A young woman: I saw her climb switchbacks carved in canyon walls, months pregnant, showing, looking, as salvation does, fully alive. I walked down, away from her, but the Word took hold and I am thinking of her still all these weeks later. She was unknown to me, and yet I know she will give her child food fit for a long walk through the fields of humanity, the valley of death, the harrowing of hell, and the impossibility (but not to God) of a good life forevermore. She will reach into her sack and give her child Old Testament trail food, curds, and honey. And yet she and her little one will eat the bread of tears, drain a chalice of sorrow. How good and pleasant and painful it is to see the gospel etched on a Paleo-Indian path.
Mary, God’s chosen, carries a hidden child, loves him, hopes for him, will join his smallest joys, and suffer his every sorrow. Though she is like every mother and every parent in many ways, her vocation stands apart, is inexplicable, is understood, though never fully understood, in these transcendent words: “the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). This once-for-all election is the foundation of a new pattern, the emergence of a new humanity in Christ that is pure and total gift. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Thus, every moment in which grace is given and faith elicited is a vertical intrusion of pure gift and the root cause of faith’s obedience. Every child of God is, in this sense, conceived by the Holy Spirit. All the baptized are transferred from the absolutism of family, tribal, and national ties and established as adopted children of God. This does not negate important temporal commitments, but tempers and corrects them. In the end, the knee bows to the grace of Christ alone.
Consider St. Paul. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).
“Paul, it is true, is always himself, and moves essentially on the same plane as all other men …; fashioned of the same stuff as all other men, a stone differing in no way from other stones” (Karl Barth, Commentary on Romans). He is only a man, a very religious man; and yet, as he testifies, he counts his pious pedigree and all else as nothing (Phil. 3:7).
Why? He was called as an apostle, as Mary was called to be a mother, a calling hidden in the overshadowing of providence and grace that exclude all merit, genetic fortune, and inherited prestige. Barth adds: “As an apostle — and only as an apostle — he stands in no organic relationship with human society, he can be regarded only as an exception, nay, rather, impossibility. Paul’s position can be justified only as resting in God. … He is commissioned to hand over to men something quite new and unprecedented, joyful and good — the truth of God.” This is the miracle of Christian faith. Salvation is a gracious, unmerited, and impossible gift.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 80:3, 7. God shines.
Think About It
His yoke is easy. Ascend the canyon walls.