When God Goes Missing

“Your mother and your brothers are standing outside
and they wish to see you.”
[Jesus] said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”—Luke 8:20-21

*            *            *

“Cie-cie, Santa’s dead!”  announced Little Nicholas solemnly.  I raised an eyebrow toward his mother, my friend Heidi.  “I was telling him about Saint Nicholas, and how he lived hundreds of years ago…” she explained with a sigh.  “Santa’s dead…” repeated Little Nicholas with a sigh of his own.

But the next day we went to the mall to ride the escalators and lo and behold, there was Santa Claus sitting by the Christmas tree.  “Look Mom!”  Little Nicholas exclaimed with great glee and equal volume.  “Santa is alive!  He’s risen from the dead and born again!”

I admit to a certain smug satisfaction: I am firmly in the pro-Santa camp, having fond memories of him and most of the other so-called “Fairy Tale Figures” of childhood.  I loved waking up on Christmas morning to find the surprises that Santa had left under the tree.  I loved waking up and searching for the chocolate eggs and jelly beans that the Easter Bunny had hidden for us around the house.  The Tooth Fairy was admittedly more forgetful and less reliable, but sooner or later I would awake with joy to find a quarter under the pillow—relative riches.

But there was one such figure from my childhood whose games of seek and find I did not enjoy: the Whisk-Away Where Witch.  I did not learn until later in life that the Whisk-Away Where Witch was selective in whose houses she visited, that in fact, I’ve yet to meet anyone else who even knew of her existence.  This did not stop her from having an active life here on Maple Avenue.

When something was left about (i.e. not “put away properly”) the witch would hide it.  The more one whined “Where is it?” (unless one was simultaneously cleaning up other things) the further away she would hide it.  Some things she would mysteriously return if and when a room was cleaned up.  Some never came back.  My china doll mysteriously showed up in my mother’s dresser years later…

I was grateful later in life to discover an ally in Saint Anthony.  But sometime when he seems to be slacking and my seeking fruitless, I am tempted to revert and blame darker forces.  But what of those times when it is God Himself who seems to go missing?

In today’s Gospel we see Mary and the brothers of Jesus are looking for Him, they want to speak with Him.  Instead Jesus says to the crowd “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of the Lord and act on it.”  We are quick as Catholics to rise to Mary’s defense against those who might suggest that Jesus was diminishing her—surely, nobody more perfectly heard and acted better than Mary, so we know that in fact He was not dissing her.

But we must not rush too quickly past the thoughts and feelings of Mary that day, as she stood on the outside, unable to see and speak with her son.   What must this have been like for her?  This was not the first time she was asked to give her assent to the will of God, nor was it the first time that she sought her son and could not reach Him.

Caryll Houselander writes of Mary’s experience of losing Christ in the Temple:

The striking thing about it is that it was not really a loss.  Our Lady did not lose Christ; He deliberately went away…Nor was this an isolated incident.  When she had found Him, after three days of utter bereavement.  He returned with her to Nazareth; but after what must have seemed a very short time to her, He left her again, and from that time forward her life was a continued seeking for Him.

We hear of her standing outside the crowd during His public life; of her following Him to the Cross, where the very life she had been given to Him would be taken away from her.  For a brief moment He was put in her arms again, and then taken up quickly (for there was urgency over the burial) and put into the tomb.

Why did Christ treat our Lady this way?…

…It was because Our Lady lived the life of all humanity.  Concentrated into her tiny history is the life story of the whole human race, the whole relationship of the redeemed human race with God…Naturally, then, she experienced this loss of the Child because it is an experience which we all have to go through, that our love may be sifted and purified.1

The thoughts of Our Lady are not recorded; we know only her assent.  That she said Yes to all that was to be given to her, all that was asked of her.  Her assent was without hesitation, without reserve.  Just as Christ fully entered into the human experience, so too our Lady lives her perfect assent in solidarity with the human condition.  And it is the human experience to feel the absence of God, to seek Him—in order to find Him.

When we think of Mary’s fiat and maternity we think of her holding Jesus—as a tiny baby in Bethlehem, and then perhaps in the Pieta moment under the cross, when she holds Him again, this time lifeless.  We do not often picture her arms empty, reaching, on the outside of Christ’s life.  But this too is a key point of her fiat, of her maternity not just of Christ, but of us.

There would have been no doubt of Our Lady’s knowing her son’s face; but often, in the dusk, she must have searched for it in the face of another boy, and the boy would have wondered who this woman was and why she leaned down and searched his face; he could not have guessed that the day would come when the Mother of God would really find her son in every boy and every boy would be able to give Christ back to her….

…Later on, she was again seeking for Christ, this time among the crowd that thronged round Him in His public life.  She is among those who are trying to get close to Him; therefore, she is among the sick, the crippled, the blind, the poorest beggars—outcasts of every description.  For such are the people who follow Christ in every age. 2

If we can take comfort in Mary’s search for God, in feeling His absence, we can take it also in her faith, and in her finding.

Surely when on Holy Saturday He is again missing, her arms again empty, and she cannot find Him; surely in that missing and absence she recalls His words of long ago telling her that even then, He is about His Father’s business.


Notes:

1 Houselander, Caryll.  The Reed of God.  (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2006), pp. 109-110.

2 Ibid, p. 140

 

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