Monday, December 08, 2008

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is one of the festivals of Mary in the churches of both the East and the West - in honour of her conception. Christians remember the starting point of Mary's earthly existence; those first cells that became the human person of the mother of Jesus; and so today the Church is celebrating the very stirrings of God's plan to restore the world.

Without Mary there is no Jesus. This is true not only at the biological level but also at the spiritual - it is Mary's graciousness which the Church also celebrates; in response to God's grace, Mary consented.

But the biology is vital.St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury around 1100,quoted in Celebrating the Saints: Daily Spiritual Readings from the Calendar of the Church of England compiled by Robert Atwell, reflects in an ecological way about how Mary's role as the mother of the incarnation of God restores all creation - "sky, stars, earth, rivers, day and night and all things that are meant to serve us and be for our good" - the whole of nature rejoices to see God choosing to partner with them - though the biological process of conception and birth - in order to restore his creation.
"God himself, who made all things, remade himself from Mary. In this way he remade all that he had made. He who was able to make all things out of nothing,when they had been defaced would not remake them without Mary's help".

As well the astonishing boldness of the assertions which Anselm made about the salvific significance of Mary - which Protestant Chistians find difficult to acccept - what interests me today is the quite natural way in which Anselm incorporated a creation-focussed perspective into his reflections on Mary's role.
Here is a glimpse of the intellectual and spiritual matrix which lies behind the fantastic images of animals and birds to be found carved and painted on the walls of so many of cathedrals and churches of Europe, founded or rebuilt, around the time of Anselm.

Most of us would let a comparatively minor festival of the Church pass by without even a thought for its ecological significance. But if we took Anselm's approach and focussed on the creation message, wouldn't this transform our spirituality and liturgy; putting our contemporary ecological imperative right at the heart of the way we live and proclaim Christian faith?

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