My meditations during Advent this year have focused on Mary and her crucial role in the Christmas story as the one who gave birth to the Christ child. Now, during these “Twelve Days of Christmas” that culminate in the arrival of the Wise Men who have traveled from far lands to find the baby Jesus, my attention naturally turns to their role in the story. The contrast between the pregnancy of Mary and the journey of the Wise Men has struck me as two metaphors for the spiritual process that we may experience during the sacred season of Christmas.
These two themes frame the Christmas story like bookends: the Annunciation, the message of the angel Gabriel to Mary that she will become pregnant with the Son of God, marks the beginning of the Christmas story – the first revelation of the coming of Christ, given to his Mother. Epiphany marks the ending of the Christmas story with the arrival of the Wise Men, symbolizing the final revelation of Christ to all people. This is not the “small” Christ confined to the Christian religion, but the Cosmic Christ that flows through all creation as endless, eternal Love.
The metaphors of “spiritual journey” and “spiritual pregnancy” are associated with the roles of the Wise Men, who undertake the arduous journey to Bethlehem, and Mary, who willingly accepts the miraculous pregnancy. The Wise Men represent the masculine spiritual principle; their titles as Magi and Kings describe them as highly knowledgeable, powerful figures of spiritual authority. Mary represents the feminine spiritual principle; she possesses inner rather than worldly power. Her reference to herself as the “servant of the Lord” is characteristic of her deep humility. But humility does not mean low self esteem, as is often believed, but derives from its root word “humus” which refers to the earth. While the Wise Men symbolize the functions of the mind, Mary symbolizes the processes of nature and the physical body.
Both Mary and Wise Men were deeply connected to Wisdom and receptive to her guidance and counsel, which took various forms for them. The Wise Men’s passionate pursuit of Wisdom throughout their lives as spiritual seekers culminated in their beholding the Star of Wisdom. All of their spiritual studies and practices had prepared them to see the Star and understand the importance of following it in the darkness to the end of their journey where they found the babe with Mary, his mother! Mary’s inner, intimate connection to Wisdom was the reason that she could respond without hesitation to the angelic pronouncement of her role in the divine Birth: “Let it be with me according to your word.” She opened herself to the Mystery beyond her human understanding: the conception and growth of the Holy Child within her womb – the deepest, physical essence of the Feminine – that lies beyond the control of the rational mind or will of the ego. Mary’s response to this completely unexpected and frightening event in her life was to have faith in God, to trust in the divine process as it was unfolding in her life. This is the true humility that proceeds from Wisdom.
When the Wise Men arrive, they find that Mary’s pregnancy has been completed in the birth of the Christ child. Mary now is the feminine representation of Wisdom, through whom the process flows, as shown in images that depict her as Mother of Christ who sits on the “Throne of Wisdom.” Mary has not had to seek like the Wise Men because she personifies the deep intuitive knowing of Wisdom, and by simply accepting her natural role she is able to give birth to the Christ that manifests Wisdom for the entire world.
The Wise Men’s Way is the outer, active, goal-oriented search that continually leads to greater wisdom until one completes the journey in a personal encounter with Wisdom, the experience that brings the Wise Men to Mary. Mary’s Way is the inner, natural, organic process of simply opening to the divine Wisdom that is innate within the human soul. With the birth of the Christ child, the outer and the inner Ways come together and the spiritual process is complete for them both.
Both of these Ways are open to all of us – male and female, Christian and non-Christian – and can be most helpful to our spiritual growth when integrated as one. The metaphor of “spiritual pregnancy,” giving birth to God within the soul, complements the concept of the “spiritual journey” that leads us from the circumference of our ordinary lives to the center where the Divine dwells within. But it occurs to me that we hear a lot about “spiritual or faith journeys” today, but not much about “spiritual pregnancy”! Perhaps this is because the former reflects our cultural obsession with active doing while the latter emphasizes the neglected quality of receptive being. Most of us find it much easier to walk than to wait! Of course both are simply metaphors that point toward our deepening experience of the ineffable Mystery that is the Ultimate Reality, the Source of Life. So both are true in a metaphorical sense, but it seems to me that we should emphasize the concept of “spiritual pregnancy” more in order to bring greater balance to our understanding of spiritual experience.
When we follow the Way of the Wise Men we pursue the spiritual journey through actively striving to obtain the goal of Mystical Union, Enlightenment, or Self-Realization. We seek greater understanding through reading, listening to lectures, attending workshops and conferences, and maintaining a discipline of spiritual practice. This is the outer search that leads us to Wisdom. When we follow the Way of Mary we let go of these egoic attempts to direct the spiritual journey and simply open to the flow of divine Love that provides the fertile ground for the “God-seed” to grow within the soul. Mary’s expression of gratitude in her beautiful Song of Praise – the Magnificat – becomes our own:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for the Mighty One has done great things for me
As she accepts her role in giving birth to the Christ child as a gift of pure grace rather than any achievement of her own, so may we wait patiently for the spiritual pregnancy to reach fruition, when the “new being” is born and the work of Wisdom is complete. As the great mystic Meister Eckhart expresses the profound Mystery revealed in the simple process of “letting go” and “letting be”:
God needs nothing more than for us to offer him a quiet heart. Then he accomplishes in the soul such secret and divine deeds that no creature can add to them.
Mother Mary provides the model for us to follow this Way of Wisdom as we offer our quiet hearts to the Divine, trusting in the inner process of transformation to take place at a deeper level than our conscious, egoic will. For me this process was affirmed when I heard in meditation the voice of Wisdom offering me this simple prayer that has now become an integral part of my daily spiritual practice:
Lord, I trust in Thee; Pray Thyself in me.