...the seed of the world's life, was hidden in Our Lady
The Reed of God
ADVENT is the season of the seed : Christ loved this symbol of the seed.
The seed, He said, is the Word of God sown in the human heart. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed."
"So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the earth."
Even his own life-blood: "Unless the grain of wheat
falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone."
The Advent, the seed of the world's life, was hidden
in Our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her.
Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth,
the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness.
Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the
growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence, and growth.
For nine months Christ grew in His Mother's body.
By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the
simplicity of her daily life.
She had nothing to give Him but herself.
He asked for nothing else.
She gave Him herself.
Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood. From her humanity she gave Him His humanity. Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem.
Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails.
Every beat of her heart gave Him His heart to love with, His heart to be broken by love.All her experience of the world about her was gathered to Christ growing in her. Looking upon the flowers, she gave Him human sight. Talking with her neighbours, she gave Him a human voice. The voice we still hear in the silence of souls saying : "Consider the lilies of the field."
Sleeping in her still room, she gave Him the sleep of the child in the cradle, the sleep of the young man rocked in the storm-tossed boat.Breaking and eating the bread, drinking the wine of the country, she gave Him His flesh and blood; she prepared the Host for the Mass.
This time of Advent is absolutely essential to our contemplation too. If we have truly given our humanity to be changed into Christ, it is essential to us that we do not disturb this time of growth.
It is a time of darkness, of faith. We shall not see Christ's radiance in our lives yet; it is still hidden in our darkness; nevertheless, we must believe that He is growing in our lives; we must believe it so firmly that we cannot help relating everything, literally everything, to this almost incredible reality.
This attitude it is which makes every moment of every day and night a prayer.
In itself it is a purification, but without the tense resolution and anxiety of self-conscious aim.
How could it be possible that anyone who was conscious that Christ desired to see the world with his eyes would look willingly on anything evil ? Or knowing that He wished to work with his hands, do any work that was shoddy, any work that was not as near perfection as human nature can achieve ?
Who, knowing that his ears must listen for Christ, could listen to blasphemy or to the dreary dirtiness of so much of our conversation, or could fail to listen to the voice of a world like ours with compassion ?
Above all, who, knowing that Christ asked for his heart to love with, for his heart to bear the burden of the love of God, could fail to discover that in every pulsation of his own life there is prayer ?
This Advent awareness does not lead to a selfish preoccupation with self; it does not exclude outgoing love to others - far from it. It leads to them inevitably, but it prevents such acts and words of love from becoming distractions. It makes the very doing of them reminders of the Presence of Christ in us.
It is through doing them that we can preserve the secrecy of Advent without failing to offer the loveliness of Christ in us to others.
Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others, to compel them not only to be converted but to be converted in the same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.
Such people seem to wish to dictate to the Holy Ghost. God is to inspire their neighbour to see things just as they do, to join the same societies, to plunge into the same activities. They go about like the scriptural monster, seeking whom they may devour. They insist that their victims have obvious vocations to assist in, or even be completely sacrificed to, their own interests. Very often they unwittingly tear out the tender little shoot of Christ-life that was pushing up against the dark heavy clay, and when the poor victim has been devoured, he is handed over, spiritless and broken, as a predigested morsel for the next one-hundred-per-cent zealot who comes along.
Our Lady's example is very different from this.
When a woman is carrying a child she develops a certain instinct of self-defence. It is not selfishness ; it is not egoism. It is an absorption into the life within, a folding of self like a little tent around the child's frailty, a God-like instinct to cherish, and some day to bring forth, the life. A closing upon it like the petals of a flower closing upon the dew that shines in its heart.
This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ, the Life within us, in the Advent of our contemplation.
We could scrub the floor for a tired friend, or dress s wound for a patient in a hospital, or lay the table and wash up for the family; but we shall not do it in martyrspirit or with that worse spirit of self-congratulation, of feeling that we are making ourselves more perfect, more unselfish, more positively kind.
We shall do it just for one thing, that our hands make Christ's hands in our life, that our service may let Christ serve through us, that our patience may bring Christ's patience back to the world. By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him ; He could not speak; her breathing was His breath; His heart beat in the beating of her heart. Today Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host He is literally put into a man's hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him into the prisons, work-houses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart on to the field of battle, must give Him to little children and "lay Him by" in His "leaflight" house of gold.
The modern world's feverish struggle for unbridled, often unlicensed, freedom is answered by the bound, enclosed helplessness and dependence of Christ—Christ in the womb, Christ in the Host, Christ in the tomb. This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him to them.
