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Feb 05 2014

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On holding the face of God, and a little bit on Mary.

There is a song I like very much, one of many, of course, but I’ve been thinking about this one lately. Lyrics by Mark Lowry, melody by Buddy Greene. It’s called “Mary, Did You Know?”

mother and childThey play it on the radio often during the Christmas season—understandably, because it’s a series of questions to the mother of Christ: Mary, when you held your baby boy, did you know whom—what—you were holding? Did you know what would happen? Did you realize the transcendent greatness contained in your arms?

Here, listen to the song. Clay Aiken sings it with deep, reflective spirit.

Mary, Did You Know? (Clay Aiken performs)

It’s been staying with me lately, and to me it’s more than a Christmas song because, besides any other nuance, it speaks on two prominent levels: of the Holy Family, and of family, which is holy.

I love the song’s explicit message, its timid attempt to bring us to the root of Jesus’ journey not even through Mary’s eyes but before there was anything for the eyes to see, through her mothering heart, through empathy with her special intuition, that mysterious foreknowledge that only she, the pure loving source of Him, could have had.

I love this Mary of the great Christian myth of salvation, for she was a privy participant of what she’d brought into the world. How much of its greatness did she understand? And if she knew its saving miracle, did she understand its heartbreak, too? Listening to the song, this way, by questioning Mary’s heart, I wonder again and again about the determinacy of things: Did He come into the world already bearing salvation? Bearing miracle? Did He come bearing heartbreak?

Mother and child 1

Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

This song is a photo album of the man I love, snapshots of his life and baby pictures, he in his mother’s arms. If you’ve ever looked through such an album of the love of your life, you have probably experienced this feeling: looking at an infant you know would grow into the person you love, you know would do the things that have been done, achieve, rejoice, and suffer, and come to you—but there, in the picture, it’s still just an infant, unknowing and innocent, not the person by your side, and yet it is. And you wonder if everything you’ve come to love is contained somehow in that tiny beginning. And you wonder about all the twists of the path between the picture and your spouse.

.

.

This is the other side of the song that I like so much, the other meaning. The bigger meaning. I suppose, the very reason that I like it so. I think… Well, I think the song is not about Mary. It’s not about Jesus. Not a whole lot. I think, it’s about mothers and children. About humanity and its potential, about the infinite possibilities every child comes into the world bearing: for salvation, for miracle, and for heartbreak. And when a mother looks at her child, she sees them. Maybe, not all.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with His hand?

mother and child 4This is not a new truth, that when a child is born, a universe of potential is born with her: she may cure blindness or cancer, she may create great inventions, find mind-boggling discoveries, forever rid humanity of destruction wreaked by natural disasters. He may become a nurse or a counselor and save somebody’s life. Or he may die a teenager under a drunk driver’s wheels. Or he may be the drunk driver. When a mother holds her newborn child, what does she see? What did Mary see in Jesus?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby you kiss the face of God?

What I like about the song is that it seems to move from questions to which there is no answer to those with an implicit “Yes.” Did she know her son would perform this or that specific deed? Cure a blind man, calm the storm? I doubt it. Do we ever know such a thing? And does it matter? Even if the mythical Mary had the mythical prescience of a mythical miracle, the relevance of it is narrow, only to the myth itself. But the grander questions… Did she feel the healing force in her child, the salvific power? Did she feel intimately, directly connected to the Divine in all its mystery and majesty as if he’d just come right from where the angels trod? Do we feel that intimate majesty when we look at a child, completely open to his enormous, unknown and yet already contained within him potential, bursting into the future through everything that is, entirely unspoiled by hopelessness or fatigue?

mother and child 2

Yes. I think, yes, and few people will argue. It is yet another truism that most of us experience something ineffable holding a child—a subconscious awareness of the Face of God. We all are, of course. The Face of God is all around and within us, but we obscure it from ourselves with worry, despair, drudgery, or entertainment, too often. Children cannot hide it yet. They don’t know how.

Did Mary know she was holding in her arms the very confluence of Human and Divine? Yes, I believe she did. I believe that with a rarest exception every mother, on whatever level, knows that’s what she is holding—whatever words she might use to comprehend the idea. Quite a few fathers, too, and a whole lot of everybody else. I like the way the song puts in in the last line:

The sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I AM.

Christian mystic saints who talked of seeing Christ in other people are too numerous to list. Of course, this means one simple thing: Christ is born. Every time a child is born. When we hold him, we might catch a glimpse of what Mary knew.

mother and child 3

 

Permanent link to this article: http://onmounthoreb.com/on-holding-the-face-of-god/

3 comments

  1. Terry Wasinger

    Thank you for this post on Holding the Face of God, and the lovely song: Mary did you know? I am abit puzzled by your use of the word “myth” in the quote “great Christian myth of Salvation” and several times as “mythical”, because most people readily think of the word myth defined as popular fable or folk tale, and mythical as fictitious. I believe these words have more than one meaning, but I wonder if readers will look deeper into the meaning you intend with your use of these words.
    Terry

    1. River Adams

      Thank you, dear Terry. I’m glad you like the song.

      You make a good point. Of course, when I say, “myth,” I refer to a narrative passed on by a culture, the truth and importance of which are in its meaning rather than its factual accuracy, whether or not such can be determined. While Salvation itself is not a myth but a concept, an idea I find quite universal, the imagery in which we wrap the concept always is a myth: grandiose truths, innermost hopes, intuitions and revelations become stories with human faces, human words, details humorous and tragic, rooted in a place, a time, a culture, and a language, changing through time, growing and interpreted, a mix of fact, imagination, idea, and meaning — a myth.

      The Christian way of talking about Salvation is not the only way, and the Christian story is not the only story. There are others, beautiful and meaningful, infused with Spirit and Divine breath. But I love the great Christian myth above all others: it is the one that bonds me to God; it is the one that brings to life the image of my One Great Love. We understand that the Gospel narratives are a living myth born of God, history, and people’s minds, with some aspects and parts more rooted in historical fact and others less, some passages recorded by Jesus’ followers as a tradition of recollection and others created by them to convey the nature and meaning of Christ to their audiences as they evangelized, in the metaphor-driven language of the 1st century Judah.

      Terry, you’re right that the word “myth” has gotten a bad reputation in our popular culture, but it’s hardly deserved. Thank you for prompting me to emphasize once again that truth and fact are not identical concepts. That the deep, profound truth of the Myth is more defining to the identity of its people than a thousand facts. That I hope my readers, of all people, understand that, when I say “myth,” I never mean “lie.” I don’t mean it’s not true. I don’t even necessarily mean it’s not factual — I mean, fact is not the point. The story is the point and what it says to us. What it means. What it makes us. What it teaches. Sometimes, where it comes from. Always, where it goes.

      Now, if you’d like to have a conversation specifically about Jesus’ “power miracles” (sometimes called “nature miracles”) or the Nativity narratives — those stories I believe I called “mythical” in the post — I’ll be very glad to, any time. As for the whole of the Great Christian Myth of Salvation, I include everything into it: the Christian story, so to speak, grand abstract and dramatic eschatology and very concrete little details of dreams and clothes. This is our myth, and we live it and change it every day.

      I hope this makes you rest more easily, but if not, please, let’s keep talking.
      Blessings,
      RA

  2. Terry Wasinger

    Thank you! Your reply does make me “rest more easily”, mostly because I felt in my heart what you meant in your post, and now it is in writing, just in case other readers wonder! Continue writing, dear friend. I learn so much from you!
    Terry

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