Sunday 21 July 2013

Letter to the Virgin of Vladimir

Dear Lady,

All my life I have felt the lack of a sister. I grew up among boys, the second of three brothers, and whenever I look out at the world I see it through a brother's eyes. The world for me is masculine, a fraternal environment, a whole grand universe teeming with brothers.

It might have been different if I had ever had a sister. I might have known something then of the sororal side of things, the side that never shows itself to me. Imagine it, if even once in my life I had looked into another human face and said, My sister

St Francis must have grown up with brothers and sisters, for when he looked up at the sky he saw the hot sun burning like a brother, and the white moon gleaming like a sister.

But it is not so with me. I do not know what sisters are, and no matter where I look it is always brothers that I see. There are even women among my friends whom I have loved as brothers – whatever that means.

Which is why you mystify me, Lady. For there is nothing brotherly in you. In you I see creation, the whole perplexing mystery of things, looking back at me with the sad eyes of a woman.

Why are you always so sad, Lady? What is it your eyes see? If you told me, would I understand? Or would your language be lost on me? Would everything you tried to say be changed in my ears (the ears of a man among brothers)? Would your clearest, most careful explanations all sound like speaking in tongues to me? Is that why you have kept so resolutely silent all these years?

But though you only look and never say a word, I know you also listen. You listened so well that the vast unbounded Word was nurtured in your womb, as if you were the one place in the universe where God could really find a hearing. Even now in your sad eyes there is something like the purest listening, listening as an absolute quality, Listening-as-such.

So I light the candle to you: I watch you in the flickering dark: I let your ever wakeful eyes watch me: I strain to find a place with you in the cavern of your silence.

Sometimes (so intent, so palpable, is your listening) I almost have the courage to address you, to speak into the silence and tell you something only you would hear. In those moments if I could I would open my mouth and say to you, My sister. And right then (so I believe) the whole creation would turn its face to me and I would see all things – wind, stones, stars, sea – looking back with a sister's face, listening with a sister's eyes, and speaking with a sister's voice.

Until that day, Lady, pray for me, and for all my brothers –

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