None of us knows when the loveliest hour of our life is striking. It may be when we take Christ for the first time to that grey office in the city where we work, to the wretched lodging of that poor man who is an outcast, to the nursery of that pampered child, to that battleship, airfield, or camp.
Charles de Foucauld, a young French soldier of our own day, became a priest and a hermit in the desert, where he was murdered by some of the Arabs whom he had come to serve. His life as a missionary hermit seemed no more than a quixotic spiritual adventure, a tilting at windmills on the desert sands, but he knew and said that it was worthwhile for just one thing: because he was
there the Sacred Host was there.
It mattered nothing if the heroic priest could not
utter the wonder that was in his heart; the Blessed Sacrament was there in the desert; Christ was there, silent, helpless, dependent on a creature; that which His servant could not utter in words Christ would utter, in His own
time, in silence.
Sometimes it may seem to us that there is no purpose
in our lives, that going day after day for years to this office or that school or factory is nothing else but waste and weariness. But it may be that God has sent us there because but for us Christ would not be there. If our being there means that Christ is there, that alone makes
There is one exquisite incident in Our Lady's Advent
in which this is clearly seen : the Visitation. "And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill
country with haste, into a city of Juda."
How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St. Luke's
description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. "Those days" in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was His
Many women, if they were expecting a child, would
refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or any
The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary's own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth's need—almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.
She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother's womb and leapt for joy. "I am come," said Christ, "that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly." Even before He was born His presence gave life.
With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold ! First the conception of a child in a child's heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother's womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.
How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady ? What made her realize that this little cousin who was so familiar to her was the mother of her God?
She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.
If we practise this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.
If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, "in haste," to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.
And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.
It is not necessary at this stage of our contemplation to speak to others of the mystery of life growing in us. It is only necessary to give ourselves to that life, all that we are, to pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are. We must trust Him for this, because it is not a time to see His face, we must possess Him secretly and in darkness, as the earth possesses the seed. We must not try to force Christ's growth in us, but with a deep gratitude for the light burning secretly in our darkness, we must fold our concentrated love upon Him like earth, surrounding, holding, and nourishing the seed.
We must be swift to obey the winged impulses of His Love, carrying Him to wherever He longs to be; and those who recognize His presence will be stirred, like Elizabeth, with new life. They will know His presence, not by any special beauty or power shown by us, but in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty.
It seems that this is Christ's favourite way of being recognized, that He prefers to be known, not by His own human features, but by the quickening of His own life in the heart, which is the response to His coming.
When John recognized Him, He was hidden in His mother's womb. After the Resurrection He was known, not by His familiar features, but by the love in Magdalene's heart, the fire in the hearts of the travellers to Emmaus, and the wound in His own heart handled by Thomas.
At this point there is a question which will occur to a great many people. It is this : does this experience of Advent occur once in a lifetime or many times ?
The answer is that this depends upon the dealings of the Holy Spirit with each separate soul but that usually it occurs many times.
The whole cycle of Our Lady's contemplation is a great circle of rhythmic light; some people can complete it year after year by a deliberate living through the liturgical seasons of the Church, renewing their Advent with the Advent of the Church.
To others it comes in different ways. Often, conversion to the Faith, or to a more living awareness of the Faith, is the occasion of the first Advent of the soul. For what is conversion but the fiat of Our Lady echoed again and the conception of Christ in yet another heart ?
Besides these passive and partly passive Advents, there are Advents in the details of our life, details of immense importance of which life is made up.
First of all—work.
The great tragedy that has resulted from modern methods of industry is that the creativeness of Advent has been left out of work.
Production no longer means a man making something that he has conceived in his own heart.
It usually means a great many men making part of something which is no part of themselves and in which, by an ironical paradox, they have no part.
Even when one man makes the whole of one thing, he usually has to compete with a machine and therefore to make it against time—which is only a way of saying to make it against nature.
No man should ever make anything except in the spirit in which a woman bears a child, in the spirit in which Christ was formed in Mary's womb, in the love with which God created the world.
The integral goodness and fittingness of the work of a man's hands or mind is sacred.
He must have it in his heart to make it. His imagination must see it, and its purpose, before it exists in material.
His whole life must be disciplined to gain and keep the skill to make it.
He must, having conceived it, allow it to grow within him, until at last it flows from him and is woven of his life and is the visible proof that he has uttered his fiat: "Be it done unto me according to thy word !"
