When I was younger, it bothered me when Jesus addressed his mother as “Woman” in the Gospels. This was long before I had grown into my own womanhood or knew what it meant to be a woman. Now I hear that word in a new light.
“Woman,” he calls her. Archetypal, she is not just one woman among many, but “the Woman.” In her very being, the Virgin Mary embodies all of womanhood’s beauty, good- ness, and grace. She is as woman was created to be.
She first embarked on the journey of walking with her son so the rest of us might follow. She shows us what it means to live as a woman overshadowed by the Spirit. And the first thing she teaches us about womanhood is the only thing we really need to know: God dwells in us.
God could have chosen to break upon the scene of human history to save us from our very selves in any way he wanted. It could have been in a way that was overtly grand and glorious and terrifying. He could have shaken the foundations of the earth with his coming and darkened the universe only to light it up again. He could have put on a fantastic show.
But he chose instead to create a vessel that could cradle his greatness—he chose to be borne by and born of a woman. The glory that happens in the womb of a woman may just be God’s best show of all. Consider the notion that our salvation is both borne and born in a world that scarcely knows it has a reason to hope—that God is working out the salvation of the world in secret ways with a woman as his only companion. What deep, rich grace there is in that!
God’s secret workings inside one woman are the beginning of human salvation. I can hardly bear the beauty of that sometimes—especially when I am reminded how often I am inattentive to the ways God is working in me, or even wholly rebellious to them. But in Mary, I am reminded that when the beautiful mystery of womanhood intertwines with the great mystery of God, the miracle of salvation can be born.
In Mary, I have a picture of womanhood at its height, an untainted vessel full of grace carrying the light of
Christ out into the world. I want to live pregnant with that hope: that God dwelling in me can unfold into a grace and salvation that pours out to others. I want to be ever attentive to the mystery of God active in me, as Mary was the moment she heard the angel’s greeting.
When we look at Mary here at the moment of the annunciation, when God tucked himself inside her virgin womb, we learn something about our own womanhood. In what is happening in that one woman’s body and soul to bring about the salvation of the world, we learn a powerful truth about ourselves: God designed us to house his glory.
He meant to dwell in us. The design of our bodies reflects the design of our souls: receptive, nurturing, life-giving. God designed as a first earthly home for himself the perfect vessel, the receptacle of grace, and it was a woman, Mary. And so, Mary shows us what it means to be woman, to have a feminine soul that is meant to receive life-giving love, to gestate that life with expectant hope, and to bear it out into the world through the hard work that it is to labor.
This is our spiritual calling as much as it is our physical being. This calling is not dependent on whether or not you ever bear a child in your womb; it is yours because you bear the child inside you.
He dwells in you—redeeming, loving, saving from right there in the very center of your being. You can live full of grace too. There may not be angel’s wings and rays of glory to announce his presence. But do not doubt that he longs to live in you, to be made incarnate in you. He wants to dwell within you so that your very flesh magnifies him out into the world.
“How can this be?” Mary asks, and we echo the question with her. How does this happen, that the God of the universe comes to dwell inside us? It happens to us, friend, just as the angel told Mary it would. He overshadows us. Sometimes it feels as if we spend our whole lives just trying to step out of the shadows, doesn’t it? To be noticed. To get out of the darkness someone else has cast over us. To find the light.
But the answer to our ultimate joy is found under his shadow. One synonym for the word overshadow is the word hover. God hovers over Mary so that he can dwell within her. He overshadows her. And she lets him. She agrees to let him shine while she hides in his shadow. She offers herself as a lowly servant, a slave even, to the overshadowing presence of God dwelling within her.
I have offered God my fair share of uncertain yeses in my life, and I have seen what he can do with just a little bit of faith surrendered to his will. I wonder what more he might do with me if I could offer the kind of yes that Mary does—so fully surrendered to his desires for her, so willing to let him draw near to her, that she calls herself his servant girl, his slave, and allows him to overshadow her own will and desires with those he has for her.
She gives herself completely to the identity God is creating for her and in her, rather than struggling to hold on to her own expectations and plans.
Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. She planned a simple life as the wife of a carpenter in her small town, likely just down the road from her parents. She prayed the prayers of a faithful Jewish girl and lived the life of one too. To suddenly be asked to take on a completely new identity meant she would need to give all of herself over to God, the deepest parts of her, where all her hopes and dreams and fears and longing lay, and to trust that his presence dwelling in her would overshadow all of that with light and grace.
This is our key to being a Christ-bearer: to allow Christ to enter the deepest parts of us so that we might bear the presence of he who is called Most High in our very being. He asks to dwell in us. And when we offer our yes, when we offer ourselves fully to serve his purposes, he comes to dwell in us. He draws near and places his shadow over us, his presence growing within us while his spirit surrounds us. And we are transformed by that overshadowing.
We are made more fully who we are by the intimate presence of Christ drawing so close to us that he sees us from the inside out.
Full of Grace
Who could ever conceive that God could be conceived? That he could dwell with us? And yet, this is how he always meant for it to be. In the Genesis days, he strolled in the garden that was Adam and Eve’s home. He walked in their midst. He dwelled among them. This is what it means to be saved, to be redeemed: He dwells with us, and we are his people. He dwells in you. God’s greatest longing is to draw near to you and for you to receive him in love.
And when we say yes to his request to come close to us, he fills us with a new hope. When we agree to become God’s dwelling place, he takes up residence in us. We swell inside with hope, with grace, with the message of salvation. His presence grows in us. He is magnified in us. We grow so full with him that we cannot contain his presence within ourselves anymore, and we labor with the burden of love.
Life is born of his presence within us, and it begs for release. The sound of salvation echoes inside us until it can no longer be contained.
So, we give ourselves over to it, and we allow it to be released into this wild, wide world, desperate for its cries of freedom. In Spanish, the phrase used for giving birth, for pushing life into the world, is dar a luz, “to give light.” And isn’t this so true of our calling? We allow the light of the world to come and dwell in us; we receive him. He grows in the intimacy of our souls until we swell to bursting, and then we spend our lives “giving light,” pushing the light of life out into the world so that the world, too, may know him.
Mary is the ultimate illumination of a woman filled with Christ’s presence, of a woman lit up from within by grace. We can offer ourselves to God in full surrender with great confidence because we can see in Mary the beauty of a womanhood that blossoms to its own fullness by allowing God to fill her.