Something About Mary (II)
A reflection for the First Sunday of Advent.
In Luke 1, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth for comfort — after all, an angel has just given her news that will irrevocably change her life. Before the chapter ends, we partake of the Magnificat — or “Song of Mary.”
And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name . . .
I didn’t do much in the way of “calling [Mary] blessed” until recently. I stumbled upon her, I suppose. My favorite Catholic friend offered this perspective, “Mary has a way of seeking you out when you least expect her.” What I do know is this: two years ago, I had been praying for the desire to pray, for a spiritual reboot, and I kept finding . . . Mary.
In one blog post from that time period, I tried to collate some of what I had gleaned from an initial study of her life. This study has not grown old. Something about Mary has pierced my spiritual defenses. Something about Mary centers me in reverence and awe. I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. After all, she is the mother of Love.
In nearly the final act of Jesus’ life, he instructed his disciple to embrace her as his mother, and then he asked Mary to embrace this disciple as her son. We are part of a religion that knows a thing or two about adopting such metaphors, of seeing ourselves as Adams and Eves, as spirit children, as brothers and sisters. Wouldn’t it be natural, then, to put ourselves in the place of this disciple, to say “Behold, here is my mother”? What would it do for our discussion of motherhood, and of women’s spiritual heritage, to hold Mary in a place of greater honor? To help fulfill her prophecy that “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”?
On August 16th, 2008, my father suffered a massive stroke. At midnight, they disconnected the life support. The next morning, as we waited for that final phone call, I trudged out to the mailbox and discovered a small package – a necklace I had ordered from Etsy on a whim over six weeks before: Botticelli’s Magnificat on a bottle cap. I had it around my neck when the phone call came an hour later. The slight pressure of this pendant on my chest seemed to whisper, “I love you.” That “I” felt like dad, like Jesus, like Mary, like any hovering angel that might be watching me cry. I wore it today and thought of Mary’s reaction to the strange wonder of Christmas night: “And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
In the months that followed, I found frequent refuge in a cloistered monastery dedicated to “Our Lady of the Rosary”: a space consecrated by generations women who have given their life to the interior life of prayer. The nuns stay behind a lattice, but I can always see at least one, on bent knee, keeping her turn at the vigil. Answering Jesus call, “Could you not wait with me one hour?” Perpetual adoration is what they call it, night and day. The magnificent stained-glass windows in the chapel depict the life of Mary – and in doing so, depict the life of Jesus: The angel’s visit, the birth, the presentation at the temple, the miracle at the marriage feast, the vigil at the cross. Neither life story is complete without rich mention of the other.
In October, I saw a flier announcing a special service on the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. How could I resist? As I entered, someone handed me a rose. After traditional songs and prayers, an aging Dominican priest motioned for us to rise. I turned to see four old men, with a shuffling but respectful gait, carry in a statue of Mary, a crown of roses on her head. A feeling of love spilled into me and spilled out again from my overused tear ducts.
So much about God is a mystery. But I do believe. And something about Mary — swaddling Jesus at his birth and again at his death, holding him so close that a “sword” of grief pierces her heart – helps me believe it is possible to bridge the chasm between humanity and divinity. As the angel said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” And with us.