There's a Manger in Her Heart
Thinking about Mary with help from Stephen Colbert and his Mother
Stephen Colbert's Tribute to his Mother
Springboards for Thought
"She made a very loving home for us. No fight between siblings could ever end without hugs and kisses, though hugs never needed a reason in her house. Singing and dancing were encouraged except at the dinner table."
"She was fun. She knew more than her share of tragedy, losing her brother and her husband and three of her sons. But her love of her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on but to love life without bitterness and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we have together."
-- Stephen Colbert on Lorna
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…
-- Luke 2:7
The image -- and it is but an image -- the image under which the operative growth of God's nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be lost.
-- Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality
"Her favorite memory of prayer was a young mother tucking in her children.
We were the light of her life and she let us know it until the end. '
-- Stephen Colbert, Tribute to his mother Lorna
Stephen Colbert's mother knew it and you do, too:
Tucking children into bed is one of the most sacred things we ever do. Mothers and fathers do it frequently, and God does it all the time. It's a way of saying "I love you. I want you to be happy all the time. I cannot keep you from suffering but I will always be with you. I will always listen and care. You are the light of my life."
Are we the light of God's life? The answer, I believe, is yes.
It is one thing to say that God is the Light of our lives and another to say that we are the light of God's life. But it seems to me that both are true.
On the one hand, since God is light and light is love, there is no better light to guide our lives than the divine Light itself. It can illuminate our minds, warm our hearts, and give us energy for life. Divine light is like a morning star; we can center our lives around it as a moral compass and be nourished by its beauty. After all, God isn't just light, God is also beauty. Whenever we delight in beauty in a loving way, and whenever we offer compassion to others and ourselves, we are walking in the light of God, thus named or not.
On the other hand, if God is really love, then it is also true that we are the light of God's life. For love takes delight in what it sees. It finds the beauty in things: in people, in animals, in plants, in stars and it says It is good. It is drawn to this beauty like a mother to a child whom she wraps in swaddling clothes, away in a manger with no crib for a bed.
Of course love knows that there is violence in the world, too. It does not hide from tragedy or horror. One of the priests who writes for us, Teri Daily, puts the point clearly when she writes:
Peace involves the recognition that there is a distance, a gap, between God’s dreams for the world and the way things are—a lack of correspondence between the Ideal and our Reality. We need to acknowledge this gap, because we don’t find true peace by failing to see all the tragedy that exists,
Any wise mother knows this. As she gazes upon her child in sleep, she knows that her child will experience suffering and death, tragedy and perhaps also violence.
But she carries within her heart an impulse for her child to be safe from the worst of it, to live a happy life. And so does a wise father. Both of them -- the mother and the father -- have mangers in their hearts. Both find themselves beckoned to tuck their children into bed.
To be sure, we don't need to be parents to fold people into beds. We can and do tuck others into places of rest all the time, easily and often: our parents, our friends, and strangers. We do it physically by pulling sheets over their bodies when they are sick or weary or dying; and we do it spiritually by listening to them and caring for them, by sharing in their experiences and letting them be the light of our lives.
We may not fold sheets but we create a place in our hearts for them. This place is a deep listening, a feeling of the feelings of others, a receptivity and empathy, a companionship. This place is the manger in our hearts.
Christians believe that we are made in the image of this manger and that God is a manger, too.
Christians believe that God sent Jesus so that we could find our mangers. He lay in a manger and then he became one.
The word "sent" is a funny one. Christians may or may not believe that Jesus dwelt with God in a heavenly domain before he was born. That's up for debate. But they -- we -- can believe that, once born, God beckoned him to be a light for the world. This is how he became a manger. His open-heartedness was his mangerhood.
Perhaps Mary sensed something special about him, even at the outset. According to the stories the shepherds and wise men came to bear witness to his birth and found themselves filled with awe. They then went back and told others about what they had seen:
And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:19)
Mary's ponderings were part of the manger in her heart. She protected her baby but also worried about his future. If shepherds and wise men came to you after you'd given birth, wouldn't you do the same?
