Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gospel Moms

Continuing today's theme of posts about mom(s), I'm going to write a bit about church this morning. Then I'll be done for the day, I promise (especially since I have work to do for tomorrow!).

This morning we observed the feast of St. Mary the Virgin. Our rector, a former Jesuit, talked in his homily about how, growing up RC, he had no use for Mary, because in her supposedly pious, meek goodness and acceptance, she offered no help with his life or the life of the other working-poor families in the parish.

Yep: me too. Of course, anybody who thinks about it for more than two seconds knows that the real mother of Jesus had to be one strong, spunky lady, especially given how young she was. Our rector told us that he's spent time in Latin American base communities that believe, and act, from the faith that Mary is their sister or their mother, a peasant woman with dirt under her nails and the willingness to raise an extraordinary child under difficult circumstances with nothing approaching adequate preparation.

He invited us to "Reject the sweet, meek and mild," to come up with an image of divine motherhood that helps us in our own struggles. For me, that's easy. My favorite mother in the Bible -- heck, one of my favorite characters in the Bible, period -- is the Syro-Phoenician woman. She never gets a name, but her scrappy advocacy for her child gives her the courage to confront Jesus and, essentially, to startle and shame him into helping her.

As a statement of tranforming and transformative faith, I'll take "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master's table" over "My soul magnifies the Lord" any day. Mary stood there and said "yes" to the angel who'd sought her out. If you're working with the Mary-meek-and-mild model, it's difficult not to imagine her simpering like a debutante presented with a prom corsage, and even if you work to recover her as spunky peasant (with appropriate sympathy for her straw-strewn birthing suite and the challenges of raising Toddler Jesus), her role in this scene still seems essentially passive and acquiescent (at least to me: YMMV!). The Syro-Phoenician woman had to run down the street to chase after Jesus, who initially wanted nothing to do with her, and bargain like a fishwife for her child's survival. Mary said yes to the Annunciation sweepstakes. The Syro-Phoenician woman (how I wish she had a name!) used her wits and courage to wrest a blessing from a God whose first response was, "We don't serve the likes of you. Get lost."

Who's a better model of dissenting discipleship?

None of that was in our rector's sermon. What was there, though, was a moving meditation on the power of base communities, where people use Bible study and personal friendships to "organize for liberation," and a suggestion that since our parish is dissolving, we might think of forming some ourselves.

Since I'd come back from Berkeley thinking about home-based ways of doing church, this appealed to me mightily, and also seemed like more than a touch of grace.


  1. Mary meek and mild? Think about having to give up control in your own life. Think about how that made you feel. Did you do it willingly or was it thrust upon you? Mary willingly gave up control for her God even though every human being on earth NEEDS to feel in control. She let someone else drive her life. That takes guts and blind faith.
    Not that your heroine didn't have her own share of guts and faith, but please, don't discount Mary. Personally, I hate it when I feel out of control.

  2. Oh, yes, a base community! That's exactly right. It's "recovery from the dominant culture" in a replicable format. Love it.

    And I also love the Syro-Phoenician woman for her "dogged" persistence (sorry). My other favorite is the "woman with the bleeding disease" who reaches out for the healing she needs and then claims it by admitting what she had done. Gutsy!

  3. mbj: For myself, I've become increasingly aware that control's an illusion! Also, "Mary meek and mild" isn't the woman herself, but the layers of sentimental lacquer applied by centuries of church domestication. This is nonsense, as our rector recognized even when he was a kid. The Syro-Phoenician woman still resonates more powerfully for me, though, if only because I've always rooted for, um, underdogs. (Under-the-table dogs?) Nichola: Nice to see you here. Thanks for stopping in! And yes, I love the bleeding woman too. That Gospel story is one of the first I connected with emotionally.

  4. Anonymous1:15 AM

    Here in France, Mary is a very powerful presence - not necessarily among the current inhabitants (Europe in general seems to be more secular than the United States), but in the ornamentation on the fabulous cathedrals that went up over centuries through the Middle Ages and still stand today.

    At Our Lady of Chartres, for example, there's a series of carvings around the altar that always amuses me. Beginning with Mary's birth and young education, ending with her assumption into heaven - they it seem that her motherhood of Jesus was just one small moment in a much longer life.

    Just got back from a short vacation that featured a trip to the cathedral church of Our Lady of Reims, where Mary reigns as queen of heaven over the highest arch over the tallest door in the center of the front facade.

    I love all the women in the New Testament, but Mary is my favorite. The Magnificat rarely sounds like meek acceptance to me - for me, it works more like a reminder of God's promises to the poor and hungry and an assurance of God's constant love.

    And I also love the part of the gospel that talks about one of Mary's other responses, the moment where she "stores all these things up in her heart."

    Like Joan of Arc, I guess, Mary is many things to many people.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.