Happy Monday, Friends! Today we continue our series drawing inspiration from the Magnificat, the Song of Mary. Specifically, I want to focus our attention on Luke 1:48-50: “For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name. And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.” From the most iconoclast, plain language Anabaptist to the most liturgical Roman Catholic, Christians generally regard Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a supreme example of Christian witness. She bravely accepted the task of being the virgin mother of the messiah while unmarried and therefore open to shame, she travelled while pregnant, gave birth in a cattle shed, became a refugee, dealt with a son who at a very young age was conversing with religious elders, and saw her son killed in a horrific manner. She had a hand in the formation of the early church and may have been a missionary of the young faith. She is portrayed simultaneously as a meek, humble young girl and a significant leader.
Growing up Roman Catholic, Mary was a significant figure. In elementary school we participated in the annual festival of May Crowning where children, usually those who had just made their First Communion, got dressed up in white dresses—for the girls—and white shirts and black ties—for the boys—and, using a flower crown, crowned a statue of Mary while the congregation sang hymns about Mary as a virgin, a mother, and humble woman. Setting aside the obvious issues of purity culture and borderline pagan rituals for the moment, these ceremonies convey Mary’s place in Catholic culture. She is held to be the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Savior, and a quiet witness of submission to God. If Catholic men were to embody Christ as husbands or priests, then Catholic women were to embody the ever present and dutiful leadership of Mary. She is also held up as mother of priests and men and women religious (monks, nuns, sisters, and brothers).
Mary’s role as a mother and maternal figure is often empathized by LGBTQIA+ people. Far too often Queer people experience rejection at the hands of their own families. The model of a mother who stays with her child even when he is murdered by the state is powerful. For many Queer Christians, Mary is a spiritual mother who loves, accepts, and nurtures her Queer children.
Often, particularly in non-Catholic circles, Mary is portrayed as supremely humble, even demure. She is transformed into the perfect purity culture woman who obeys her husband, speaks little, and falls in line in a system where female obedience is not only expected, but required. Indeed, it is not Mary, but rather Joseph who is silent (the Bible records his thoughts, but not a single quotation from the man). By contrast, Mary is a badass. Where most people in the Bible are shocked by angels—Biblically-accurate angels do have four faces and four wings (Ezekiel 1:6) or sometimes six wings (Isaiah 6:2)—Mary is described as “much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Throughout the rest of her documented life, Mary doesn’t react with fear, but is presented as pondering what occurred at Jesus’ birth and later (Luke 2:19 and 2:51), as knowing the power that Jesus has (John 2:5), and as remaining close to Jesus’ apostles and disciples in the first days of the church (Acts 1:14). Even in the passage from the Magnificat, Mary makes the bold statement, “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Mary might be a model of virtue, but she is also a model of radical inclusion and feminism. We can look to her not only for quiet confidence, but for the inspiration to put our faith into action.
Who is Mary for you? Who inspires you to put your faith into action?
Let us pray: God, make us like Mary who bravely put her faith into practice and did more than even she could have imagined. When we struggle with confidence, strengthen us. When courage is lacking, build up our capacity to change the world. When we blend into the background, help us step into the light and use our voice. We ask this through Mary and your son, Jesus. Amen.
Blessings, on your weeks, my friends. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.