In my youth, I attended Catholic schools. In that setting, I was taught a great deal about Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Mary I learned about was pure, humble, obedient, silent and long-suffering. As an adult, I came to understand that the Mary presented to me in my youth served as the perfect role-model for the perpetuation of sexism: docile and unquestioning in the face of authority. The Mary presented to me in my youth lacked any of the depth to the Mary presented in the gospels.
The gospel of Luke paints a clear picture of a strong and resourceful Mary. While she was a mystic who received messages from God, Mary was resolute in the face of life’s difficulties. The young, unwed pregnant girl could have faced public stoning in her culture. Avoiding this fate, she traveled on her own and visited an older relative, Elizabeth, for support and counsel. Mary wisely married an older man, known to us as Joseph, who must have been something of a parental figure to her. She knew hardship and demonstrated persistence, as evidenced through Matthew’s stories of the difficult journey to Bethlehem where she gave birth to Jesus and the family’s escape to Egypt to escape from Herod’s death threats. While Mary accepted what she understood as God’s will, she also demonstrated ingenuity and cleverness in dealing with very complex problems that came into her life.
The early church recognized Mary as a woman of strength in addition to having a deep spirit. Out of this recognition, the early church came to know her as the one who gave birth to God: the Theotokos, as she is called in the Christian traditions of the East. Mary nurtured the life of God within her and, in turn, nourished Divine Life with her own life so that it became a presence of strength for others. As we celebrate at Christmas, we have the opportunity to consider how Mary gave birth to Divine life in tangible form. What a wonderful and amazing spiritual life she must have had! How empowering and transformative her prayer and meditation! But like Meister Eckert, the Rhineland mystic who lived in the 13th Century, I must ask: What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God two thousand years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?
Yes, it is great for Mary that she gave birth to Jesus, that she made tangible the presence of the Divine in the world. But today, what difference does it make? Does Mary’s openness to the Divine matter very much if we are not equally open to manifesting the Divine today? How willing are we to risk allowing ourselves – our very sense of self – to be lost in union with the Divine? How willing are we to not just explore the experience of mystical communion but to also make our experience of the Holy One tangible to others?
Perhaps during this Christmas season we can look beyond the sterile images we hold of Mary and the others in the Christmas story and consider how radically open they were to living life fully. Perhaps the New Year will be marked by a willingness to open our own lives further in order to manifest something Divine in the world for others.
© 2010, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.