If the mystic is one who experiences in an extraordinary way the intimacy with God offered to everyone, then Mary is the model and pattern of the mystical life. She literally carried God in her womb and gave birth to him. Thus, she is the mother of all mystics.
Spiritual impregnation, gestation and giving birth are the initial stages of the mystical life. God invades our life, usually when we are not expecting it; we embrace that gift. Even if we are tempted to hoard it as ours alone, God will be born from us; we will serve others as a result of God’s own indwelling love.
Imagine Mary, a young girl at her prayers or perhaps performing her tasks or simply sitting and watching people pass by her window. Suddenly, there is a rush of wind like a flutter of wings, or a flash of light, and there is one like an angel addressing her: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). There it is: The Lord is with you. What can this mean? Gabriel, as if knowing her thoughts, continues, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:30–31).
Mary asks, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1:34–35).
All mystics wonder what is happening to them when the Holy Spirit asks them to believe the seemingly impossible, that God wants to enter their lives. They can, of course, refuse out of fear or doubt, and it is the glory of Mary that she does not refuse but says yes.
Each true mystic who says yes to God at some point is sent forth into the world as the Father sent the Son to announce and build up God’s kingdom. For Mary this moment comes almost immediately when the angel announces that her aged cousin Elizabeth is in her sixth month of pregnancy (for nothing is impossible with God). Mary says to the angel, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
We begin to change when our own plans scatter us, bring us down; God’s plans replace them—God’s plans, in the case of the mystic, are revealed in a vision or a voice speaking to the soul. God’s plans work a revolution in our lives. We begin to change because of what we have seen and heard.
Poor in Spirit, Rich in Christ
The social revolution is heralded in the line, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones / and lifted up the lowly.” The mystic sees what the world does not see, that the lowly are the real authority, for they represent the kingdom of God in its fullness. Jesus says in the first words of his first sermon, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus does not say, “Theirs will be the kingdom of heaven,” but “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This is a now promise. Where there is poverty of spirit, the real kingdom happens. How different this is from the kingdoms of earth that happen where there is power, not lowliness and littleness. How powerless the mystics are in terms of human power, how powerful in things of the spiritual kingdom within.
The economic revolution is foretold when Mary says, “[H]e has filled the hungry with good things, / and sent the rich away empty.” The kingdom Jesus will preach and that his disciples will model distributes wealth to the poor, embracing poverty as the fast track into the kingdom. “If you wish to be perfect,” Jesus says to the rich, young man, “go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
The medieval mystic Francis of Assisi will become the personification of this kind of gospel poverty, having been a rich young man who knew all too well that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
Mary’s life, like that of her son, will be a living out of her own canticle. She will enter into the mysteries of Christ’s life. Like the Christian mystics after her, she will participate in a more intense way in the very mystery that she is sharing. As the model of intimacy with God, Mary will enter into the death and resurrection of her son. She will stand beneath the cross of his dying; she will rise with him body and soul in the mystery of her Assumption into heaven.