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Something About Mary (II)

A reflection for the First Sunday of Advent.

by Deborah

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”?

Two vignettes:

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.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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13 Responses

  1. fbs says:

    Beautiful and thoughtful post, Deborah – thank you! I have often wondered why the LDS faith does not overtly praise Mary (in the sense of speaking about her regularly) beyond her honorable mentions during the Christmas season. I realize that the Savior is the focal point of our religion, however, as you stated so eloquently: “Neither life story is complete without rich mention of the other.”

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Thank you, Deborah.

    Actually, my husband is going to sing “Breath of Heaven” for church on the Sunday before Christmas. From what I remember of Amy Grant’s version, it’s about Mary as well. I love the idea of honoring her more, especially at Christmas.

  3. Caroline says:

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this part of your spiritual journey with us.

    Do you think Mormons would be receptive to a greater focus on Mary? I would love to see that happen. I do wonder, though, if there are any downsides to focusing on Mary. Don’t get me wrong, any increased focus on holy women is a huge positive to me. I haven’t thought this through much, but I wonder if focusing on Mary would leave some single or childless women feeling marginalized, because Mary would be venerated in her role as Jesus’ mother.

    I suppose it’s all in how you approach it though… If we see her as symbolically the mother of all of us, almost our divine feminine, rather than an archetype of perfect womanhood, perhaps that would bypass the potential marginalization problem.

  4. Deborah says:

    Thanks, FBS and Jesswhy.

    Caroline, I would hope Mormon’s would be open to a greater focus on Mary. We are a scripture-driven people, and a metaphor-driven people, and so many Mormon women are longing for more examples of women’s sacred journeys. The lingering Protestant resistance to Mary is an outgrowth of anti-papal history and its attendant fear of “Mary worship.” But as I have seen reverence for Mary “upclose and personal” in the lives of Catholic friends and my neighboring nuns . . . well, it beautifully fills in some gaps in my life as a Christian woman.

    I could easily see a wondeful, powerful talk on the life of Mary in a Relief Society General meeting as the catalyst for a further focus on the mother of Jesus. I think Mormon women and men would be ripe for it. We’ll never have the iconography — beyond a few paintings in church hallways, that just ain’t our style — but we could remember her more. I think it would be good for *us*. Part of me view the veneration of Mary in the Catholic church as a manifestation of the universal hunger for feminine divine, for male and female holiness, for balance.

    As for your question about the inclusiveness of Mary. Here’s my initial thought: do we have the same questions about Mother in Heaven? After all, *all* we know about Her is the title “Mother.” However, Mary’s story begins as a single teen, then an unmarried pregnant woman, then a mother — an immigrant at one point (when they flee to Egypt), then a widow (based on Joseph’s absence from later scenes), then a woman who watches her child die and has to carry on alone, then as a key post-crucifixion church leader and disciple. Her story is filled with the agony and sublimity of mortality. She is the most complete picture of womanhood we have in the scriptures — we see her over the span of 35+ years.

    Her motherhood is central to her mission, but Jesus’ final injunction seems to indicate that her mothering is also metaphoric — that his mother could be our mother.

  5. Caroline says:

    Love your response to my questions, Deborah. I hadn’t thought much about Mary as embodying all those various roles, so now that you spell it out for me, I do see how she could be venerated without making some women feel excluded.

  6. D'Arcy says:

    I’ve read this post twice now and really love it. I went to a UCC service on Sunday to welcome in the new season of Advent. I’d never done that before, but they had a child help light the candles and participate in the ceremony. There is something about these ceremonies that I find very rewarding.

    I’ve never made much of a personal connection with Mary, now I’ve been left to think about why this is so and how I want to change it.

    Thank you!

  7. Christian says:

    I’d never thought about extending the metaphor of Christ’s command on the cross to myself, it having always been referred to me as a practical solution (somebody needed to take care of her) but that never really made full sense. This makes me really want to explore Mary’s life better, and the possibility of adopting her to some degree in my life. If nothing else, it gives us a very real image of a divine, or at least eternally “blessed”, mother, with stories and words and a place in theology attached, more than oblique references to logic dictating that there must be _something_ but giving us no form, substance, or idea what that might be.

  8. Deborah says:

    Christian and D’Arcy: Your comments made me smile (I guess I’m feeling a bit like a missionary for Mary!). Christian — the tangible, study-able nature of Mary has been so much more fulfilling than the elusive “thought makes reason stare” nature of Heavenly Mother. I haven’t abandoned the notion of a Heavenly Mother, but there is nothing to hold onto at this point other than fancy and faith. Studying the life of Jesus has taught me a great deal about the way I want to live my life. Studying about Mary offers a (much-needed-for-me) feminine complement.

  9. anon says:

    I developed a devotion for Mary this past summer. I read a novel based on women, their lives and interconnections, childbirth, and Mary, (among other things), and what I read hit very close to home. And then a crisis came. And I found myself, without thought or hesitation, praying to Mary. And there was an utter compassion, perfect understanding… something I’ve always missed.

  10. Deborah says:

    Thanks for that, anon.

  11. tara says:

    Have you heard the song “Mary” written and
    performed by Patty Griffith? its awesome

  12. EBrown says:

    Advent is truly the season of Mary.
    These titles from a litany are quite beautiful
    Mirror of justice, pray for us
    Seat of wisdom, pray for us
    Cause of our joy, pray for us
    Spritual vessel, pray for us
    Vessel of honor, pray for us
    Singular vessel of devotion, pray for us
    Mystical rose, pray for us
    Tower of David, pray for us
    Tower of ivory, pray for us
    House of gold, pray for us
    Ark of the covenant, pray for us
    Gate of Heaven, pray for us
    Morning Star, pray for us
    Health of the sick, pray for us
    Refuge of sinners, pray for us
    Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us
    Help of Christians, pray for us

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