reconciling things

“Allow it all to happen: beauty and terror…” Rilke

When I gave birth to my first born child I thought (rightly so) that she was the most beautiful creature on God’s green earth. Although I had no idea how to parent her, no one could fault my love. I loved her so completely, I was so enraptured, I was sure no one had ever loved a child more. When she was just three months old I was pregnant with my second child. And people were aghast. So soon! Another baby! How will you care for two babies? My mother-in-law (may her memory be eternal) asked if I was going to discontinue my pregnancy. I was horrified.

No, I did not know how I would care for two babies. I was not sure I could love another child as much as I loved my first. I wasn’t sure how it would all work out. But one thing was for damn sure, I would not be ending my pregnancy!

My first born son, my second child, was born just 12 months after my first. How is it possible that I had not one, but two perfect children?! I loved him so completely. He was so beautiful! My heart could burst for this child whom I loved so much.

Did I love my first child less? Nope! Still loved her just as much and my love for her felt like it increased daily. And now I was experiencing it at the same time with the second.

And the third.

And the fourth.

And fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth.

My heart grew every time. The original love lost nothing in sharing it with another.

The kids and I with Bishop Gregory John Mansour

The Theotokos

I was pondering this mystery this morning because someone online asked if Marian dogmas and devotions took anything away from our devotion to the Lord. How can we pray something like the closing prayer of the Rosary, “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry…” or the closing prayer of the Our Lady Undoer of Knots Novena, “You are my hope. O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution, and, with Christ, the freedom from my chains. Hear my plea. Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!” without robbing something from Christ?

What about the Byzantine Prayer Rule of the Theotokos? “Open unto us the door of your loving kindness, O most Blessed Theotokos. As we set our hope in you, let us not be confounded, but through you may we be delivered from all adversities. For you are the salvation of all Christians.

My Protestant friends and readers may object to these prayers saying, “Jesus is our life, sweetness, and hope! We are only supposed to go to him, not anyone else! Our hope is in him alone!”

To those objections I say: LOVE IS NOT A PIE.

God is not rationing out his love and trying to determine how thin a slice he can share with the Blessed Mother.

Love, it’s not the kind of thing that will run out if you spend it all in one place.

You can see this clearly in how we relate to our loved ones. I can tell someone “I love you with all my heart!” (or shout out the window, “I love you the most like toast!” and if you have been my friend a while you have probably heard me shout this at you.) and that does not mean as a matter of course that I have no love for anyone else. The heart expands with love. True love multiplies and adds and grows. It doesn’t subtract or divide or shrivel up.

Think of every love song you have ever heard or any love poem you have ever read. The language of the heart is ardent and often extreme, given to hyperbole and excesses. No one finds it out of place when John Legend sings “…all of me, Loves all of you…Give your all to me, I’ll give my all to you, You’re my end and my beginning, Even when I lose I’m winning…” No one declares it is a heresy when Keats implies immortality will come with his lover’s breath saying “still to hear her tender-taken breath, And so live ever — or else swoon to death.”

Because everyone understand the language of true love. This is how the heart works.

Paper Hearts

When I was growing up I went to my fair share of “True Love Waits” and similar rallies. These rallies which were meant to communicate the importance of abstinence failed largely because while communicating the importance of abstinence actually forgot the meaning of love, which is the mother of chastity.

I remember one particular skit where a girl had a big red paper heart. And she fell in love with a boy and tore off a piece of the heart and gave it to him. He broke up with her. So she carried her heart to another and gave the next boy a piece of her heart. She continued on through the crowd tearing off pieces of that big red paper heart and distributing them here and there to boys in the audience she didn’t even know. When she finally found her way back to the stage there was her dream guy (and by dream guy I mean pimply teenage awkward guy) waiting–the guy that God had predestined her to marry (obviously a skit written by a Calvinist) who had a big paper heart completely intact. She offered him a little scrap of her heart that was left. He gave her his full heart.

The terrible analogy and emotional manipulation aside, this skit is based on terrible theology. It shows love as this finite thing which once it is spent, it is gone forever. But the truth is we are not made of paper. And Jesus declares “Behold I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:5) Love is a renewable resource. God, who Thomas Merton says is pure actuality and therefore cannot possibly exploit us to any selfish end, is love. We get to share in that love that seeks to give, share, and heal.

When we love our fellow humans (this includes the Blessed Mother, who was also human, let’s not forget) Jesus does not engage in petty jealousies. He is not that insipid scrawny kid standing on the stage with his intact paper heart, looking offended and judgey while you give him your fragment of a heart because you gave it away without discretion. Rather when you love another human–selflessly, with pure devotion, with grace, with compassion–Jesus shares in that love and in that glory. Or perhaps better said, we share in his love and glory.

“By grace we are able to share in the infinitely selfless love of Him Who is such pure actuality that He needs nothing and therefore cannot conceivably exploit anything for selfish ends. Indeed, outside of Him there is nothing, and whatever exists exists by His free gift of its being, so that one of the notions that is absolutely contradictory to the perfection of God is selfishness.”

Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain

Truth is, we don’t really know what love is.

We know It’s Complicated.

We know it runs alongside Seven Pages of Loneliness.

We know The Things We Do For Love are often crazy.

We know it in a theoretical sense or through the lens of Hollywood or because we are told at church that God loves us. But not often do we let the awareness of that love really crash over us, change us, heal us, transform us. I know for myself that I have often been afraid of love–of what it could cost me, what it would mean, and if I opened my heart to Love (really to the one who is True Love) would he take it all. Would there be a slice of pie left for me?

All this I have thought today because someone asked if Marian devotion robbed from Jesus’ glory. I could have saved all these words and simply quoted the great Saint Maximilian Kolbe, “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much; you can never love her more than Jesus did!”

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