How is one shattered by stained glass? After singing a wedding on May 31, 2014, I descended from the choir loft and made my way toward bride and groom at the main altar. I did not normally look up as I passed under the window of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but something in me made me look almost straight up. It was odd. I never did that before. When I did, I was nearly blinded by the blaze of sunlight piercing through the heart of Mary. I froze. I was riveted. The burning, fiery heart looked so painful and yet so transfigured and beautiful! Why did I get the inspiration, at just that exact moment to look up? It had to be the Holy Spirit guiding my eyes to see Mary’s heart ablaze with the afternoon sun. God wanted to connect with me.
The many layers of meaning behind this moment continue to yield fresh insights.
This moment of grace occurred on the last day of the Month of Mary in 2014. But the pondering and musing continues. Although the light was literally blinding, I did not get sunspots in my eyes or have to look away. That made an impression on me; I have very light sensitive eyes! But the biggest impression was the Divine Timing and the placement of the sun’s light!
Our Lady’s heart is so pure and full of the Holy Spirit and her Son, the Light of the World, that I believe her heart is always on fire with God’s pure presence. To be created without sin in order to hold this pure light makes sense, as a new ark of the Covenant. I saw for myself in that moment what a miraculous creature Mary is and what a manifold grace she received by being created to be the light bearer. Sunlight and her Son’s light all collided in my analytical mind. The instantaneous explosion of light and awareness of the power of this moment were not at all lost on me and there were shards of infused and learned truths all over my mind. I knew it would take a long time to sweep them up and sort them, and then rebuild them all into a word window through which you could view my beautiful experience.
Thankfully, after being bedazzled by the beauty of Mary’s heart depicted in stained glass, I came to my senses and snapped some quick photos knowing in a mere minute, the sun would shift and no one would believe me. I was so in awe of what happened and could not wait to get home to share it with my mother who has devoted her life to the Blessed Virgin Mary through a Marian Consecration. I too am consecrated or dedicated to Mary so this gift had great profundity for me.
I was at once grateful for the experience but also grateful to the artisans who designed and constructed the exquisite Immaculate Heart window. I’ve always been smitten with stained glass windows and the more refined the better. I am happier when the images are clear and the Bible stories or theological lessons are easy to grasp, than I am with the modern, abstract styles. I’d rather learn something of history or my religion from a window than just see some pretty colors.
I had passed below that window so many times I could not count them but I had never had such a shattering experience as that moment of pure light and grace. It was a gift that got me thinking. And thinking.
The New Ark Lined in Gold
In just two days we will celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Even though the window that pierced my consciousness was the Immaculate Heart, it contained so much truth and catechism about the Immaculate Conception. To be thought of for all time by the Son and to be so designed with such forethought to beauty and purity, would be a creature’s highest honor. The rest of us humans were allowed to be created with the stain of original sin, but not Mary, the mother of Jesus. She had to be as the old ark of the Covenant was, lined in purest gold to hold the Word of God made flesh. She had to be someone who was set aside. In the old Jewish customs, sacred items used for the Jewish liturgy were set aside, or, consecrated. Mary was to serve in one of the highest purposes of salvation history and so was set aside only to be used by the Father to make possible the advent of His Son into the world in order to save us.
The Divine Timing of having my eyes blasted with the Son’s sunlight passing through the heart of His pure mother was not lost on me. God the Trinity planned, in the wisdom of the ages, to send Mary into the world to be conceived immaculately, at just the right time in history. God the Father sent the Son at the exact moment that the weary world needed. Divine Timing was everything and it has always played the most amazing role in my life. As a musician, having excellent timing is a valued gift and means something on many levels. God orchestrated both the birth of Mary and the birth of His Son so that His story of salvation would continue to unfold at just the right time.
As I contemplated the fiery heart of Mary Immaculate, I was impressed with the infused awareness of her Son’s fiery heart, the Sacred Heart. I could just imagine His heart behind hers, burning all the brighter and causing her heart to explode through this window, catching my soul by surprise that day in the month of May. Normally I like to think of Mary’s heart as a peaceful place where roses grow silently in the enclosed garden of her heart. But to see her heart nearly nuclear with energy, dazzling brilliance and blazing away with power and force – I had to rethink Mary’s heart all over again. Mary is zealous. Her heart is full of zeal!
How powerful a mother we have in the Immaculate Heart. Pondering the sheer power of what is in Mary’s heart, her story, and the role entrusted to her, I have had to come to terms with a forceful queen and not just a soft, tender, silent and caring mother. This was a woman on fire for God by God! This woman held all the power of the universe just under her heart in her womb in the form of her Divine Son Jesus, the Messiah, so its no wonder she is set on fire. She had the light of the universe in her body for nine months continuously, unlike us who have Him in the Eucharist in our bodies for maybe 10 or more minutes. She was not only prepared for this fiery glory but, was made all the more bright by Him whom she bore.
Now I had even more respect for this queen filled with holy fire, holy power. It’s no wonder she was given command of all His angels and the universe and is called the Queen of Heaven. Such a reward for the many trials and painful realities that burned in that heart of hers. This queen of the fiery heart is a warrior queen as well. She is fighting for my salvation and that of my family and world! This queen let me see that she was not just the demure painting on my favorite holy card fading away in serene humility. This queen’s power was that of God, pure and unadulterated by original sin. She was like none other. I never had to fear this queen as long as I obeyed, honored and worshipped her Son. But when I saw the power blazing out of her, I knew I would not want to be on the other side as those who hate her Son and do all in their limited earthly power to destroy His bride, the Church. This facet of Mary as a the most powerful queen increased my confidence in her greatly!
I thanked God and His mother Mary for this rare gift of astronomically timed placement. I knew and believed ever more strongly in Divine Providence thanks to this fleeting gift of light shot into my mind, body and being. The experience continues four and a half years later to be profound and poignant for me. Recalling it, seeing the photos I snapped brings it all back as fresh as new spring water. To have a memory so colorful, so ever-new is a gift too, as it shows me how outside of time are my soul and mind. The Holy Spirit continues to use this teaching moment for me to continue deep lessons that words may only catch up to in future years. I know I did not deserve this bright moment of communing with the divine. I know I was certainly not worthy of it. God knows that He could trust me with this moment because He created me to be excited by His gifts of epiphanies in my life and that I’d go out and share my experience with anyone willing to listen. He knew I would not bury this light-filled experience under the dull bushel basket of a skeptical attitude of dismissal. My amazement and excitement have not waned.
God knew I’d become a blogger in the year 2018 and that I’d share my faith in the best way I knew how so that perhaps you would become enflamed and exuberant in your faith in Him. He allowed me to have writers block until two days before His mother’s feast day so that I would again become excited by His light streaming through her. Mary would never claim to be the light but would always bring us to the Light. A stained glass window is the perfect analogy for Mary. It is her Divine Son that lights her and gives her her beauty and power. She is nothing without Him, just like the rest of us.
I wonder if I say yes to Jesus if I will someday burn more brightly just like Mary? What a rewarding privilege that would be for doing God’s holy will.
© 2018 FRANCES PETERSON
Photo credits: All photos original works by this author and used with permission. Immaculate Heart of Mary window, Nativity Parish Church, Menlo Park, California.