39. Mary -- Jesus' Early Development

Jehoshoua, whom we call Jesus, from his Hellenized name, lesous, was probably born in Nazareth. It was certainly in this out-of-the-way corner of Galilee that his childhood was spent and the first, the greatest of Christian Mysteries was realized: the unfolding of the soul of Christ. Jesus was son of Myriam, whom we call Mary, the wife of the carpenter, Joseph. She was a Galilean woman of noble birth, and was related to the Essenes.

Legend has embroidered a tapestry of wonders around the birth of Jesus. If legend harbors many a superstition, sometimes it also encloses little-known spiritual truths, because the latter are beyond common perception. One fact seems to stand out in the legendary story of Mary -- that Jesus was a child dedicated to a prophetic mission by the wish of his mother before his birth. The same is reported concerning several heroes and prophets of the Old Testament. These sons, dedicated to God by their mothers, were called Nazarenes. In this light, it is interesting to read again the stories of Samson and of Samuel. An angel announces to Samson's mother that she is about to become pregnant, that she will give birth to a son, that his hair will not be cut, "for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." Samuel's mother herself asked God for her son. "Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, was sterile . . . And she vowed a vow and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed . . . give thy handmaid a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head . . . Then Elkanah knew his wife . . . Sometime later, after Hannah had conceived, she bore a child and named him Samuel because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord." According to early Semitic roots, SAM-U-EL means The Inner Splendor of God. The mother, illumined by the one she was conceiving, considered him "the ethereal essence of the Lord."

These passages are extremely important because they cause us to penetrate the constant and living esoteric tradition of Israel, reaching by this means into the true meaning of the Christian legend. Elkanah, the husband, is really Samuel's earthly father according to the flesh, but the Lord is his heavenly Father according to the Spirit. Here the figurative language of Judaic monotheism conceals the doctrine of the prior existence of the soul. The initiate woman makes an appeal to a higher soul in order to receive it into her womb, and to bring a prophet into the world. This doctrine, quite concealed among the Jews and completely absent from their official worship, was a part of the secret tradition of the initiates. It appears in the prophets. Jeremiah affirms it in these terms: "Then the word of the Lord came unto me saying, Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; before thou tamest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jesus will say the same thing to the scandalized Pharisees: "Verily, verily I say unto you: Before Abraham was, I am."

How much of all this can one relate to Mary, the mother of Jesus? It seems that in the early Christian communities, Jesus was considered a son of Joseph and Mary, since Matthew gives us the genealogical tree of Joseph in order to prove that Jesus descends from David. Thus, like a few Gnostic sects they saw in Jesus a son given by the Lord in the same sense as was Samuel. Later, wishing to show Jesus' supernatural origin, legend wove its gold and blue veil: the story of Joseph and Mary, the Annunciation and even Mary's infancy in the temple.

If we try to disengage the esoteric meaning from Jewish tradition and Christian legend, we shall say that providential action, or, more plainly speaking, the influx of the spiritual world which contributes to the birth of each man, whoever he may be, is more powerful and more visible at the birth of men of genius, whose appearance is in no way explained by the single law of physical atavism. This influx reaches its greatest intensity in the instance of one of those divine prophets, destined to change the face of the world. The soul chosen for a divine mission comes from a divine world; it comes freely, consciously, but in order that it can enter the scene of earthly life, a chosen vessel is necessary. This latter is the call of a mother from among the elite. She is one who by her moral bearing, by means of the desire of her soul and the purity of her life, senses, attracts, incarnates in her blood and in her flesh the soul of the Redeemer, destined to become a son of God in the eyes of men. This is the profound truth that the ancient idea of the Virgin Mother concealed. Hindu genius had already expressed it in the legend of Krishna. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke rendered it with simplicity and highly admirable poetry.

"For the soul which comes from heaven, birth is a death," Empedocles said, five hundred years before Christ. However sublime a spirit may be, once buried in flesh it temporarily loses the remembrance of its entire past; once taken into the activities of corporeal life, the development of its earthly consciousness is subjected to the laws of the world where it is incarnated. It comes under the power of the elements. The higher its origin, the greater will be its effort to regain its dormant powers, its celestial qualities, and to become aware of its mission.

Intense and sensitive souls need silence and peace in order to blossom. Jesus grew up in the calm of Galilee. His first impressions were sweet, austere and calm. His valley birthplace resembled a bit of heaven fallen upon the side of the mountain. The town of Nazareth has hardly changed in the course of centuries. Its houses, rising in rows beneath the rock, according to the reports of travelers, resemble white cubes scattered in a forest of pomegranate trees, fig trees and vineyards, over which fly great flocks of doves.

