive fear that seems to spill out of lives today.

Norris arrives at her key insight in the chapter:

But it is in adolescence that the fully formed adult self begins to emerge, and if a person has been fortunate, allowed to develop at his or her own pace, this self is a liberating force, and it is virgin.  That is, it is one-in-itself, better able to cope with peer pressure, as it can more readily measure what is true to one’s self, and what would violate it.  Even adolescent self-absorption recedes as one’s capacity for the mystery of hospitality grows:  it is only as one is at home in oneself that one may be truly hospitable to others–welcoming, but not overbearing, affably pliant but not subject to crass manipulation.  This difficult balance is maintained only as one remains [or returns to being] virgin, cognizant of oneself as valuable, unique, and undiminishable at core (75).

/|\ /|\ /|\

This isn’t where I planned to go.  Not sure whether it’s better.  But the test for me is the sense of discovery, of arrival at something I didn’t know, didn’t understand in quite this way, until I finished writing.  Writing as prayer.  But to say this is a “prayer blog” doesn’t convey what I try to do here, or at least not to me, and I suspect not to many readers.  A Druid prayer comes closer, it doesn’t carry as much of the baggage as the word “prayer” may carry for some readers, and for me.  “I’m praying for you,” friends said when I went into surgery three years ago.  And I bit my tongue to keep from replying, “Just shut up and listen.  That will help both us a lot more.”  So another way of understanding my blog:  this is me, trying to shut up and listen.  I talk too much in the process, but maybe the most important part of each post is the silence after it’s finished, the empty space after the words end.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Norris, Kathleen.  Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  New York:  Riverhead Books, 1998.

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6 responses to “The Fertile Virgin

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  1. I like this. My first thought when I read what you said–“Only what is virgin can be fertile”–was of potential, and of fields that must first lie fallow.

    • Thanks for posting. Yes, it’s definitely potential — just another way of describing it. What’s interesting to me also is the Catholic idea of Mary as “Ever-Virgin,” even though she apparently had other children in addition to Jesus.

  2. I’m not sure if you’re a native English speaker or writer, but fertile means “able to conceive.” Yes, a virgin can be, “fertile.” If you visit my site you’ll discover a description of the genetic technology used by Almighty God to conceive The Christ Child in the womb of Mary Most Holy. You might have to look around a little.

    • Thanks for your post, FragileSwan. Yes, I’m a native speaker of English, and yes, I’m aware that fertile means “able to conceive” and that a virgin can be fertile. But we don’t know whether a virgin is actually fertile until after the virgin is no longer a virgin — unless we’re talking in vitro fertilization. I’m also not particularly interested in genetics used to “prove” a religious dogma. If it IS a valid proof, the point becomes trivial. If it isn’t, it’s a warping of science and therefore also trivial. I’m more interested in the exploration than the arrival at doctrinal certainty. One is alive; the other is distinctively barren and unfertile — characteristics of the “I’m right and you’re not” school I dropped out of a long time ago.

      • I’m sorry. I don’t believe I have ever written that I am correct and someone else is not. The fact that the Truth cannot be successfully refuted testifies only to Truth. And, deriving conclusive proof of religious doctrines is the sole means to discover which religions are correct, and which are wrong. Truth is absolute. It has always been the same, and it always will be the same. Everything else is wrong!

  3. Thanks for writing, Fragile Swan.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of your most recent comment, so I hope you can clarify what you mean. How can we know truth except as it manifests in our consciousness or in our lives? And what constitutes “conclusive proof”?

    What is the “everything else” that you say is “wrong”? Lastly, If you already are “correct” as you say, how can you ever learn and grow, which all saints in every tradition acknowledge in their humility that they still do?

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