We have taken four images with which God has graced us all: Beauty, Life-giving, Strength and Love. The first two are more usually associated with women, while the latter two with men. It may be therefore, that women are more at home with the first meditation, and men with the second. However these are not exclusive to either sex, and indeed these images are exhibited to degrees in both. But do not limit yourself to the one or the other – share in them alike. And may you be blessed by them. Amen.
A Meditation on Beauty and Life-giving
God has a myriad of awe-inspiring attributes, more than we will ever know in this life. For example He is love. There is another facet of His nature – He is beauty. In a way, beauty IS the essence of God. In Ps 27 4 the psalmist says “One thing I ask of the Lord is to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” True beauty is something we need as surely as we need the air we breathe. The Book of Revelation speaks about the beauty of God. John finds his vision so indescribable that he resorts to words such as diamonds, emeralds, golden crowns, crystals and – most of all – light. He describes it in those terms rather than in anthropological terms. The heavenly beings could not stop praising because of their awe at the beauty of God. Picture a glorious sunset: could anyone no matter how great an artist paint anything except a pale shadow of the real thing, the work of the Master Artist Himself?
Every woman has been gifted with a unique inner beauty. What the world suggests to woman that they should be, is a pasted-on kind of beauty which is not real and not of God. She is subject to the tyranny of fashion and is in danger of making herself purely a commodity, and all we are led to look at is the frame of the picture not the picture itself. It is an assault on how God sees women, it hides her real beauty. True beauty does not diminish with time but increases. “(Your beauty) should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. This is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.” 1 Pet 3 5.
Beauty flows from a heart utterly surrendered to God, reflecting His beauty. For a woman, it is to offer her true nature, an expression of her deep desire for God. “And I gave myself to him keeping nothing back.” (St John of the Cross – a Canticle).
Beauty emanates from her heart: she can exude inner beauty because she knows at the centre of her being that she is extravagantly loved by her Saviour and she offers her love to Him. She knows she was born to share her feminine heart with those around her.
A good example of this is Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta. No-one could call her beautiful in the worldly sense, but her heart was utterly entwined in the heart of God – and it flowed to all those around her. Genuine beauty nurtures and offers life in its deepest sense. There is something profoundly healing in its presence.
In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary knew this: she sat at His feet. She knew that there was where she would be recognised for who she was, her true nature. She was offering her very nature and her God-given essence to Jesus, which was an expression of her desire for Him. The first call in our lives is to sit at His feet both here and in eternity.
“There He gave me His breast. There He taught me a sweet and living knowledge…” (St John of the Cross – a canticle).
Then there is the woman with the jar of nard who is responding to the love that she had received from Jesus, by offering her most prized possession to Him in anointing Him (as for burial). And it was so beautiful that Jesus received it openly and it says, in Luke’s account of this that “the aroma filled the room.” So should our response to our Lord fill our lives and those around us by offering our beautiful heart. Remember that we are “to God the aroma of Christ.” 2 Cor 2 15. And “we are God’s work of art”. Eph 2 10.
A Treeful of Angels.
“If I could choose one great gift that the world is neglecting I would choose feminine beauty. Feminine beauty is powerful because it gives warmth, comfort, simply by its presence. It receives rather than takes: it invites rather than demands: it unfolds rather than controls: it empowers rather than overpowers. The world is starving for this beauty. It flows from within and gradually transforms what it touches precisely because it touches rather than clutches.” (by Marcrina Weiderkher – slightly reworded by us)
In the Garden
Then we have Mary at the Tomb on the first Easter Sunday morning, utterly lost without that connection with her Lord.
“I read the story of the greatest morn in history, the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early while it was yet very dark, unto the sepulchre. Instantly, completely, there unfolded in my mind the scenes of the Garden of Joseph: out of the mists of the Garden cometh a form, halting, hesitating, tearful, seeking, turning from side to side in bewildering amazement. Faltering, bearing grief in every accent, with tear-dimmed eyes she whispers, “If thou hast borne Him hence…
“He speaks and the sound of His voice is so sweet that the birds hush their singing. Jesus said to her “Mary.” (…as it had never been said before, with profound love –our addition). Just one word from His lips and forgotten the heartaches, the long dreary hours, all the past blotted out in the presence of the Living Presence and the eternal Future.