Around this refuge of coolness and green blows the sharp air of the mountains; from the heights is seen the open, clear horizon of Galilee. To this impressive landscape add the serious home life of a devout, patriarchal family. The power of Jewish education rested from earliest times in the unity of the Law and of the Faith, as well as in the strong family organization, dominated by national and religious ideals. For the child, the paternal household was a sort of temple. Instead of the frescoed laughing fauns and nymphs which decorated the atria of Greek houses, such as could be seen at Sephoris and Tiberias, in the Jewish houses one saw only passages from the Law and the prophets, whose severe texts were inscribed over the doors and on the walls in Chaldean letters. But the union of the father and mother in the love of their children warmed and illumined the bareness of this interior with a completely spiritual life. In such a home Jesus received his early training; there, from the oral teaching of the father and mother he first learned to understand the Scriptures.

From his early years, the long, strange destiny of the people of God unfolded before his eyes in the periodic Festivals which were celebrated in the family by reading, singing and praying. At the Feast of Tabernacles, a hut of myrtle and olive branches was raised in the courtyard or on the roof of the house as a reminder of the time of the nomadic Patriarchs. They lighted the seven-branched candlestick, unrolled the scrolls of papyrus and read the sacred stories. For the child's soul the Lord was present not only in the starry heavens but also in the candlestick which reflected His Glory, in the speech of the father, as well as in the silent love of the mother. Thus the great days of Israel cradled the childhood of Jesus -- days of joy and mourning, of triumph and exile, of afflictions without number and of eternal hope. In face of the burning, penetrating questions of the child, the father was silent. But the mother, raising her large eyes with their gaze like that of a Syrian dreamer, meeting the questioning look of her son, would say, "The word of God lives only in His prophets. One day the Essene sages, the hermits of Mount Carmel and of the Dead Sea will answer you."

One also pictures the child Jesus mixing with his companions and exercising over them that singular prestige which precocious intelligence gives, along with his feeling for justice and active sympathy. We follow him to the synagogue where he hears the Scribes and Pharisees debate, where he himself is to use his dialectical power. We see him repelled by the dryness of these teachers of the Law who tortured the letter to the point of doing away with the Spirit. We also see him observing the pagan life, divining it and compassing it with a glance as he visits wealthy Sephoris, the capital of Galilee, home of Antipas, dominated by its acropolis and guarded by Herod's mercenaries: Gauls, Thracians, foreigners from many countries.

Perhaps on one of these trips, so frequent in Jewish families, he visited one of the Phoenician cities, veritable human anthills, swarming at the edge of the sea. From afar he would have seen the low, thick-columned temples surrounded with dark bushes, from which came the chanting of the priestesses of Astarte, accompanied by mournful flutes. Their cry of pleasure, sharp like pain, awakened in his astonished heart a long tremor of anguish and pity. Then, with a feeling of deliverance, Mary's son returned to his beloved mountains. He climbed over the hill of Nazareth and looked upon the vast horizon of Galilee and Samaria. He saw Carmel, Gilboa, Tabor, the Sichem Mountains, ancient witnesses of the patriarchs and prophets. "The high places" unfolded in a circle; they stood out against the vastness of the sky like great altars awaiting fire and incense. -- Were they waiting for someone?

Yet, however powerful the impressions of the surrounding world on Jesus' soul may have been, they all paled before the sovereign truth of his inner world. This truth opened within him like a luminous flower emerging from a dark stream. It resembled the increasing clarity which was developing within him when he was alone, and which he welcomed. Then men and objects, near or far, seemed transparent in their secret essence. He read thoughts and beheld souls. Then, in memory, as though through a thin veil, divinely beautiful, radiant beings were hovering over him or were assembled in the worship of a blinding Light.

Marvelous visions haunted his sleep or stood between himself and reality through a virtual dividing of his consciousness. At the climax of these ecstasies which bore him from region to region in other worlds, he sometimes felt drawn by a dazzling Light, then immersed in an incandescent sun. He retained an ineffable tenderness and an extraordinary strength from these experiences. He felt reconciled with all beings, in harmony with the universe. What then was that mysterious Light which burst forth from within himself and carried him off to the most distant spaces, that Light which first touched him from his mother's large eyes and now united him with all souls by secret ties? Was this not the Source of souls and worlds?

