May is the month when Mary’s maternal role at the centre of the mystery of the incarnation is remembered and celebrated. Mary’s role in the taking of flesh and her free and personal consent was vital and reminds us of the physical nature of what happened. Mary can root our spirituality in the body – in a woman’s body and can also link us physically with all other living creatures that also give birth; it is a link with the materiality of creation. As Donald Allchin writes in his preface to ‘The Joy of all Creation’ appreciating Mary is also about appreciating the God-bearing capacity of the whole of creation.
‘The material world, the world of plants and animals in all its fragility and exuberance, is touched by the divine and is shown to be capable of the divine. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’
The old Christian traditions in Latin, Greek, Russian and Syriac all say the same thing that Mary is associated with joy and is ‘the joy of joys’, ‘the joy of all creation’ – in her there is a meeting of opposites, where God and humankind connect, where flesh and spirit combine and where time and eternity intersect. And as these opposites come together there is an explosion of joy and a kind of ecstasy out of which the genuinely new is born. Allchin turns to Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who in one sermon brings together four different attributes with the apparent opposites of peace and mercy on one side, righteousness and truth on the other – Andrewes sees the coming together of all these in the birth of Christ, who rises out of the good earth, the land of promise, out of the Blessed Virgin. Their conjunction corresponds for Andrewes to a fourfold pattern which can be found in creation as well as in redemption and which speaks of the necessity of completeness if we are to receive God’s gift of life.
‘Christianity is a meeting… entertain them all four; 1) hope in mercy; 2) faith in truth; 3) fear of righteousness; 4) love of peace … O how loving a knot, how by all means to be maintained! How great a pity to part it! ‘
Here Mary provides through her body the place for this meeting and reconciliation and provides then the pattern to be continued in the person of each Christian. The theologian Nicholas Lossky comments, ‘Like the Virgin then, the Christian is called to give birth to the truth and to co-operate with their own salvation by encouraging the meeting of the divine attributes.’ Mary gives us an example of the active cooperation of the flesh – of humanity in the incarnation of the Word of God and we are reminded of her as we see the blossoms and the new leaves on the trees, the birds nest building and the general feeling of life and energy that spring offers.