Yes, according to the will of God, as an expression of the love of God.
So that it is possible to whisper in wonder and awe, and without irreverence, on seeing the finished work: "The Word is made flesh."
Every work that we do should be a part of the Christ forming in us which is the meaning of our life, to it we must bring the patience, the self-giving, the time of secrecy, the gradual growth of Advent. This Advent in work applies to all work, not only that which produces something permanent in time but equally to the making of a carving in wood or stone or of a loaf of bread. It applies equally to the making of a poem and to the sweeping of a floor.
The permanency in it is in the generation of Christ-life. That outlasts time itself. It is eternal.
It is not only in work, in the realization of Faith, and in conscious prayer that we need the season of Advent; we need it in suffering, in joy, and in thought.
We need it in everything that is to bear fruit in our lives.
People sometimes get disheartened because they have read that suffering ennobles and have met people who seem to have come out of the crucible like pure silver, made beautiful by suffering; but it seems to them that in their own case it is quite the opposite. They find that, however hard they try not to be, they are irritable; that astonishing stabs of bitterness afflict them, that far from being more sympathetic, more understanding, there is a numbness, a chill on their emotions: they cannot respond to others at all; they seem not to love anyone any more; and they even shrink from, and dread the very presence of, those who are compassionate and who care for them.
They say that in their case suffering is certainly a failure.
The truth is that they are too impatient to wait for the season of Advent in sorrow to run its course; a seed contains all the life and loveliness of the flower, but it contains it in a little hard black pip of a thing which even the glorious sun will not enliven unless it is buried under the earth.
There must be a period of gestation before anything can flower.
If only those who suffer would be patient with their early humiliations and realize that Advent is not only the time of growth but also of darkness and hiding and waiting, they would trust, and trust rightly, that Christ is growing in their sorrow, and in due season all the fret and strain and tension of it will give place to a splendour of peace.
The same with joy; we sometimes accuse young people of grasping joy and not realizing their blessings and not being made bigger and kinder and lovelier as they ought to be by all delight.
Joy also must be allowed to gestate.
Everyone should open his heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in him; and he should wait the flowering of it with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ's flowering.
We must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who sows this Christ-seed in us, and the Spirit of Wisdom, Light, Truth is given to us in countless ways. For example, through books, through the spoken word, through music and pictures, through almost every possible experience; but we often refuse the Holy Spirit the Advent season.
We live in an age of impatience, an age which in everything, from learning the ABC to industry, tries to cut out and do away with the natural season of growth. That is why so much in our life is abortive.
We ought to let everything grow in us, as Christ grew in Mary. And we ought to realize that in everything that does grow quietly in us, Christ grows. We should let thoughts and words and songs grow slowly and unfold in darkness in us.
There are things that refuse to be violated by speed, that demand at least their proper time of growth; you can't, for example, cut out the time you will leave an apple pie in the oven. If you do, you won't have an apple pie.
If you leave a thought, a chance word, a phrase of music, in your mind, growing and cherished for its proper season, you will have the wisdom or peace or strength that was hidden in that seed.
In this contemplation there is great virtue in practising patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.
Sometimes this Advent season of the soul is a recurring rhythm through life, deliberately chosen as such or simply given to us. Sometimes it is the immediate result of conversion or of a new awareness of God or of an increase of Love.
Sometimes it is a painful experience. It may be that a soul brimmed with love becomes dumb, inarticulate, blind, seeing only darkness, unable to give things that it longs to give to a world of children asking for bread.
This simply means that the Holy Spirit of Love, by which Christ was conceived in that heart, is compelling it to suffer the period of growth.
The light is shining in the darkness, but the darkness does not comprehend it.
To a soul in such a condition, peace will come as soon as it turns to Our Lady and imitates her. In her the Word of God chose to be silent for the season measured by God. She, too, was silent; in her the light of the world shone in darkness. Today, in many souls, Christ asks that He may grow secretly, that He may be the light shining in the darkness.
In the seasons of our Advent waking, working, eating, sleeping, being each breath is a breathing of Christ into the world.
During this Advent, with Mary, let us “form” Jesus within us
Et Homo Factus Est
HUMANLY speaking, the time of Advent must have been the happiest time in Our Lady's life.
The world about her must have been informed with more than its habitual loveliness, for she was gathering it all to the making of her son
© Caryll Houselander THE REED OF GOD