The Silence of Mary Theotokos

Douglas McManaman
January 7, 2024
Reproduced with Permission

As I was going over the gospel reading (Lk 2:16-21), I was struck by one thing in particular, namely, Mary says nothing. She just listens. She listens to the Shepherds, who "made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."

Mary was one of those who was amazed at what had been told by the Shepherds. You would think that the Mother of God would be the one with the words to amaze them, to enlighten them, that she would be one or two steps ahead of them such that their message would be superfluous. But this is not the case. The good news was told to the shepherds, and what was proclaimed to them was proclaimed to the one who conceived the good news himself, in her womb. She was not eager to speak; rather she listens, and ponders all that was said to her, reflecting on them.

Mary is theotokos, which means "God-bearer". And our purpose in this life is to become a theotokos, a God-bearer. And we know through Mary's example what it means to be a theotokos, at least in part. It means first and foremost to be full of God, pregnant with God. The result of bearing the mystery of God within is that we become disposed to listen; we become disposed to ponder, to reflect upon what is happening both within us and around us. When we are filled with God within, everything around us appears in a new light. The world becomes more beautiful and mysterious.

Everything is subject to the providence of God, but the entire meaning of the events of providence, all that God permits to happen in this world, is always beyond us. Our understanding of what is going on in our world is always deficient; there's always more to know. I am generally wary of people who offer grand and comprehensive explanations of the state of the world in which we are living, because this world is just far too large and complex for us to understand adequately as a whole. But this point is hard to appreciate when we are young. Everything seems clear when we are young, and the result is we tend to speak a lot, and we speak with a rhetoric of confidence. But as time goes on, experience provides us with much more information, and that new information allows us to see that things were not as simple as they once appeared-but this will happen to the degree that we are silent and reflective, and we will only be silent and reflective to the degree that we allow ourselves to become a theotokos, a God bearer.

The life of John the Baptist holds some clues as to what it means to become what we are called to become, namely a theotokos. He refers to himself as the best man at a wedding, "who stands and listens to the bridegroom, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice". The bridegroom of course is Christ. John says: "This joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase, I must decrease". This life is about learning to listen to Christ the Bridegroom and getting to that point where his voice becomes our joy. And that joy moves us to want to decrease so that he may increase. We no longer want to increase in the eyes of others. Our joy, our deepest desire, is that he, Christ himself, increase--and that we get out of the way.

But it all begins when we learn to listen to the Lord who dwells in our deepest interior. And that's the highest kind of prayer: the prayer of quiet listening to God. Not saying anything. Just adoring the Lord in silence. The Lord that we adore is the Word, the Logos. The Word eternally spoken by the Father is noiseless; it is full and inexhaustible, because the Word is everything that the Father can say about himself. That spoken Word, uttered eternally, is silent, and that silence speaks and is inexhaustible in content. The highest kind of prayer is listening to the Father's silent Word, and listening to the Word breathe his eternal love for the Father.

This may sound rather easy, but it is very difficult to get to this point in our prayer life; for there are many distractions that occur when we spend time, in the presence of God, in silence. Our mind is like an untrained dog that pulls this way and that. But when this happens, all we have to do is bring ourselves back to the presence of God and leave these thoughts behind.

This kind of prayer brings real joy and healing to the unconscious mind, because many of the thoughts that come to the surface during this time of silence are often unhealed memories that have been stored in the subconscious. Learning to leave them behind eventually brings about profound healing and peace.

As I mentioned last week, for those who do not have an interior life, who have not cultivated the habit of prayer throughout their lives, old age will slowly and inevitably become a very unpleasant ordeal, for our ability to cover up our own spiritual emptiness becomes increasingly difficult as the body deteriorates and circumstances change. But for those who have a rich interior life, those who pray and who know the joy of the Bridegroom's voice, who know the rich and subtle joy of hearing that eternal silence of the Word, growing old only creates the conditions for this joy to increase.