His thoughts and actions continually surprise her, so that, increasingly, she “does not understand” his meaning, as for instance when, in the Temple, he leaves her without warning; when he fails to receive her when she visits him; when he refuses to manifest his power in the public ministry, squandering his life and ultimately slipping from her on the cross, substituting the stranger, John, for himself.

With all the strength she can muster she listens to this Word as it grows more and more vast, divine and seemingly alien; its dimensions almost tear her asunder, yet it is for this, for everything, that she gave her consent right at the start. She lets herself be led where she “does not wish to go” – so far is the Word she follows from being her own wisdom. But she consents to this leading; it is a measure of the fact that the Word, which she loves has been “implanted” in her heart (Jas 1.21).

The Christian who tries to be a hearer of the Word can only experience  these hard, ineluctable and ever-increasing demands in his life if he unreservedly  exposes himself to the Word. On the one hand, certainly, he must genuinely listen to the voice within, to God’s voice in his conscience, to the exhortation of the “interior teacher” (as Augustine  calls Christ’s indwelling in us as Word), in an attitude of docility vis-a-vis  the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

Such an inner listening would correspond in some way to Mary’s inwardly directed contemplation. But it would not be of the same order as her beholding of the Son, bodily present with her, living, acting, challenging her. Without this second element our communion with the Word – hard of hearing and fond of comfort as we are – would be in danger of being stifled.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer


7 Replies to “Prayer”

  1. amen.

    the fire was lit in the water
    consent becomes contemplation
    what was planted hums toward heaven.

    and you, cc, are a balm to my ragged heart…

  2. unlearn the sky
    let the moon descend
    and all the hermetic planets.
    heal the fields, Mary.
    you are the native star
    i follow
    into the virginity
    of the world.

  3. this quote from HuvB strikes me as a ‘novelists’ approach to the story in the gospels. He is an intelligent man who tries to explain the relationship between Jesus and Mary in terms of human psychology. I don’t mean to diminish HuvB in any way but what his interpretation evokes in me is a feeling of suffocation. It points to the limitations of the human intellect when confronted with a ‘Mystery’ text.
    To be specific,. I may be wrong, but going on other writings of his that I have read, i take this clause -‘when he refuses to manifest his power in the public ministry, ‘ -to refer to the Marriage feast at Cana.
    In other places HUvB adopts the usual understanding of Jesus’s words to his mother, ‘Woman. what have I to do with thee?’ – that he is effectively being a bit rude to her, giving his mother the brush off when she calls attention to a potentially embarrassing social situation.
    Rudolf Steiner sheds a completely different light on the Marriage Feast at Cana. He say (1) that the usually accepted words have been mistranslated long ago and that what Jesus effectively said to his mother was, ‘What is it, O Woman, That you and I have to work through together?’ -she out of her feminine nature, he out of his masculine. (2) RS draws attention to the nature of the water, freshly drawn and from a particular source in the region of Galilee, and (3) the complex mix of ethnicities in that region. Jesus’s ‘miracle’ has special significance in this context and for the process of the incarnation of the Christ into Jesus of Nazareth.
    I have not explained or summarised any of this very well but what I wanted to indicate is that an initiate consciousness such as Steiner’s brings insights which have far more meaning and relevance for today than anything that the ordinary intellect, however powerful, might achieve. Otherwise one ends up with banalities and paradoxes.
    Ultimately I find HuvB’s comments on Mary have a sort of sentimentality about them.

  4. I have been looking at your blog for a while and always find it interesting. It seems rather ungracious to have contributed such a negative comment but these were the thoughts that came to me.

  5. Dear Falk, everyone has an opinion and I’m glad you shared yours with me – thank you for reading. I post things that speak to me at a particular time and this passage of HuvB, which I read for the first time about 16 years ago, called out to me very strongly at this moment. I think that by striving to highlight the connection between human soul/spirit and the divine soul/spirit he is helping us to see as we feel, to bring home the Paraclete. But I understand that many people may be more comfortable with a more ‘abstract’ view, for want of a better terminology, as such intimacy can be excruciating if one is not ‘acclimatised’. Also (of course) there is a simple matter of taste, and his writing is not to everyone’s. Prayer includes many biblical references and I think that to gain the full benefit of the book one really must follow each one in turn, thereby the script ‘unfurls’ into the mystical spiral, beyond the dense confines of the pages. But I think you are right to point out the limitations of intellect. If you see the extract ‘Paradiso’ (from Dante) it includes one of my favourite every quotations, which is: “Because approaching the object of our desire, our intellect becomes so deeply absorbed that memory cannot follow it all the way”. Elsewhere in Prayer he writes: “what is essential is that incandescent center which is the very heart and source of morality, and without which it would very swiftly grow cold and become twisted into pharisaism”. The heart centre must be open, in other words, or it’s all just the crashing of cymbals. “Man is the creature with a mystery in his heart that is bigger than himself.” I have also tried to read other works of HuvB, but did not get through any of them. Having said that Mysterium Paschale I own and will try again at some stage. I am not sure about the Marriage feast of Cana, where does the phrase appear? I think that Rudolf Steiner is a very good counterbalance to HuVB – the balance between these two found, for instance, with the work of Valentin Tomberg, provides us with our means of unifying the churches of Peter and John. In fact, this is the very reason this passage from Prayer jumped out at me….

  6. Interesting discussion, especially since, to me, the anthroposophical interpretation lacks the soul element, and seems more like a kabuki dance. The actors go through the elaborate motions, despite knowing both the beginning and the outcome. Then there is the creepy aspect of swapping around parts of the soul into different bodies, just to save a biblical literalism, while it is an affront to the integrity of the person. HuvB’s intellect is hardly ordinary and is preferable the blind acceptance of the fantasies of another ordinary man as the literal truth.

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