He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2:5)
Mary is unexpectedly pregnant. She is poor, vulnerable, and at least temporarily homeless. She has been forced to make a difficult and dangerous journey.
The only thing Mary knows for sure is that the trip is going to be painful. A donkey journey when great with child traveling over treacherous terrain is not a pleasant prospect. There is risk at every turn. The way is uncertain, the destination unpredictable.
Every woman who has ever brought a child into this world, knows there is no birth without pain. We fail to tell the full truth when we pretend it is possible to make the journey of life without experiencing deep pain. Pain is part of the package of being human.
We do not mature into a fuller humanity until we have begun to learn to navigate the troubling territory of suffering.
Pain is not a question to be answered, a problem to be solved by the philosophers and theologians of our day. Pain is a mystery to be received and embraced.
Mary’s boy child would grow into a man who would say,
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
There are no painless crosses. To carry the cross is to choose to bear the pain of life as it comes. When we carry our cross we accept there are difficult things we simply cannot fix; we cannot brush them away or avoid them.
The real problems start when we think something strange and unusual is happening if we experience pain. We should not be surprised when things do not work out as we had hoped they might. Life is broken. There are sharp edges on everything. Inevitably, shards of broken glass wound our lives.
There is a certain liberty in accepting the reality of pain and resigning from the determination that life should be different or other than we know it to be. It is not so much the pain that undermines us as our resistance to that pain. It is our refusal to accept things as they are that keeps us stuck in fear, anger, and resentment. Resistance to pain, only causes more pain.
Mary points to the possibility of another way of living in the face of the reality of pain.
In addition to the inevitability of pain in her life, Mary knew one other thing.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:27,28)
In the face of pain, Mary held in her heart the promise of a presence that would remain. Mary knew that, no matter where she might travel or what she might encounter on her journey, she would never be alone.
The true beauty of this season is that, in the midst of the broken reality we experience as the human condition, our pain has the capacity to open us to the deep mystery of presence. We can experience the transcendent reality that the Divine Mystery at the source of all existence dwells within our lives and holds all of life in compassion, care and love.
We are not alone. The healing presence that was embodied in the baby born in Bethlehem continues within us and surrounds us in every circumstance of our journey. When we are willing to enter into the stunning silence that accompanies the mystery of pain, we discover a new dimension of reality open before us.
Pain has a purpose. If we allow our pain to do its work, we find that our hearts are not broken, they are broken open. We receive the gift of awareness. Our consciousness expands to embrace that Reality Who transcends all pain and who walks with us wherever the mysterious journey of our lives may lead.