The mystery of life is just that, I suppose, a great mystery.
We are conceived from the union of man and woman. We are not cloned, at least not meant to be. We are created completely new creatures, one formed from two, a unique genetic collection, a unique soul, different from any before and any coming after. This mystery we take for granted as part of life, as life itself, but it is still a mysterious miracle.
Women are the physical means of this mystery made real. A woman carries this unique person within her, feeding the child with her own life blood. In this sense women are part of the creating act. Flesh stretches thin to make room for the baby in the womb. Energy pours from mother to child, into this new life so that the baby may grow fat with flesh and bones, hair and eyes, organs, heart and lungs, fingers and toes, to be born into light and air and oxygen, to breathe those first breaths of life.
Just so, God became incarnate (in-the-flesh) in the young Mary of Nazareth. Just so, Mary said yes, chose to allow the Son of God to grow within her, to stretch her flesh and receive her energy, to be born of human flesh in Bethlehem of Judaea two thousand years ago.
Last Sunday in London my husband and I honored Our Lady in a festive procession winding outside through the doors of St. Mary’s Bourne Street Church and into a neat neighborhood of brick townhouses. We sang to Mary, asking for her prayers. We honored the Mother of God, the Theotokos. We gave thanks that she chose life, that she said yes, so that the divine could be made manifest, made incarnate in our world of flesh.
And so today, we honor all mothers, for it is indeed Mothers’ Day. But it is also Ascension Sunday. The ascension of Christ to Heaven, it seems to me, is another great mystery of flesh and spirit. For having risen from the dead, Christ’s body is no longer the same as ours, his flesh not quite our flesh. Yet he carries us with him, for he was born of us. He conquered death to become the way. And we too, when our flesh dies, will be given new bodies, perfect bodies, bodies without pain, flesh without wounds. We too will be resurrected.
Our human nature – our humanity – is born in that moment of conception, that union of man and woman. Such flesh is corruptible, will die. It will grow to adulthood, will age, and will live for a time on this earth. But such flesh is also spirit-filled, making us Sons and Daughters of God, should we choose to belong to God. And if we do choose not to belong to him, we will not ascend, for we will have rejected the only way to heaven, Christ Jesus, the incarnate one, the resurrected and ascended one.
Today we honor all mothers, for they have chosen life. They have birthed the next generation of our world. This birthing is an astounding thing, one not to be taken for granted. And we honor those too who mother without birthing, those who care for children in schools, churches, families. For these women – grandmothers, aunts, friends – give their spirit, give themselves to our young as they journey from birth, traveling through their span of time.
And we continue to honor, in this Mary Month of May, the Mother of Our Lord, the one who said yes to the divine life so that we might live too.