He called it his Heavenly Father.

This primal feeling of unity with God in the light of love -- this is Jesus' first great revelation. An inner voice told him to seal it deep within himself, but it was to illumine his entire life. It gave him invincible certainty. It made him gentle and indomitable. Of his thought it made a diamond shield; of his word, a sword of light.

This profoundly secret, mystical life was united in the adolescent with complete clarity in regard to the things of external life. Luke describes him for us at the age of twelve, "growing in strength, in grace and in wisdom." Religious consciousness was the innate thing in Jesus -- absolutely independent of the external world. His prophetic and Messianic consciousness could not be awakened except by a shock from outside, by the life of his time and finally by a special initiation and a long inner unfoldment. Traces of this are found in the Gospels and elsewhere.

The first great crisis came to Jesus on that first journey to Jerusalem with his parents, of which Luke has spoken. That city, the pride of Israel, had become the center of Jewish aspirations. Its misfortunes had only served to excite men's minds. One could say that the more the tombs multiplied there, the more hope was exalted. Under the Seleucides, under the Maccabees, first by Pompey, finally by Herod, Jerusalem had suffered dreadful sieges. Blood had flowed like rivers; the Roman legions had slaughtered the people in the streets; mass crucifixions had polluted the hills with infernal scenes. After so many horrors, after the humiliation of the Roman occupation, after decimating the Sanhedrin and reducing the pontiff to the status of a trembling slave, Herod, as though in irony, had rebuilt the Temple more magnificently than that of Solomon. Nevertheless, Jerusalem remained the Holy City. Had not Isaiah, Jesus' favorite author, called it "the bride, before whom all peoples shall kneel?" He had said, "Thou shalt call thy walls Salvation; and thy gates Praise, and the nations shall come, to the splendor which shall arise over you." To see Jerusalem and the Temple of Jehovah was the dream of all Jews, especially since Judea had become a Roman province. Pilgrims came there from Perea, Galilee, Alexandria and Babylon. On the way, in the desert, under the palms, beside wells, psalms were sung; the travelers longed for the Temple of the Lord, they looked eagerly for Mount Zion.

A strange feeling of oppression must have come over Jesus' soul when on his first journey he saw Jerusalem with its impressive walls, sitting upon the mountain like a dark fortress, when he saw the Roman amphitheater of Herod beside its gates, the Tower of Antonia overlooking the Temple, Roman legionnaires, spear in hand, watching from above. He climbed the steps of the Temple. He admired the splendor of the marble porticoes where the Pharisees paraded in sumptuous garments. He crossed the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women. With the crowd of Israelites he came near the Gate of Nicanor and the balustrade three cubits long, behind which one could see priests in their robes of purple and deep red, shining with gold and precious stones, officiating before the sanctuary, sacrificing goats and bulls and sprinkling the people with the blood while pronouncing a benediction. This did not resemble the temple of his dreams nor the heaven of his heart.

Then he went down into the more populous sections of the city. There he saw beggars pale from hunger, anguished faces reflecting the last civil wars, tortures and crucifixions. Leaving by one of the gates of the city, he wandered in those rocky valleys, in those dark ravines where quarries, pools and kings' tombs are found, forming a kind of sepulchral belt around Jerusalem. There he saw insane men coming out of caves, uttering blasphemies against the living and the dead. Then, descending by a broad stairway to the pool of Siloam, as deep as a well, he saw beside the yellowish water, lepers, paralytics, the wretched, covered with all kinds of sores. An irresistible impulse forced him to look directly into their eyes, to drink in all their pain. Some asked him for help, others were wan and hopeless; others, stupefied, seemed to suffer no longer. -- But how much time had been required for them to become like this?

Then Jesus asked himself, What good is this Temple, these priests, these hymns, these sacrifices, since they cannot remedy all these sorrows? And suddenly, like a stream swollen by endless tears, he felt the sorrows of these souls, of this city, of these people, of all mankind, flow into his heart. He understood that no longer could he experience a happiness which he could not share with others. These looks, these despairing stares, were never to leave his memory. That melancholy bride, Human Suffering, walked beside him, saying to him, 'I will never leave you!'

He went away, filled with sadness and anguish. When once again he saw the luminous peaks of Galilee, a profound cry came from his heart: 'Heavenly Father! . . . I want to know! I want to heal! I want to save!'


40. The Essenes, John Baptist, The Temptation

The Great Initiates