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, no other has ever known.” (by C Austin Miles)
What do we mean by life? Life is to exist completely in the heart of God. You are in fact, invited by God to share in the very life of the Triune family. Believe that this intimate gift of life to you is the awesome mystery of the Good News: that you can experience God, the very life between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Life is the sacred place where God meets with you and you flow into each other.
The expectation of most people is to limit life-giving to the giving of new life in procreation. Yet this in itself is amazing!
Do you value the awesomeness of life, life-giving, in the sense of giving birth to a new person? When you hold a new-born baby in your arms, could you fail to acknowledge the miracle of new life, with all its potential? A God-given gift!
That is the obvious, female, life-giving aspect that we find so familiar in this world. Words are too small to reflect the mystery and complexity, of this gift from our Creator, utterly beyond words.
As recorded in Luke’s Gospel, when the angel visited Mary, after her initial surprise and questioning, she responded by saying “You see before you the Lord’s servant; let is happen to me as you have said.” With these words she gave birth to, and acknowledged Jesus in her spirit, and consequently in her body. When we women say these words, we do likewise; we can by grace incarnate the Word, we can acknowledge God in us and in others.
Mother Mary would have been deeply aware of the special life-giving gift from God by virtue of her giving life to the Life of us all, Jesus. She was totally surrendered to God, and it was because of this surrender that she was chosen by Him to be the mother of our Saving Grace. “And keeping nothing back, there I promised to be His bride.” (St John of the Cross – a Canticle).
Each woman has the gift of drawing out life from those around her, by virtue of her beauty and life-giving giftedness. Women are the great, unheralded evangelists. By her very way of being, of believing, of loving and relating especially to her children and to her husband, she is giving life to Jesus in their hearts, and their future life. She is the relational expert. A woman speaking to others, evangelising others, is not just telling them about Jesus, but it is life-giving both in the reality of Jesus through their words, by virtue of the opportunity for life they are giving in their message.
All this may seem very simple and easy, but in the fallen world that we live in, it has become an unwelcome message, a message spoken in a foreign language to a deaf audience. For more, see ethics vs false philosophies in this 21st Century, as discussed in “Theology of the Body” by Blessed John Paul II.
On the night I was born
“On the night that I was born into Your family, Lord, did You dance upon the rain-slicked streets, full of grace and joy, at the potential and pure eternal life You had birthed in me? Dipping a sacred finger into Your Son’s sacrificial love, You traced my form from the well of Your Divine intention. And then You called me Your beloved in Christ, whispering that I would grow up to be like Him some day. Oh Father, can it be that this is who I really am?” (by Susan Lenzkes)
A Meditation on Strength and Love
“There he gave me his heart;
There he taught me a sweet and living knowledge.
And I gave myself to him;
There I promised to be his bride” (St John of the Cross – a Canticle)
– the Gift of Self
We are totally dependent upon God. Everything we have in this world is His in the first place. No matter what “gift” we offer Him “…since everything comes from you (Him) we have given you (Him) only what you (He) bestow(s) in the first place.” 1Chron 29 10. “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” Rom 11 35.
He has given us free will and that means we have the free will to choose Him or refuse Him. This is the Gift of Self to God. But it is our response to His offering to us His love first (as the Canticle says: “…he gave me his heart…”) It is all a downward action from Him to us. He is the initiator, we are the responders. As we have said in “Where are all the Men” in this world men are the initiators and women are the responders in general. But before God we, (both men and women) are responders. So you could say that we are all feminine before Him. Thus the canticle goes on to say: “…I promised to be His bride.” Even if we are male!
In the Trinity there is a reciprocal action, a mutuality, a cyclic giving:
The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father,
the Father loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Father,
the Son loves the Spirit, the Spirit loves the Son.
In just the same way as love is expressed within and between the Trinity so too, does: God express His love for me:
God gives His love to me and,
I give my love to Him.
This is described as the “Spousal love of God” for us and it is this love that John Paul II wrote so fulsomely in “Theology of the Body”.
So our proper response to that love is, as within the Trinity, to love Him for His sake alone, not for anything He gives us, or does for us.
It is this Spousal Love that we find mirrored in marriage:
The husband loves the wife,
the wife loves the husband.
Note again that all these are expressions of mutuality, a cyclic flow of love within the Trinity, between God and me (us) and between husband and wife. St John in his first letter says it like this: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him”. 1 Jn 4 16.
