Seeking Mary, pt. 1

My friend’s professor made the comment once that we are like ostriches in our spiritual and religious journeys – it may look like we zig zag off the path a little, and don’t have things figured out – but we are journeying. I have always liked the ostrich because it is big and seems like it can do anything, but cannot fly. When I was in first grade, I drew a picture of me as a saint. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I mention being in harmony with “Mary and Jesus and God.” In my childhood, it wasn’t Little Red Riding Hood that I wanted to hang out with for life, it was the Virgin Mary. She had the sparkles and glitter. The Virgin Mary – she brought it, like the most popular girl in school.

As I got older, I began to wonder about her life. I wondered what it was like to be dedicated to the temple at such a young age. I learned that I was stained from birth with sin and Mary was unstained. But I wondered if Mary made unstained mistakes. Did she love this, this Joseph? What did people in the city say when she got pregnant out of wedlock? Does it mean that I am bad if I am stained? Does it mean that everyone must be virgins?

I remember writing a long diatribe against Mary when my religious ed teacher said that the highest calling of all women is to be mothers, I questioned why Mary was a good role model. My teacher read it and wrote “Lilith” on a note card. But Mary, Mary, no matter how stained you were, you must have felt labor pains? Every woman undergoing labor feels pains, this would make you a woman, Mary. This would make you the friend I’ve wanted, not just the popular chick with the newest clothes.

And I’ve been trying, like one of my priests says, to re-invent my faith from the perspective of my age. Just because Mary is conceived without sin doesn’t mean that people who have sin (what I believe about original sin is another post) are bad people. And atonement can be powerful, to dig deep, to ask for help, to know you’re wrong. I took another look at virginity. Virginity can be a kind of sweetness or state of mind in union with God. And labor pains.

Although I have always had issue with Joseph. Didn’t think he loved her, that he married her out of necessity and kicked out early. She had a love, somewhere, someone she sang love songs to. It wasn’t Joseph. So I always imagined Mary as a single mother. Until earlier this month when a friend told me that actually, Mary, if she didn’t have Joseph, would have been surrounded by aunts and parents. Lots of family to help raise Jesus. And I bet those family members were all saints, unnamed, unmarked.

(but I am willing to support your belief of Joseph and I love his happy death).


7 thoughts on “Seeking Mary, pt. 1

  1. Great! Thank you for this. I was particularly struck by the question of Mary and if she had made any ‘unstained mistakes’ in her life. This sort of relates to another threat we had going on too. What things in life are just learning curves, or mistakes, etc. and what are sins?

    When peopleh ave a hard time with emotions, especially anger, I point to the Scriptures and Jesus’ emotional expressions (consider when he turned the tables over in the temple). If Jesus did that and it wasnt considered a sin, we have a lot more reflection to do yes?

  2. Thanks Theodora for your reflections on Mary! And Lauren, too, for the point about anger. Anger, as an emotion is natural. It happens. What is done in anger can be a sin if anger is that which controls instead of the person who responds to and directs the anger. I think both Jesus and Mary got angry. How could they not living in such an oppressive situation as Palestine in the first century A.D.?

    As for Mary, I can’t imagine someone without a lot of deep awareness of herself and some bit of anger being able to sing in the Magnificat about the proud being scattered in their own conceit and the rich being sent away empty while the humble and poor are exalted by God. Would that THIS Mary be the one we as Catholics could remember in our piety. What might that do for the way we understand Mary?

  3. Hey Lauren and Marc,

    Thanks for your comments. I also agree that both Jesus and Mary got angry — and that anger can be used in powerful ways. I also think there is a positive side to many emotions, but we might feel ashamed of admitting there is a positive side to being manipulative (but think of a person who knows what they want and goes for it!). I think there’s a positive side to shame, too. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there are sins — I still think people commit sins — but it is hard to call an emotion a sin. What is behind the emotion, the situation — maybe. But who am I to say?

    The Magnificat is one of my favorite pieces in the Bible — and I was going to use it later in part of a reflection of how, at least for me, I came to understand Mary on the level you speak about: “someone WITH a lot of deep awareness of herself.” So stay tuned for a future post!

  4. I love that Marian dialog has made it to this blog at last! I’m also endlessly interested in, and fascinated by, depictions of Mary. I think as the main embodiment of feminine power and sanctity in the Catholic Church, she remains a formidable character regardless of your beliefs about her. When I was growing up, one of the things that kept me with the Catholic Church was Mary; before I could conceive of a God who went beyond gender (i.e.: when He was still the big Man in the sky), I often prayed to Mary for the things I thought “only a woman would understand” (think along the lines of labor pains. ;))

    Along those lines, a couple years ago I read Mary’s Life According to the Mystics and was disappointed by how far the visions removed Mary from her humanity — a painless childbirth, a baby who came out speaking in complete sentences, etc. I guess there is even a school of belief that says Jesus wasn’t born vaginally, that He just “appeared” at His birth. It’s a frustrating belief to me, because it seems to strike at the very thing that makes Mary and Jesus compelling — which is the thing which makes their communion with God meaningful.

  5. Lacey, I know exactly what you mean! I’ve read and heard that kind of thing too — that since Mary was born without the sin of Adam and Eve she wouldn’t have experienced the pain of labor (because Genesis says labor pains were Eve’s punishment); or that Jesus had to be “born” in — hmmm — a more esoteric way, shall we say? to keep her physical virginity intact…

    All of which sounds to me very much along the lines of the old Gnostic theology (I think it was Gnostic; the resident theologans can correct me if I’m wrong!) which rejected Christ’s humanity because they believed all flesh was corrupt, and God could never stoop so low as to become flesh.

  6. Lacey — Mary is an important figure in Christianity and Islam. I don’t mind the speaking in complete sentences thing. In the Qur’an and in Christian apocryphal documents (The Arabic Infancy Gospel, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas — which is different than the so-called gnostic Gospel of Thomas) Jesus speaks as a baby. I think it’s cute, actually — to think about such an amazing birth from a woman — and then to have the baby begin miracles after birth (or while still in the womb — leaping and so on) shows what an amazing child Jesus is. And what an amazing mother. I do believe in a vaginal birth, but I won’t go so far as some feminist theologians who say that Mary was not and could not be a virgin. That’s pushing it WAY TOO far for me.

    Josh — I”m not a theologian, but isn’t early Christian apocryphal writing really varied? I’ve heard some ideas re: Jesus’ full divinity, others talk about Jesus’ full humanity. It was really varied during that time — and I would argue christology is still an exploding field of debate with different ideas about Jesus’ humanity and divinity.

  7. Sure, I know there were many apocryphal gospels and I don’t know much about most of them. But I do seem to remember that the Gnostics specifically viewed creation as inherently, irreconcilably evil. So the Gnostics of early Christianity rejected outright the idea of Christ having any actual, physical presence. The early church rejected this in favor of the belief that Jesus was fully human, as well as fully divine. I was merely making the point that it seems like some within the modern Church would try to strip Jesus and Mary of their humanity again, with painless labor and some kind of extra-vaginal birth process.

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