The sweetest Mary moment for me came when I was reading the translation of the Qur’an. Not knowing much, I flipped to the chapter on Mary (Maryam). And I found the moment I had been looking for.
So she conceived [Jesus] and went with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: she cried in her anguish: “Ah! Would that I had died before this! Would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!”
But a voice cried to her from beneath the palm-tree: “Do not grieve! For your Lord has provided a rivulet beneath you; it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and cool your eye. And if you see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to God Most Gracious and this day I will not enter into any talk with any human being.’” (Qur’an Maryam: 22-26)
I realized that Marian connection – that innate bond with a strong woman – was something that made me Catholic. What I did not know was the level of Marian devotion in Islam. Reading this passage sparked a desire to explore Islam further, but it also made me realize that I was culturally and spiritually Catholic. This passage in the Qur’an could help me find the missing Mary, the one I thought did not exist in my own religion. Mary cried out and found refuge, so I searched. But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1: 34) So it will be: As your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me: and We wish to appoint him as a sign to people and mercy from Us: it is a matter so decreed. (Qur’an Maryam: 21) And Elizabeth, filled with the holy spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leapt for joy.” (Luke: 41-42, 44)
And I remembered this time in third grade when we did the annunciation scene for the school play. I was a narrator and our job was to sing a song that left me going on for days on end, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” When I re-read the Magnificat in the Bible with the Qur’anic Mary in mind, I was blown away –
For he has looked upon the handmaid’s lowliness
Behold, from now on, all ages will call me blessed
The Mighty One has done great things for me …
He has shown might with his arm,
Dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones,
But lifted up the lonely.
The hungry he has filled with good things,
The rich he has sent away empty.
It must have been the same Mary. As the Marys began to blend (same woman, with different ideas about who her son was), I saw the Mary from the Qur’an in the Mary who was forced to see her son die. In the Mary who “sung the Magnificat,” with righteous anger, knowing that her son – no matter how divine, how human – is already piercing her heart. Mary knows that it is painful to love. No matter what you believe about Jesus’ divinity or the crucifixion, Mary’s heart, anger, and spirit might make you get up and “dance [you] to the end of love” (Leonard Cohen).