I’m about to share something very personal. (And I’m a bit scared. Though I hear, “Be not afraid.”) Last Sunday, at the Mass celebrating The Epiphany of Our Lord, while receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament, I had one of those rare moments when I deeply sense that God is telling me something, showing me something.
My Personal Longing
The night before, I had been washed over, yet again, by the desire for a child. One of the greatest sorrows of my life is not that I will never be able to walk or live to old age, but that I will never be a wife and mother. More deeply aching in my heart, even than the longing to be independent and take care of myself, is the longing to hold my own child in my arms and give myself in love to this little human being for all the days of my life.
It’s natural, this feeling of mine. I’m human, after all. And many childless women have experienced this unrequited love for children they will never have.
When I was a little girl, like other little girls, I enjoyed playing with dolls: washing them, dressing them, and pretending to feed them and sing them to sleep as I cradled them in my arms. This was back when I was still physically able to do such things, though always with an uncommon thinness of strength, strength that diminished year by year. There were three little neighborhood girls that I used to “babysit” sometimes, though always at my home with my mother, sister, or friend very nearby in case the child needed to be picked up, chased down, toileted, fed, or given any kind of emergency care. All of this is akin to the typical preparation of a girl growing up into puberty and then womanhood. It doesn’t mean that every little girl likes to play with dolls or dreams about being a mother one day — my best friend throughout childhood, for example, did not have this interest or wish.
She is, however, a good mother now, while I am not a mother, good or bad.
Did that sound bitter to your mind’s ear? It shouldn’t, because I’m not. I’ve been sad, disappointed, frustrated, maybe even a little angry, but never bitter. Unrequited longings do not need to sour into bitter gall that causes the have-not to grimace and spit.
For me, this particular unfulfilled desire is a kind of mourning, a wordless, all-over grief that becomes a deep and thoughtful sorrow over something that is lost; it comes as an emptiness in my weak, little arms and a wistful aching in my heart. It most often causes my body to droop even more than it already is, my eyes to close, and my lips to verge on trembling, tears on the ready. Then I take a deep, necessary breath and sigh heavily, my eyes looking upward to the sky, to heaven, to all that is unchanging above me. “Is there no pity sitting in the clouds That sees into the bottom of my grief?”[i]
But with that heavy sigh, which expresses my deep sorrow and sense of futility, there eventually comes resignation, even acceptance. I don’t know why, but my genuine smile inevitably, indefatigably, returns as I experience something that has always been mine for as long as I can remember: a profoundly deep sense of sympathy, an awareness that there is some pity, though not exactly in the clouds, not seeing into me, but seeing with me, feeling with me, knowing with me.
This is me. This is my life. Here I am. And, no matter the heartache, losses, or failings, I do believe — I know — that it’s good to be here. The wounds take nothing away from the glory.
(That knowledge is a bit hard won, to say the least. The road to this kind of clarity is often excruciating for us humans. Christ understands.)
Not having felt as acutely the longing ache for a child in some time, I was rather taken aback last Saturday when I experienced it. Here it comes again, I thought wearily. Will I ever be rid of this desire? I sighed heavily and felt more of a shrug of my shoulders than any kind of uplifting acceptance. With a tight mouth and a shake of my head, I pushed it out of my mind.
What was on my mind during the Sunday liturgy was the anticipation of hearing a song that I had requested from the music/choir director. (There are benefits to being a member of a small parish.) Having missed Midnight Mass because of lingering fatigue from a brief illness, my mother and I did not hear our choir’s lovely rendition of “Silent Night,” so the director gladly agreed to make it one of the hymns for the Feast of the Epiphany. When I was opening my mouth to receive Holy Communion, I heard the organ begin the song, so I said my usual Communion prayers rather quickly and even stopped chewing without swallowing in order to better hear the music:
“… All is calm, all is bright
‘round yon Virgin, Mother and Child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild…”
The practical part of my mind became keenly aware that I was rather thoughtlessly just holding the Consecrated Bread in my mouth without respectful reverence. Instantly, the sense of reverence came and I, holding the Body of Christ in my mouth, was holding the body of Christ, physically holding Him, His Real Presence intimately cradled by my body.
And there it was. The moment. The moment when I was holding the Christ Child in the deepest gift of love. God’s gift to me held and cradled in my heart; my weak and empty little arms full of intimate reality, of care and responsibility for this tender, needing little life. He is mine and I am His. Oh sublime humility, oh humble sublimity[ii]. To my heart, to my care, to my mercy, to my body, mind, and soul is entrusted the beating heart of God in the flesh.
I believe, during that moment in the Epiphany Mass, that God was showing me that He is here. He is mine. And He needs me. He has given Himself completely to me, vulnerable in the Eucharist cradled by my body, needing me to give attention, protection, and care to Him.
He is likewise giving Himself to all of us, to you, to your heart, to your care. What is your response?
What will be my response? Am I ready and willing to be His mother — someone who hears the Word of God and keeps it?[iii] Will I open my mind, my heart, and my immobile arms to His very real presence in my life? If I truly love the Lord, then I will care for Him in all of the ways that I am able — the little ways that are gifts given to me by God, so that the eternal reality of who I am may be fulfilled.
Holy Mother Mary, Mother of God, Blessed Mother of all the living in Christ, please pray for me. I don’t want to abandon your Son, my Lord, I don’t want to turn in upon myself and all that I lack. I want to trust. I desire to love. Pray for me that I will allow God to transform me into the woman that I was created to be. Pray for me that I will never neglect the Holy Child, that I will always choose to hold Him lovingly in my body, mind, heart, and soul, to carry Him responsibly into the world.
© 2020 Christina Chase
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[i] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 5 — a question, a longing, from Juliet
[ii] See St. Francis of Assisi, Letter to All Friars
[iii] See Luke 11:28; Matthew 12:50
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.