The Feast of the Assumption doesn’t get much press—good or bad—these days. It may have received such little press in your lifetime that you would be hard pressed to say what it is. It is the celebration of the day the Blessed Mother was gathered to the Eternal Habitations. Holy Mary, Mother of God.

Protestant Christians don’t have much to do with the Holy Mother, and many Roman Catholics distance themselves from her because they can’t believe the stories about her, and are somewhat ashamed to be connected through her to such a superstitious past. Here is, perhaps, the clearest, most wonderful imaginable example of how the insistence on a literal understanding of the tenets of religion destroys the heart of religion. The stories of Mary are not believable, we say, because they cannot be true. What we mean is that they cannot be true because they cannot be factual. That last sentence represents the sad loss of imagination for those of us who are children of the rational, intellectual, culture of the west. It represents, as well, the loss of heart and soul. And, we think we have what it takes to be spiritual.

We do not have what it takes to be spiritual as long as we insist that in order for something to be true it has to be actual, tangible, factual, and, hence, real—and that something symbolic, mythological, or metaphorical, cannot be real, or true.

We do not have what it takes to be spiritual as long as we insist that in order for something to be true it has to be historically verifiable. The truth of the matter is that truth has no necessary connection with that which can be observed, weighed, measured, counted, and independently corroborated by expert witnesses. For example, is the moon a white marble floating on a black velvet sea, or not?

But, I digress. I wish we could get together each year to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption for at least three reasons. One is that it would be good to spend some time with all of you, to listen to one another’s stories, to talk about the path that led us together. I would enjoy that. Getting to know you, getting to know each other, the highs, and the lows, the lessons learned and the discoveries made, the joys and the sorrows of our life to this point. The simple act of sharing time with people who may be enough like we are to listen with understanding to what we have to say, and to trust us to hear with understanding what they have to say—I’d like that.

The second reason is that if anybody has a chance to celebrate the wonder of the Holy Mother, it is the people who have made it to this point in this book and are still reading. We can be trusted to know that the real Mary was no more a virgin than any of us are, and that Jesus’ conception was no more immaculate than our own. Yet, we can in all candor, honesty, truth, and sincerity say, from the heart, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” We can with complete integrity, celebrate the Mother, the Birth, and the Son, because we know the deeper truth revealed in, and symbolized by, these images.

The third reason is that we can acknowledge along with that of Mary, the Assumption of all of those who have lived and died in the service of that which was greater than they were. In remembering and celebrating Mary’s dying, we remember and celebrate all those whose life made a difference-for-the-good in our lives, and in the life of the world.

The Holy Mother is the mother of us all, in a spiritual sense, and a physical sense. And we are all Mary, the Mother of God, in a spiritual sense, and a physical sense. Mary is at once external to us and internally of us. Mary is external to us in the sense that we cannot do it alone, and in the sense that we are not alone. Mary is externalized in the form of the community, in the persons of those who reach out to us, who birth us, nurture us, swaddle us, and bring life and hope to life within us. Mary is personified in the presence of those who are our life, and light, and peace.

Mary is internally of us, is within us, in that we are the ones who say, “Yes, may it be so!” We are the ones who hear, and hearing, do not scoff, or cynically denounce, or turn and run. Mary is experienced internally as courage, and wonder, and trust, and love. The Mary within is the creative openness to experience, the capacity to see beyond the ordinary routines and the hopeless drudgery of our lives into the heart of life, and behold the astounding marvel of being alive.

When we find, and align ourselves with, the Mary within and the Mary without, we have what it takes to be spiritual. We are not alone. And we know our calling, our purpose, is the same as that of the Blessed Mother—we all are the Mother of God. God is coming to life in us, and through us, into all the world.

Every birth in the spirit is a virgin birth, every coming to life in the spiritual sense of the term, is an Immaculate Conception. We are, in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “born from above.” We are not responsible for our own birthing. It is a miracle, every time.

With each of us, there are two births: Our physical birth and our spiritual birth. Everyone is born “of water and blood”—that would be the blood of the delivery room, of our physical birth, and the water of life flowing up from the wellspring of living water to bring our physical body to the fullness of life in the spiritual sense of our having life and having it abundantly.

We can live without being alive. Just because we are living doesn’t mean we are alive. Just because we are 98.6 and breathing, just because we are upright and intact, just because we can “sit up and take nourishment,” just because we can walk to the post office and to the bank, doesn’t mean we are alive. Being alive in the fullest, deepest, surest sense of the term is the essence of spirituality, and it is a gift “of the spirit,” a gift “from above.”

It isn’t about believing anything. It’s about a shift in perspective. It’s like an optical illusion, except that it is as real as it gets. You look one minute, and there is life, and you look the next minute, and there is being alive. You walk over to the crib and pick up the baby, or the grand-baby, and it hits you, and you will never be the same. You go to the dairy section of the grocery store and, reaching for a carton of eggs, your eyes catch the eyes of the person next to you, and there is an experience of seeing and being seen that is remembered forever, and changes everything, though no words are ever spoken, and you never meet one another again—yet the memory is a source of life and goodness for the rest of your days upon the earth.

You see the same old thing that you have always seen, yet you see it in a way that exposes, reveals, discloses, more than you have ever seen. You hear the cows coming to the barn again, yet, you hear it for the first time ever, and are reborn into a world of amazing wonders. It happens in a million ways, and none of them have to do with doctrine, with catechism classes, with being instructed in the creeds and the confessions of faith, or with memorizing the Books of the Bible in order. We are living, and then we are alive, and like that, we see, and hear, and know, and understand, yet, we can’t say what we do the seeing, or hearing, or knowing, or understanding.

This is an Immaculate Conception! An experience of Grace! A Virgin Birth! Ave Maria! We are all Mary, the Mother of God, God being born in us and through us as a blessing unto all the world.

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