Before we move on, please see that this expression of love is total: nothing is held back. “…he gave me his heart… and I gave myself to him, keeping nothing back…” If there is anything reserved, held back, partitioned, then love is not complete – it is incomplete. And love is UN-selfish. (A thought for men: Do you love your wife for her sake alone? Or for what she does for you or what she can give you? Are you a contributor or a consumer?)
Put in Freudian terms, ones which modern society might understand, (but not accede to I suspect), spousal love is “surrendering one’s “I” to Other as inalienable gift. (“Theology of the Body” by John Paul II)
St Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus says: “Husband, love you wife as Christ loves his church, giving himself up for her as Christ did for his church.” Eph 5 25. This is “surrendering one’s “I” to Other as inalienable gift.” His use of Christ as exemplar is very apt, since He (Christ) didn’t hold back – He didn’t just die a little bit, He DIED a most excruciating death in the most ignominious of circumstances. And He wasn’t guilty! In the main, we men are not asked to die for our wives, even though we are guilty of many things in our relationship with our wives. But we ARE required by God to die to self – to give up our egoistic tendencies. To put Other before the “I” as inalienable gift. Remember, she was gifted to you at the altar of God on the day you married her: (“Who gives this woman?” asked the priest).
You see, being a husband is not a licence to be boss. Being head/leader in the home is a Service not a Status. Husband’s first duty is to bring wife and family to the foot of the Throne of Grace, to be Spiritual head of the family. And that starts back at the top of this Meditation, where I said God’s Spousal love is in that:
“God expressed His love for me:
God gives His love to me and,
I give my love to Him.”
Strong Protector, Secure Provider, Wise Guide
“We live in a dangerous world. Satan’s opposition of the Church is vicious. He bears a special hatred for women. It follows that God would want to ensure that a woman helping to advance His Kingdom would be offered the protection of a Godly man. This is all intended for the benefit of women. God has made man as His warrior to offer his God-given strength on behalf of women so that she might flourish.” (“Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldridge)
If God has commissioned men to be this leader for the benefit and nurturing of women then He has also given men the means to do so. Heb 13 20 tells us: “May the God of peace, who through His covenant…equip you with everything good to do His will.” And again, 2 Tim 3 17: “All Scripture is God-breathed… so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
God has given us men particular gifts reflecting His image for this purpose: Strong Protector / Secure Provider / Wise Guide to be used in our marriages for the benefit of our wives. Importantly, we must see first that God Himself is Protector, Provider, Guide to us His followers.
Here are a few examples which confirm this, from His word, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
“In Your strength you will guide them…” Ex 15 13
“…do it with the strength God provides.” 1 Pet 4 11
“He protects the way of His faithful ones” Pr 2 8.
“Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you” Pv 4 6
“Love always protects” 1 Cor 13 7 (a good one for men to reflect on).
“You spread Your protection over them” Ps 5 11.
Jesus says “While I was with them I protected them and kept them safe” Jn 17 12 (also v 11 and 15)
(Others: Ps 25, 32, 40, 41, 01, 140 etc)
“My lot is secure…” “I will rest secure…” “My heart is secure, not fearing…” Ps 16 5 et seq.
“ …anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Heb 6 19.
“…those will receive God’s abundant provision” Rom 5 17
“…do it with the strength God provides.” 1 Pet 4 11 (harks back to Strength)
“..hope in God who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Tim 6 17 (Interesting spin on enjoyment).
“I guide you with wisdom…” Pr 4 11 (also Guide)
“For lack of guidance the nation falls.” Pr 11 14 (A cautionary note for our times, perhaps?)
“You did not cease to guide them…” Neh 9 19
“Guide me in your truth…” Ps 25 5
“Send forth your light and truth to guide me…” Ps 43 3
“Guide the nations of the earth…” Ps 67 4 (see Pv 11 above)
(Others: Is 58 11, Jn 16 13, etc.)
A Prayer for Men:
Let us pray that men will become aware of the responsibility God has entrusted to them and that they might use the gifts God has provided to achieve it:
Dear Father in Heaven,
Please enable all men to put off the old nature in their lives, and to be renewed in the Spirit of their minds, so that they may put on a new nature of holiness. Grant all men to perceive that image You have bestowed on them and give them the strength and love to develop it for the good of their wives and families, and for the greater good of the whole Body of Christ. Amen