She was right to worry. At some point in his twenties Jesus felt drawn to this possibility of a dream, a hope, which he called the Kingdom of God. It is a state of affairs when the will of God is done on earth as it is in heaven, such that people live in loving community with one another and the rest of creation. Jesus was almost obsessed with this image, this possibility. He came to identify with it so thoroughly that his actions became its witness. He did crazy things: eating with outcasts, forgiving criminals, chastising proud people, and speaking with the authority of heaven.
It was also, for him, a Kingdom of Justice, but the justice at issue was not about retaliation but rather about forgiveness. It is about people not going to bed hungry or angry. Here Stephen Colbert's description of his mother serves us well:
She made a very loving home for us. No fight between siblings could ever end without hugs and kisses, though hugs never needed a reason in her house.
Jesus sensed that the mystery in the heart of heaven -- the One whom he addressed as Abba -- was not a dictator in the sky but rather a cosmic companion whose hope was to turn houses into homes.
And this, so we learn from Jesus, is what justice really is: justice is homemaking in which hugs are given freely and no one is left behind.
The manger in the heart is not only a place of empathy, it is also a place of imagination. It imagines the world as it can be, as distinct from the world as it is. It partakes of God's dreams.
In any case, justice always begins with empathy; and it has to begin with empathy, lest it become the will-to-power. It begins with an inner impulse to tuck people into bed, to create a place in your heart where their sufferings can be folded with, in Whitehead's words, a tender care that nothing be lost. In God it takes the form of infinite empathy and thus infinite vulnerability.
We Christians believe that this vulnerability is the most powerful form of power on earth. It is worth living for and dying for, but not killing for. It is much more powerful than its opposite: unilateral or one-sided power. It is the power of non-violence.
We also believe that Jesus revealed this power on the cross when he absorbed the sufferings of others and refused to retaliate with violence. But before Jesus was born, Mary knew this power. Jesus didn't just get his power from God, he also got it from Mary. Jesus could not have been Jesus without someone loving him first.
Who taught Jesus to love and to trust? Some people might say that this someone was God. Surely it was, just as deeply and perhaps more deeply, Mary. Or, to say the same thing, surely God was in Mary as a source of power for Jesus. She was, for him, the Light of God in human form who became, in her way, a priest for all nations. It was because he received love from her that he was able to hear God's call.
Intuitively, Stephen Colbert understood this dynamic in his tribute to his mother. And intuitively, Lorna Colbert understood her role in the scheme of her family's life by not letting anyone go to be angry or hungry. Christians speak of the three of them -- Mary, Joseph, and Jesus -- as a holy family. In all probability there were others as well. Jesus probably had brothers and sisters. This multiplication of siblings is good news. It reminds us that the world as a whole is a holy family and that the calling of Christians and others is to provide safety and joy for the countless brothers and sisters who comprise it. Jesus called it the Kingdom of God. It is a dream worth living from, one child at a time.
-- Jay McDaniel
was his mother.
in the upper room,
breakfast in the barn.
Before the Passover Feast,
a feeding trough.
And here, the altar
of Earth, fair linens
of hay and seed.
Before his cry,
Before his sweat
Before his offering,
Before the breaking
of bread and death,
the breaking of her
body in birth.
Before the offering
of the cup,
the offering of her
Before his blood,
And by her body and blood
alone, his body and blood
and whole human being.
The wise ones knelt
to hear the woman’s word
Holding up her sacred child,
her spark of God in the form of a babe,
“Receive and let
your hearts be healed
and your lives be filled
with love, for
This is my body,
This is my blood.”
From Accidental Wisdom by Alla Renée Bozarth, iUniverse 2003
and This is My Body~ Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart
by Alla Renée Bozarth, iUniverse 2004. All rights reserved.