Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Mother

I think we do a disservice to Mary if we depict her as simple, meek, and mild.

Details about her are few, but the New Testament suggests that she was complex, forthright, even bold.

In Luke's portrait, Mary challenges the angel Gabriel with a rather bold question, "And how will this be since I am not in a sexual relationship?"

In John's portrayal, Mary shows the chutzpah of the stereo-typical Jewish mother. Even though Jesus seems reluctant to intervene on behalf of the bride and groom at Cana, Mary tells the catering staff, "Do whatever he tells you."

Later in his account, John recalls that Mary was there on Calvary, standing beneath the cross and accepting Jesus' instruction to be a mother to one of his disciples.

I think of Mary as a remarkably pious woman, probably a mystic, not afraid of mystery but equally inquisitive, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." In response to Jesus' cryptic reply, it is written that she did not understand but "kept his sayings in her heart."

The Magnificat alone defies picturing a shy, retiring, saccharine Mary. She identifies with the lowly, but gladly acknowledges that future generations will hail her as the blessed one. She proclaims God as the Almighty who acts with power against the arrogant ruling class. She celebrates God's history of raising up the poor and feeding the hungry. She trusts in the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants forever.

Spiritual writer Kathleen Norris underscores the power of Mary's song. She wrote in Amazing Grace - A Vocabulary of Faith, "The Magnificat's message is so subversive that for a period during the 1980s the government of Guatemala banned its public recitation" (p. 117).

Mary's role and significance are further highlighted in these lines from a very widely read holy book:

And make mention of Mary in the Scripture, when she had withdrawn from her people to a chamber looking East. Then we sent unto her Our spirit and it assumed for her the likeness of a perfect man. He said: I am only a messenger of thy Lord, that I may bestow on thee a faultless son.

Then she said: How can I have a son when no mortal hath touched me, neither have I been unchaste?

He said: So it will be. Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me. And it will be that We may make of him a revelation for mankind, and mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained.

And she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.

This description is found in the Muslim holy book, The Koran, Surah xix, 16-22. The whole chapter is titled Mary. The religion of Islam honors her.

Theotokos, the God-bearer, is a strong, spiritually deep, courageous woman. Iconography too often diminishes her spirit and demeanor, painting instead a woman of sentimental sweetness and chemerical complexion. I refuse to believe that Mary had blond hair and blue eyes.

I prefer to picture her as a real woman, more beautiful in soul than in face -humble but durable, kind but challenging.

I wish I could show you a picture of a statue of Mary that adorns the wall of the chapel at St. Vincent's Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Standing tall, she rests her cheek in the palm of her hand, and looks down to the chairs where the seminarians and priests sit for prayer. The gesture and the look on her face are open to varying interpretations, but I think her expression, if verbalized and punctuated with a sigh, would say, "Oh my.....!"

Now that's how I think of God's Mother.

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